"Critical diglossia" and "lifestyle diglossia": Development and the interaction between multilingualism, cultural diversityand English

Mukul Saxena

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


This article critically explores the classical notion of the concept of diglossia in order to re-examine its role in the study of language shift and attrition, particularly in terms of the role English is playing as part of national development and 21st century globalization. It draws on Fishman's extended definition of "diglossia" and adds to it (a) a critical perspective from the Sociolinguistics of Periphery and (b) Omoniyi's (this issue) distinction between linguistic capital and language capital. This partially allows for a reconceptualization of diglossia into "critical diglossia" that foregrounds the hegemonic "historical-structural" arrangements in language planning and policy in the study of language shift and attrition. As a further extension, the proposed concept also incorporates the role of agency and argues for development of diglossia from below, in addition to being imposed from above. The new theoretical conceptualization is then empirically applied to understand the linguistically significant generalizations of patterns of linguistic practices in a small nation state in Southeast Asia that correlate strongly with language shift and attrition. It is argued that both majority and minority indigenous languages are experiencing attrition in form and function under the pressure of modernization and contemporary forces of globalization, amongst which English is one significant factor. This language attrition is explained with the help of another proposed concept "lifestyle diglossia" which has emerged from the data. This new concept reveals that a critical appraisal of people's everyday practices highlights an asymmetrical relationship between traditional and modern lifestyles as well as associated identities which explains the attrition in the dominant local language. English is only one of the attributes of what is perceived and followed as the modern lifestyle. The data set for this article is drawn from a long-term ethnographic study of macro and micro sociolinguistic issues in a nation state in Southeast Asia collected as part of a series of research projects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-112
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of the Sociology of Language
Issue number225
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • diglossia
  • globalization
  • lifestyle
  • linguistic capital
  • Malay

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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