« Si la personne peut me comprendre, pourquoi c’est un débat ? » : Teaching sociolinguistic variation through French phonetics

According to Milroy (2006: 134), language standardization typically fosters a “consciousness among speakers of a ‘correct’, or canonical, form of language” (134). This goes hand in hand with ideologically-motivated judgments of divergent speech and its implications for cultural belonging or morality (Woolard & Shieffelin 1994: 60, Trotter 2006: 2-5). In contemporary
Francophonie, ideologies that privilege standardized forms can be observed in linguistic prescriptivism and the discrimination that follows; for example, negative judgments of speakers of non-standard varieties and the uneven representation of non-hexagonal French varieties in L2 instruction.

While questions about the role of sociolinguistic variation in language learning have long interested SLA researchers, best practices for its integration into French pedagogy are scarce. Motivated by the interface between language variation and L2 sociolinguistic competence, I take a variationist approach to French language teaching in my design for a course in Practical Phonetics and Listening Comprehension with a sociolinguistic twist. Drawing from similar approaches in Spanish language teaching (Shin and Hudgens Henderson 2017), this French phonetics course: a) expands the range of French varieties typically represented in French language instruction; and b) incorporates major sociolinguistic themes, emphasizing their relevance to our understanding of French phonetics. These are accomplished by examining the multiple sound systems associated with French and major loci of sociophonetic variation in spoken French. The overarching goal of this course design is to empower students to challenge hegemonic notions of what it means to ‘sound French,’ all the while preparing them to better understand and communicate with a range of French speakers across Francophonie.


Milroy, J. (2006). The Ideology of the Standard Language. In Llamas, C., Mullany, L., & Stockwell, P. (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Sociolinguistics. Routledge.
Shin, N.L. and Hudgens Henderson, M. (2017), A Sociolinguistic Approach to Teaching Spanish Grammatical Structures. Foreign Language Annals, 50: 195-213. https://doi.org/10.1111/flan.12249
Trotter, D. (2006). Une et indivisible : variation and ideology in th historiography and history of French. Revue roumaine de linguistique, 51(2), 359-376.
Woolard, K., & Schieffelin, B. (1994). Language Ideology. Annual Review of Anthropology, 23, 55-82. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/2156006

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