Ashok R . Kelkar





(‘The Terminology of Babel: Socio-linguistics 18:82-1989)


My very first comment on Conrad Brann’s welcome proposal to streamline a certain set of terms will be that he should forthwith withdraw the copyright on the set of terms proposed by him..While such a copyright claim is quite in consonance with the Western passion for private property rights, it is completely out of tune with the spirit of science and of course with the spirit of language.


My next comment will be that I hope that the present discussion will induce socio-linguists in particular and linguists in general to take a close look at their nomenclatures and terminologies.1


Now to the main business.


Brann has offered ‘multilingualism’ both as the term for the whole domain (consider his phrase ‘individual, societal, and political multilingualism’) and as the term for the individual languages use. It is interesting that while the second use is what he consciously proposes his first use is probably unconscious—he nowhere even mentions the need of an overall term, unless his light-hearted use of the phrase’ forked tongue’ in the opening paragraph can be counted as such. From now on I propose to use plurilingualism for the general phenomenon (i.e. Brann’s multilingualism I its first use).


Given the general phenomenon of plurilingualism, Brann proposes to make distinctions along two dimensions:

(1)               Along the dimension of language use, one distinguishes between individual multilingualism, societal/institutional multilingualism, and political/ official multilingualism.

(2)               Along the dimension of languages use, one distinguishes between individual multilingualism, societal /institutional multilingualism. And political/ official multilingualism.

(3)               Along the dimension of the number of languages involved, one distinguishes between one. Two, three, four, five indefinitely many.


Then under two-way plurilingualism, Brann makes some further distinctions:






Now I am not entirely sure that the dimension that the dimension of language use has been correctly conceived.  Plurilingualism can be the description of either of three things:


(i)                 An individual language repertoire: the various codes or sub-codes at the disposal of an individual.

(ii)                A community language network: the various codes or sub-codes at the disposal of a community of people who are in more –than –minimal linguistic communication with one other.

(This corresponds to Brann’s societal.)

(iii)              A community institutional set-up: the various codes or sub-codes in use within the institutional set-up serving a community in some given area such as education, scholarship, mass media, government, and the like.  (This corresponds to Brann’s institutional, political, official).


Nor am I sure that the second dimension has been correctly conceived. It is significant that in actual scientific use ‘bilingualism’ is often made to do duty for’ multilingualism’. The use of terms referring to 3, 4, 5l can be safely forgotten (why stop at5?).  Of one says that Switzerland was a trilinguistic state until they recognized Romansch when it became a quadrilinguistic state, one is not making any significant sociolinguistic point.  One could of course add that all along Switzerland was a tetraglotticstate.  What has one said that could not have been expressed without loss I ordinary non-technical English?


            The crux of the matter is surely this: whether the language repertoire or language network or institutional setup (as the case may be) is linguistically homogeneous or heterogeneous, and, if it is linguistically heterogeneous, what is the degree and modality of this heterogeneity. The possibilities are these:


(i)                  Linguistically homogeneous.

(ii)                Linguistically heterogeneous.

(a)                As applied to a repertoire:

The proficiency may be fairly even.

The actual use on a given occasion (such as a given monologue or dialogue) may be fairly homogeneous/ not fairly homogeneous.

(b)               As applied to a network:

The multiple proficiency may be fairly evenly distributed in the population/ confined to certain sections.

The actual use from one broad occasion (such as a party, a market day) to another may be fairly uniformly homogeneous/ not fairly uniformly homogeneous.

(c)                As applied to an institutional set-up:

The different codes accepted are fairly identical in status/ not fairly identical in status.

The actual use on a given institutionalized occasion (such as an academic session, a parliamentary session) is fairly homogeneous / not fairly homogeneous.

(d)               In relation to the linguistic codes in question.

Varying sub-codes of the same language (as in Ferguso’s original diglossia) / distinct languages.


Each code may be available for varying registers or styles / Each code is available for fairly specialized area or areas.


By now it should be clear that the insistence implicit in Brann’s proposals that each technical term be a single word has to be given up.  A given situation may have to be described by a phrase such as—


Uneven mixed diglottic horizontal plurilingual repertorire.


This may actually describe the language repertoire of some north Indians who know Hindi well and Urdu fairly and who in actual use switch between them a lot. Given that Hindi and Urdu are distinct codes of the same language (diglottic) and that each has a variety of sub-codes (horizontal).  The situation with respect to Hindi and Urdu or with respect to Serbian and Croat may be described as horizontal diglossia while that with respect to Arabic or Greek or Telugu (granthika HL and vyavaharika LL) may be described as vertical diglossia (diglossia in Ferguson’s sense). I reject Fishman’s extension s ill-conceived. 


So the complex technical terms may be made out of—

(i)                  unilingual / plurilingual (R/N/I) number of competitors)

(ii)                even /uneven (R/N) (distribution of proficiency)

(iii)               separated / mixed (R/N/I) (actual use on an occasion)

(iv)              equal / unequal )I) (identity of status)

(v)                diglottic/ polyglottic (R/N?I) (same language / distinct languages)

(vi)              horizontal / vertical (R/N/I) (across special regions/ across registers or styles)



Please note that the pairs (ii)-(vi) do not apply to anilingual situations and that R, N, I stand respectively for language repertoire, language network, and institutional set-up  The institutional set-up may of course be further described as educational, governmental, diplomatic etc.


 Distinctions that are formaLly6 weak (-lingualism / -linguism) are, as any language historian can tell us, unlikely to be maintained with any consistency or likely to be maintained at great cost (as with stalactite/ stalagmite).




1.      For the distinction between technical names (and nomenclature) and technical terms (and terminology) and other relevant points.  See my ‘The Semiotics of technical names and terms’ (1984). May I also take this opportunity to draw the attention of socio-linguist and linguist to my own wide-ranging terminological proposals in ‘Correlative linguistics’ (1978)?




Kelkar, Ashok R.  (1978) Correlative linguistics. In: McCormack, William C. and Stephen A. Wurm. Ed. Approaches to language: Anthropological issues.  The Hague: Mouton

Kelkar, Ashok R. (1984) The Semiotics of technical names and terms. Recherches semiotique / Semiotic inquiry (Toronto) 4: 303-326.



Centre of Advanced Study in Linguistics at

Deccan College

Pune- 411006





This was written at the invitation to comment on Conrad Max Benediat Brann’s The Terminology of Babel.  Brann’s note along with comment by Lachman M. Khubchandani one Ashok R. Kelkar were published together in Socio-linguistics 18: 85-98, 1989 (Foris, Dordrecht, Netherlands ) as ‘Discussion’.


            Fishman’s diaglossia, thus, is separated polyglottic plurilingual network.  Haugen’s schizoglossia is polyglottic vertical plurilingual repertoire.  Correspondingly Brann’s schizoglossia, is polyglottic vertical plurilingual institutional set-up, And so on.