How and why are regional accents created

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Champagne, Walloon, Norman, Picardy: the French speak many dialects. The latter, Picardy, is a regional language of northern France; it is spoken in Picardy, Artois, French Flanders and Belgium in western Wallonia.

Student Annette Hilscher has dedicated herself to Picardy in the truest sense of the word - her bachelor thesis will be a sociolinguistic study of the Picardy language, with a special focus on language acquisition, language skills and cultural life. “French regional languages ​​have now been almost completely replaced by standard French. Therefore, as with Picardy, only regional accents are created, so-called pronunciation variants with their own sound development and special features in vocabulary and grammar, ”explains the student of Romance studies and social sciences.

In order to analyze how this dialect is passed on, the 23-year-old attended schools and the Université de Picardie. She conducted interviews with teachers and students, but also active people in cultural life, such as booksellers, musicians and writers. "But I was very lucky that I was able to enclose a questionnaire to the magazine, Ch’Lanchron´ for the 30th anniversary, which was sent to 1,500 households," says the student. Her supervising professor, Peter Stein, from the Institute for Romance Studies, had made the first contact. 180 completed questionnaires were returned - Annette Hilscher is currently evaluating the answers; she will hand over the work in May. “There is no uniform spelling in Picardy, as more than half of all respondents were taught the dialect orally, for example through their grandparents,” says the prospective graduate about her results.

She wants to find answers to the central sociolinguistic question posed by Joshua Fishman, an American sociolinguist: Who speaks which language, when and with whom? Annette Hilscher differentiates between formalized - for example through elective lessons - and informal language acquisition through family and friends, as well as active (speaking and writing) and passive language skills (listening and reading comprehension). “Picard was an oral language for a long time - at home with family or when communicating with friends. Today it has largely been lost in everyday communication. ”Nevertheless, she has noticed an upswing in the regional language. “There are tons of authors who are writing in picardy again. Asterix and Obelix and 'The Little Prince' have been translated into Picardic; Theater and music groups are increasingly being formed, ”explains Hilscher. The basis is the cultural value of the language: It is associated with home, culture and community.

The northern French found it so prestigious that a German from Berlin was interested in their language that a team from the Third French TV Program filmed a report on Annette Hilscher's research. “I suspect the French see my work as a form of successful European integration,” she says.

Constanze Haase