The First World War and language (CfP)

A poilu's letter
about the Battle of Verdun
Only a few days are left to send a proposal and we wish this opportunity won’t be lost. Under the title “The First World War and language” the organizers of this conference wish to study the WWI from an unusual, yet interesting perspective: that of the languages and not only of the French one. Was the Great War also a linguistic event? How and in which extent did the conflict shaped the spoken and written communication? This is just a couple of aspects which linguists, historians and specialists of literature are invited to discuss privileging a multidisciplinary approach.  You find below the English text of the Call for Papers with all the indispensable information.
(The text of this Call for Papers is available also in French at this link.)

In the context of the upcoming commemorations of the First World War in 2014, the purpose of this conference is to bring together the research by linguists, historians and specialists of literature around what happened to the French language – and to other languages – during the conflict. For some, the First World War is a turning point in the history of the French Language. This standpoint raises the question of the coincidence between language change and historical change, and of the possible use of periodization. Furthermore, the history of the French Language during the 19th and 20th century has not been much explored recently, as these times may appear too near to us for the diachronic approach to be deemed necessary.

As a matter of fact, the First World War seems to have fascinating potential for sociolinguistic enquiries, as some of its language material still remains unexploited, and may reveal a fruitful case study for some of today’s most important issues in the linguistic field – the question of variation and language use, for example.

Indeed, while the quantity of written material that remains from some more ancient periods can prove scarce and frustrating, this is not the case with the First World War. An enormous quantity of sources is available – some of them even oral sources -, constituting a rich heritage, and there is no doubt that during this period of commemorations, some of them will be more systematically explored. Through digitization, new corpora will be made available for researchers.

While existing studies mostly put a stress on literary testimonies or the use of argot on the front lines, the purpose of this conference is to open up the range of possible linguistic issues and raise a number of questions that have not been so far dwelt upon in much detail.

Proposals on the following aspects will be particularly considered:

The First World War as a landmark. Is the First World War a real turning point for the French language? On what grounds is this thesis defended?
The use of dialects. Is the First World War the moment when, as soldiers sent to the front had to adopt French as a vehicular language, the use of dialects began a phase of serious decline? Were the soldiers bilingual in their every-day life? Did the First World War play a role in the perception of French as a « national language », attached to military values, to the ideas of unity and cohesion of the nation?
The use of argot and neologism. Was there such a thing as a « parler poilu »? Behind all the picturesque aspects developed by a significant literature, often published during the war itself, and tending to to promote clichés and stereotypes, what are the facts? What kind of sources can be used : dictionaries, newspapers, songs…? To what extent did the new ways of speaking spread into the civil society after appearing on the front? How were these new forms of speech regarded? What were the private and general attitudes towards them?
Language contact. During the war, the practice of learning a foreign language, of translating, of interpreting, was significantly increased. Who were the interpreters? What was their education, their capability, their experience? How did the different languages involved interact with each other? How did the joint staffs work? In which contexts did translations take place? Did nationalist ideas and ideologies play a role?
The use of writing. During the war, a number of individuals (soldiers and their families) had to write in French, perhaps for the first time ever, but certainly for the first time on that scale. Is there a linguistic specificity to those written productions? Did the level of literacy evolve? Can we observe a change in the expression of emotions? Was the expression of intimate matters altered by the war?
Language and education. The very functioning of schools was severely affected during the years of war. So far, there has been little research on this fact by historians.  How did the school system adapt to the new regime imposed by war? Was the teaching of the French language altered? Can we speak of a gap in transmission? Did the linguistic and cultural norms change during those years?
The purpose of this conference is to show that, by examining such an event as the First World War from the specific viewpoint of language matters, we can reveal its entanglement with cultural, social and political issues. The conference would also like to be an opportunity for historians and linguists to bring together their questions and methodologies, and promote new approaches around a common and engaging object.

Submission guidelines

Papers proposals should be sent in electronic format word, rtf or pdf to

not later than June 30, 2013.

Proposals must include the author’s name and his status, the title of the paper, a 350-word or a 1000 signs abstract.

They will be examinated by the members of the scientific committee.

Scientific committee

Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau (directeur d’études à l’EHESS)
Hélène Baty-Delalande (maîtresse de conférences en littérature, université de Paris 7)
Annette Becker (professeure d’histoire contemporaine à l’Université de Paris-Ouest Nanterre La Défense  / IUF)
Gabriel Bergougnoux (professeur de linguistique à l’université d’Orléans)
Sonia Branca-Rosoff (professeur émérite en linguistique à l’université de Paris 3)
Bruno Cabanes (associate professor en histoire contemporaine à Yale University)
Jean-François Chanet (professeur d’histoire contemporaine à l’Institut d’études politiques de Paris Sciences Po Paris)
Jean-Claude Chevalier (professeur émérite, université de Paris 8)
Jacques Dürrenmatt (professeur en Langue française, unievrsité Paris-Sorbonne)
Jacques Guilhaumou (directeur de recherche émérite, CNRS, section 34)
John Horne (professeur d’histoire contemporaine à Trinity College Dublin)
Jean-Marie Klinkenberg (professeur émérite en sémiologie et rhétorique à l’université de Liège, président du Conseil Supérieur de la Langue Française de Belgique)
Peter Koch (professeur, Romanisches Seminar, université de Tübingen)
R. Anthony Lodge (professeur émérite en Langue Française, University of St Andrews)
Marie-Anne Paveau (professeure en analyse du discours, université Paris 13)
Gilles Philippe (professeur de linguistique, université de Lausanne)
Christophe Prochasson (directeur d’études à l’EHES)
Frédéric Rousseau (professeur en Histoire contemporaine, université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3)
Odile Roynette (maîtresse de conférences habilitée en histoire contemporaine à l’Université de Franche-Comté et chercheure associée au Centre d’histoire de Sciences Po)
Jean-François Sablayrolles (professeur de lexicologie, université Paris 13)
André Thibault (professeur en Langue française, université Paris-Sorbonne)
Carine Trevisan (professeure en littérature du XXe siècle, Paris 7)
Jay Winter (professeur d’histoire contemporaine à Yale University)