Charles A. Ferguson (1921 - 1998)


Research Interests

  • Arabic Linguistics
  • TOEFL test created under his leadership

Notable Ideas

  • Diglossia

Academic Life

Ferguson made fundamental contributions to language universals, language use in society, and language change. Several of his articles have been basic classics for decades.

Diglossia is a linguistic term coined by Ferguson, as a result of his study on language and society. One of his theses was that some communities deploy two varieties of a language, thus they live in a "diglossic" speech community: a local, vernacular, spoken version associated with informal, quotidian communication; and a more prestigious, superposed version associated with education, government, religion and literature. Ferguson calls these ‘Low’ and ‘High’ varieties. Speakers and writers choose between L and H according to the situation. H and L thus signify the different cultural values of a speaker or the speech situation.

Main Publications

  • Ferguson, C. A. (1959). Diglossia. Word 15.

  • Ferguson, C. A. (1976). The Ethiopian Language Area. Language In Ethiopia, ed. by M. Lionel Bender, J. Donald Bowen, R.L. Cooper, Charles A. Ferguson. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Categories: People