Portrait of Dr David Hornsby

Dr David Hornsby

Head of Department of English Language and Linguistics
Senior Lecturer in French and Linguistics


In addition to his primary role in English Language and Linguistics, Dr David Hornsby remains a member of the French department, where he worked for nearly twenty years. 

David worked briefly as a UN translator in Geneva and, since coming to the University of Kent, has taught a wide range of subjects from Russian and translation theory to comparative literature. His frequent appearances on local and national broadcast media attest to the enduring fascination of language variation for both linguists and non-linguists. 

Research interests

David's current teaching in English Language and Linguistics and in French is focused around his research interests in language variation and change. The shift from traditional dialect to urban regional French is the theme of his monograph Redefining Regional French, which examined the emergence of mixed dialects, or koinés, in the French mining town of Avion. 

More recently, David's attention has turned to stylistic variation and the phenomenon of variable liaison, which involves the pronunciation in some contexts of normally silent link consonants in French (e.g. trop (p) important), and its complex relationship to social factors. Fieldwork for a recent project has taken him to another mining area, this time in East Kent, where contact between families who came from other UK coalfields in the 1920s has produced a uniquely ‘northern’ English dialect in the south-east. 

David's current research projects are investigating a writing system for Oromo, the emergence of a ‘standard’ Franco-Provençal dialect, and the adoption of London English features in Essex and Kent.  He has overseen dissertations on topics as diverse as the emergence of a ‘standard’ Franco-Provençal dialect, swearing in English and a writing system for Oromo, and is generally happy to supervise research into any aspect of language variation and change.   


David teaches sociolinguistics.



  • Hornsby, D. (2009). Dedialectalization in France: Convergence and Divergence. International Journal of the Sociology of Language [Online] 196/97:157-180. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/IJSL.2009.020.
    This article challenges the received view that geolinguistic variation in France is both imminent and inevitable. It is certainly true that France's ancestral dialects and regional languages are in terminal decline, and that a combination of late industrialization and the dominance of an oversized capital conurbation has engendered regional dialect leveling of a particularly extreme kind. But we will argue that new varieties are emerging, and that these represent independent vernacular norms rather than an ephemeral dialect residue as is generally assumed. While these regional French varieties are often embryonic, they are distinguishing themselves via a number of processes, including notably the creation of interdialect forms, differential adoption of urban variants and/or divergent norms for supralocal variables, the retention of archaisms, and local phonological divergence. Francophone Europe is seeing profound changes to the nature of geolinguistic variation, not the end of diversity.
  • Hornsby, D. (2006). The Myth of Structured Obsolescence. Journal of French Language Studies [Online] 16:125-146. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0959269506002390.
    Using data from an obsolescent dialect situation in northern France, this paper questions the view that dedialectalization is a process of level-by-level attrition which leaves a linguistic residue in Regional French (the ‘Structured Obsolescence Hypothesis’). Comparison of dialect index scores for a number of variables reveals significant variation in rates of attrition within levels, with some phonological and morphological variants showing greater vitality than others, but no consistent relationship between levels as the model would predict. An alternative model is proposed, based on the relative learnability of different variants, and it is further argued that rejection of the Structured Obsolescence Hypothesis calls some other assumptions about Regional French into question, notably the view that it can be considered an intermediate variety between dialect and standard, and that it is necessarily ephemeral in nature.
  • Hornsby, D. and Jones, M. (2006). Blue-Sky Thinking? Léon Bollack and ’La Langue française en l’an 2003’. Language Problems and Languages Planning 30:215-238.
  • Hornsby, D. (1999). The Dynamic Model and Inherent Variability: The Case of Northern France. International Journal of Applied Linguistics [Online] 9:19-36. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1473-4192.1999.tb00158.x.
    This paper explores the claims of the ‘dynamic’model of variation by testing it against data recorded in Avion, northern France. Parallels are drawn between langue d'oïl areas of France and decreolization situations in which proponents of the dynamic model have generally worked. Evidence to support the rejection of inherent variability within the dynamic model is found to rest on invariant performance for very small numbers of tokens, and on the dubious assumption that conversational code-switching does not occur. A lack of homogeneous speaker data in this case makes determination of lect structure all but impossible. In an attempt to isolate uni-code sequences, co-occurrence between variables is studied at the level of the clause, as in Burträsk by Thelander (1976, 1982). Significant differences from the Burträsk data emerge, and the claims of the dynamic model prove ultimately untest-able in the absence of reliably homogeneous data, even in relatively short talk sequences. The researcher is ultimately forced to abandon the model or dismiss the misfit between theory and data as “performance”, which, it is argued, may well be no more than inherent variability under a different name.
  • Hornsby, D. (1998). Patriotism and Linguistic Purism in France: ’Deux dialogues dans le nouveau langage françois’ and ’Parlez-vous Franglais?’. Journal of European Studies [Online] 28:331-354. Available at: http://ejournals.ebsco.com/direct.asp?ArticleID=4AB9832332F439299286.
    The French satirical works `Deux dialogues dans le nouveau langage francois italianize,' by Henri Estienne in 1578, and `Parlez-vous franglais?,' by Rene Entiemble in 1964, were both aimed at patriotism and linguistic purism in France. Although writing in two different contexts, both writers expressed their indifference towards perceived semantic shifts brought about by external pressure. Estienne viewed the Italianized language of the court as a threat to French language, whereas the same threat was seen by Etiemble in the form of Anglo-American language.


  • Hornsby, D. (2014). Linguistics: A Complete Introduction. [Online]. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton. Available at: https://www.hodder.co.uk/books/detail.page?isbn=9781444180329.
  • Hornsby, D. (2006). Redefining Regional French: Koinéization and Dialect Levelling in Northern France. Oxford: Legenda.
    This is the first book-length treatment of français régional, or Regional French (RF). Its importance is twofold. Firstly, it challenges the received view of the concept, which appears to date from the 1920s, according to which Regional French is no more than an ephemeral residue from obsolescent Romance dialects: citing data from northern French, it argues that some RF varieties are healthy and bear a far less direct link to substrate dialects than is generally assumed. Secondly, the book shows how Anglo-American sociolinguistic models can be successfully applied in France, where they have hitherto had little impact, and can yield important new theoretical insights.

Book section

  • Hornsby, D. (2018). A new dialect for a new village: Evidence for koinézation in East Kent. In: Wright, L. ed. Southern English Varieties Then And Now. Berlin & Boston: De Gruyter Mouton, pp. 74-109. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110577549-004.
    The construction of Aylesham as 'new town' for miners in East Kent brought together migrants from every UK coalfield, providing conditions for dialect mixing and koinéization comparable to those described by Trudgill (2004) for colonial settings such as New Zealand. Trudgill's deterministic model of new dialect formation is tested here using data from a pilot study conducted in the village, and found broadly to be valid for internal migrant as well as tabula rasa settings. An important difference, however, lies in evidence of the emergence of a new dialect in the first, rather than the second indigenous Aylesham generation as the model would predict.
  • Hall, D. and Hornsby, D. (2015). Top-Down or Bottom-Up? Understanding Diffusion of Supralocal Norms in France. In: Davies, W. and Ziegler, E. eds. Language Planning and Microlinguistics : From Policy to Interaction and Vice Versa. Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK: Springer, pp. 105-127. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/9781137361240_6.
    For over a century, France has held a central place in dialectological studies. The richness of its traditional dialectal variation — what Gaston Paris once called ‘une immense bigarrure’ (an immense patchwork) — attracted the interest of Romance philologists such as Jules Gilliéron, whose Atlas Linguistique de la France (ALF), compiled with Edmond Edmont (Gilliéron and Edmont, 1902–10), represents a major landmark for the discipline and continues to provide a mine of information for variationists. Recording in minute detail the findings of Edmont’s linguistic fieldwork in 639 villages in francophone Europe, the ALF inspired countless early twentieth-century dialect monographs and glossaries, while the latter half of the last century saw the publication of a series of works entitled Atlas Linguistique et Ethnographique de la France par Régions, designed to complement Gilliéron’s work and using his original fieldwork questionnaire, which attest further to continued interest in France’s regional and local variation.
  • Hornsby, D. (2014). Repenser la variation diatopique?. In: Lagargette, D. ed. Repenser l’histoire Du français. France: Chambéry, pp. 215-230. Available at: http://www.llseti.univ-smb.fr/web/llseti/389-repenser-l-histoire-du-francais.php.
  • Hornsby, D. and Jones, M. (2013). Exception française? Levelling, Exclusion and Urban Social Structure in France. In: Jones, M. C. and Hornsby, D. eds. Language and Social Structure in Urban France. Oxford: Legenda, pp. 94-109.
  • Hornsby, D. and Jones, M. (2013). Introduction. In: Jones, M. C. and Hornsby, D. eds. Language and Social Structure in Urban France. Oxford: Legenda, pp. 1-7.
  • Hornsby, D. (2012). Getting it Wrong: Liaison, Pataquès, and Repair in Contemporary French. In: Pooley, T. and Lagorgette, D. eds. On Linguistic Change in French: Socio-Historical Approaches. Festschrift for R. Anthony Lodge. Chambéry, France: Editions de l’Université de Savoie, pp. 69-84. Available at: http://www.lls.univ-savoie.fr/index.php?action=lire&id=1279.
  • Hornsby, D. (2011). Liaison and the Speech/Writing Interface. In: Hornsby, D. ed. Interfaces in Language 2. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, pp. 117-136. Available at: http://www.c-s-p.org/flyers/Interfaces-in-Language-21-4438-3165-4.htm.
  • Scott, J. (2011). Eroded into Being: Discourse, Style and Semantics in Russell Hoban’s ’Riddley Walker’. In: Hornsby, D. ed. Interfaces in Language 2. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 87-102. Available at: http://www.cambridgescholars.com/interfaces-in-language-2-16.
    Though its premise is similar to other fictional renderings of post-apocalyptic dystopias, Russell Hoban’s 'Riddley Walker' (1980) is unusual and innovative in its narrative technique. The eponymous homodiegetic narrator writes (speaks?) in a futuristic version of English which attempts through phonetic transliteration a representation of the Kentish dialect. Contemporary terms assume new meanings, and even the place names, while recognisable, indulge in beguiling word play: ‘Dog Et’ for Dargate, ‘Do It Over’ for Dover and ‘Sams Itch’ for Sandwich. The River Stour, seeping its way through the radioactive tundra that was once the Garden of England, becomes, appropriately, ‘The River Sour’. While Riddley’s discourse is a believable-enough projection (in linguistic terms) of how English might evolve in such circumstances (bringing to mind the more recent creation of Will Self in The Book of Dead: Mocknee), the technique presents intriguing challenges to both the reader and the author, which this paper will elucidate in stylistic and narratological terms. In terms of the first, it will explore the tension between standard written English and the ‘dialect’ of the text, distinctive linguistic features (vocabulary, grammar, spelling), and the ‘dialect’ of the characters versus that of the narrator. In terms of the second, schema-oriented language, deictic expressions and discourse representation strategies (modes of speech and thought representation) will be examined.

    The text sets in motion a narrative ‘suspense’; the reader is gradually inducted into the narrative voice, becoming accustomed to new ways of reading and understanding written discourse. In the terms of cognitive poetics, language and reading schema are invoked, then altered or even redefined. The reader is forced to ‘slow down’, and partake, just like Riddley the narrator, in a process of making sense, meaning, out of inchoate written language. The sensation the reader has of coming to terms with new connections between word and meaning chimes precisely with the central theme of the book: of a new, fracturing discourse ‘eroded into being’ to represent a new, fractured age. As Self writes in his introduction to the novel: ‘It is a grand book, a demanding book, a destabilising book’. It is this process of narrative and linguistic destabilisation which is be the focus of this chapter.
  • Hornsby, D. (2011). Introduction. In: Hornsby, D. ed. Interfaces in Language 2. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, pp. 1-6.
  • Hornsby, D. (2010). ’Ni patois, ni français régional’: Dual-Status Variables in Vernacular Northern French. In: Partridge, J. G. ed. Interfaces in Language. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, pp. 271-288. Available at: http://www.c-s-p.org/flyers/Interfaces-in-Language1-4438-2399-6.htm.
  • Hornsby, D. (2007). Regional Dialect Levelling in Urban France and Britain. In: Hornsby, D. and Jamin, M. eds. Nottingham French Studies: Sociolinguistic Variation and Change in France. Edinburgh University Press, pp. 64-81.
  • Hornsby, D. (2007). Dialect Lite? The Rise of the Semi-speaker in an Obsolescent Dialect Community. In: Ayres-Bennett, W. and Jones, M. C. eds. The French Language and Questions of Identity. Oxford: Legenda, pp. 76-88.
  • Hornsby, D. (2007). Introduction. In: Hornsby, D. and Jamin, M. eds. Nottingham French Studies: Sociolinguistic Variation and Change in France. Edinburgh University Press, pp. 1-5.
  • Hornsby, D. and Pooley, T. (2001). La sociolinguistique et les accents français d’Europe. In: Judge, A., Pooley, T. and Hintze, M.-A. eds. French Accents: Phonological and Sociolinguistic Perspectives. London: CILT, pp. 305-343.
  • Hornsby, D. (1998). L’émergence de nouvelles variétés urbaines: les cas de Burträsk (Suède) et d’Avion (Pas-de-Calais). In: Eloy, J.-M. ed. Evaluer La vitalité: Variétés d’oïl Et Autres Langues. Actes Du Colloque International “Evaluer La Vitalité Des variétés régionales Du Domaine d’oïl” 29-30 Nov. 1996 - AMIENS. Centre d’études picardes, pp. 185-194.

Edited book

  • Jones, M.C. and Hornsby, D. eds. (2013). Language and Social Structure in Urban France. Oxford: Legenda.
  • Hornsby, D. ed. (2011). Interfaces in Language 2. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press.
  • Hornsby, D. and Jamin, M. eds. (2007). Nottingham French Studies: Sociolinguistic Variation and Change in France. Vol. 46.2. Edinburgh University Press.


  • Kasstan, J. (2015). Variation and Change in Francoprovençal: A Study of an Emerging Linguistic Norm.
    This variationist sociolinguistic study investigates language change in the Francoprovençal speaking communities of les monts du Lyonnais in France, and the Canton of Valais in Switzerland. In Chapter 1 we give a brief overview of Francoprovençal, and outline the parameters of the study. Chapter 2 presents an overview of where Francoprovençal has come from and why it is so controversial. Beginning with its origins, we give a brief history of dialectalisation for our fieldwork areas, before discussing Francoprovençal as an exceptional case in the Romance linguistic literature. Case studies on language maintenance and shift are presented in Chapter 3, where we contextualise our study on Francoprovençal and the emergence of the 'Arpitan' revitalisation movement. We argue that Francoprovencal does not quite fit the mould of other multidialectal contexts such as Breton or Corsican. Chapter 4 outlines the methods employed in undertaking the empirical and ethnographic fieldwork for the study. In Chapters 5, 6, and 7 we examine each of the linguistic variables in the study in relation to a number of extra-linguistic factors. Our findings indicate that, while older traditional speakers produce localised dialectal variants in a more monitored speech style, there is variation. Conversely, the new speakers not only show substantial linguistic divergence from other speakers in the sample, but also from each other. We present evidence to suggest that the pan-regional norm is having some impact on language use. In Chapter 8 we focus specifically on the Arpitan movement and its effects, asking in what ways a commitment to the revitalisation cause is driving change for some participants in the study. A novel Arpitan Engagement Index is employed to assess the extent to which speakers are connected with the movement and how this correlates with language use: we focus on the social significance of a series of 'new' Arpitan forms. We terminate with our conclusions in Chapter 9, where we advance a number of hypotheses in relation to language change in the communities under investigation. In particular, we suggest that convergence is taking place in the direction of both national and regional norms. Lastly, we suggest avenues for future research trajectories.
  • Degeneh Bijiga, T. (2015). The Development of Oromo Writing System.
    The development and use of languages for official, education, religion, etc. purposes have been a major political issue in many developing multilingual countries. A number of these countries, including China and India, have recognised the issues and developed language policies that have provided some ethnic groups with the right to develop their languages and cultures by using writing systems based on scripts suitable for these purposes. On the other hand, other countries, such as Ethiopia (a multilingual African state) had, for a long time, preferred a policy of one language and one script in the belief that this would help the assimilation of various ethnic groups create a homogenous population with one language and culture. Rather than realizing that aim, the policy became a significant source of conflict and demands for political independence among disfavoured groups.

    This thesis addresses the development of a writing system for Oromo, a language spoken by approximately 40 percent of the total population of Ethiopia, which remained officially unwritten until the early 1990s. It begins by reviewing the early history of Oromo writing and discusses the Ethiopian language policies, analysing materials written in various scripts and certain writers starting from the 19th century. The adoption of Roman script for Oromo writing and the debates that followed are explored, with an examination of some phonological aspects of the Oromo language and the implications of representing them using the Roman alphabet.

    This thesis argues that the Oromo language has thrived during the past few years having implemented a Roman-based alphabetical script. There have been and continue to be, however, internal and external challenges confronting the development of the Oromo writing system which need to be carefully considered and addressed by stakeholders, primarily by the Oromo people and the Ethiopian government, in order for the Oromo language to establish itself as a fully codified language in the modern nation-state.


  • Hornsby, D. (2019). Variable liaison, diglossia and the style dimension in spoken French. French Studies [Online] 73. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/fs/knz156.
    This article tests the diglossia hypothesis, according to which informal/spoken and formal/written French have diverged to the point of being separate High and Low varieties in Haugen's (1966) terms, using a corpus of data from 96 speakers examined for variable liaison in scripted and unscripted style. While the data do not lend support for a diglossia model, they do not in themselves refute it, because the the hypothesis as it stands is empirically unfalsifiable. A comparison of the speakers investigated here and 'professionnels de la parole publique', i.e. individuals for whom speaking in public is an occupational requirement, suggests nonetheless that the diglossia model offers a poor fit for liaison data, and an alternative four-level model for this complex variable is proposed.
  • Hornsby, D. (2019). Picard: a mal aimé among regional languages?. Journal of French Language Studies.
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