The study of languages in contact in the Alsacian multilingual space are the subject of a double sociolinguistic and sociopsychologic analysis. Beyond description, emphasis is placed on the problematic and often contradictory aspects of a complex linguistic situation.

From a sociolinguistic point of view, the evolution of the situation can be summarised in three points:

  • At the end of 20th century, French constitutes, for each speaker and in each speech context, the "legitimate language", in the terms of Bourdieu.
  • Although the disappearance of the dialect is accelerating and appears to have decreased by almost 30% of the speakers between 1946 and 1998, the Alsatian dialect maintains a higher vitality than that of other regional languages (in 1998, 50% of Alsatians spoke it fluently). The numbers must, however, be relativised. There exists, indeed, a difference between the potential use related to declared competence and the real use (Veltman, 1982). Since 1960, dialects lost a significant part of their functions, so that even with family and close friends, they can switch constantly to French. In verbal interactions and in relations with others, the choice of the codes depends more (taking into account the potentialities) on personal appreciation and on speech strategies than on the objective situation and on the real functionality of the language codes. This more individual behaviour marks a cleavage with after-war behaviour. It follows that the notion of "diglossia", even deemed asymmetrical, cannot be used in the description.
  • The numbers of speakers declaring knowledge of German (around 60 % in 1989/1992), close to those of the dialect, raise questions. This declared competence is in contradiction with the use and the practices on the one hand, and with the reduced functionality of written endogenous German (German spoken but not as a vernacular).

The system of representations objectified in epilinguistic speech shows that French is used as the single standard from which is measured functionality, statutory values and symbolic systems of the other codes. Its identification as an authoritative standard and, therefore, as an exogenic code, leads, generally, to self-depreciation of linguistic abilities and to a feeling of linguistic insecurity. It is, in all logic, that French spoken in Alsace appears as a stigmatised variety which is comparable with the « accent » in its most painful version, conditioned as it is by the perspective, real or supposed, of an out-group.

With the exception of its identity or emotional dimension, the dialect presents all the attributes that oppose it to French: it is not a language; it is not written; it is not standardised; it is not modern, etc. The very negative connotation of the linguistic interbreeding leads to the valorisation of a "museographic" dialectal standard that is not accessible to the subjects that use French intensively.

Representations of the German language reveal the most contradictory aspects of the linguistic awareness of Alsatians. Questioned on the political links between the dialects and German, subjects choose, with few exceptions, a strategy of distanciation which tends to isolate the Alsatian dialect in a restricted area and to make German a foreign language of proximity. As to the socio-educational or geo-economic conditions, German, conversely, raises very positive attitudes. From this point of view, the dialects isolated from their historical language-root constitute, then, an invaluable access to German.

The last part of the article shows the role of linguistic policies in the construction of representations of languages and the shifts subsequent to recent political measures and expectations in a society in which representations evolved less quickly.