Stylistic Variation in French: Bridging the Gap Between Research and Textbooks



One fundamental aspect of all educated native speakers' language competence is stylistic variation, or the ability to adjust speech register to situational formality (Labov, 1972). In this article, we investigate how current introductory and intermediate college French textbooks develop students' sociolinguistic competence and particularly the use of stylistic variation. First, we present an overview of research on native-speaker use and second language acquisition of three variables (on vs. nous, ne deletion vs. ne retention, and interrogative structures). Next, we explore the arguments for and against inclusion of stylistic variation in the foreign language curriculum. Then we examine its treatment in 22 textbooks. Our findings indicate that, in general, textbooks do not address stylistic variation consistently: Grammatical explanations and practice often misrepresent authentic uses of French in specific sociopragmatic situations. We recommend more explicit focus on stylistic variation in textbooks from the beginning of language study and offer a pedagogical norm for its treatment.