A sociolinguistic study of Verlan in the town of Oyonnax, France

© Beckie Stewart

BA dissertation 2010 abstract

Whilst spending a year working in a small town in the Ain department of France, I noticed two things about the local population. The first was that the town, Oyonnax, appeared to host a large number of immigrants. This is not unusual in larger cities in France, such as Paris or Marseilles, but it is less commonplace in rural areas. Secondly, through my job as a language assistant in a high school, I became aware of the prominence of Verlan in conversation; a form of slang featuring the inversion of syllables to create new words, mainly used by North African and Muslim populations as an in-group or secret language. To take one of the most common examples, the word "m&eacut;tro" [metro], meaning "subway" or "underground system, undergoes an inversion of syllables to produce the Verlan word "trom&eacut;" [trome]. However, Verlan did not seem to be an exclusively non-white phenomenon; I heard it spoken by almost all of my students at one point or another, regardless of ethnic or social background. Thus I decided to conduct a study into the sociolinguistic aspects of the variety of Verlan spoken in Oyonnax, to find out which social groups actively used it in speech and for what reasons; this data was then used to ascertain whether or not the traditional purpose of Verlan has changed over time.

BA dissertation on Verlan (pdf)