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Dr Zoë Boughton

Senior Lecturer in French


01392 724209

Research interests

Zoë Boughton welcomes enquiries about postgraduate supervision (for MRes, MPhil and PhD degrees) in areas relating to the sociolinguistics and dialectology of French, such as: phonological and phonetic variation and change; French regional accents and social varieties; dialect and accent levelling; standardisation, purism and language ideology; language attitudes and perceptual dialectology; folk linguistics.

Sociolinguistics of Contemporary French, especially Standardisation and Social-Regional Accent Variation in Metropolitan France

I'm interested in all aspects of the linguistics, and particularly the sociolinguistics, of the French language, but my main area of research is variation and change in the pronunciation (phonetics and phonology) of metropolitan French. During my PhD, I gathered a large corpus (about 60 hours) of speech recordings by carrying out urban dialect surveys in the cities of Nancy and Rennes. The design of the corpus means that I can examine variation with regard to the major extra-linguistic variables of region, gender, age and social class. I'm especially interested in the apparent loss of traditional regional accents in France, whether this is owing to standardisation or levelling, whether uniformisation of speech is continuing and on what level, and how variation is expressed in contemporary French if regional features have been attenuated.

Perception, Salience and Connotations of Accents

The other main strand of my research is the investigation of ‘folk' (= non-linguists') perceptions of and attitudes towards language variation. This is important not least for the reason that speakers' beliefs and feelings about different varieties of a language can materially affect not only their own speech behaviour but potentially the direction of far-reaching linguistic changes. Most early language attitudes research in social psychology focused on hearers' attitudes towards speakers of certain types of language (for example, is a Brummie speaker friendly?; is a speaker of RP trustworthy?). More recently, the field of Perceptual Dialectology has sought answers to other questions, such as how many different varieties of a given language its native speakers believe to exist and where they think these are located geographically. My work on French has involved asking native speakers to listen to audio clips of other native speakers (from Nancy and Rennes) and say where they think they are from, what their socio-economic background might be, and so forth.

The two studies I have carried out so far have both been reported in the press. Here are links to articles in The Guardian and the Chicago Tribune.,,1149229,00.html

Forthcoming Research Projects

A quantitative variationist analysis of word-final post-obstruent liquid deletion in my corpus (i.e. the dropping of /l/ and /R/ in words like table > tab' and quatre > quat') has revealed conclusively that this variable functions as a sociolinguistic marker in contemporary metropolitan French. I am now carrying out an investigation of the effects of following phonological context on the variant realised; that is, whether the token is followed by a word beginning with a vowel or a consonant, or a silent pause. My working hypothesis is that there is a particularly strong interaction between the following phonological context and the social class of the speaker.

I have previously published some results of a perceptual study carried out in the Pays de la Loire region. This reported on non-linguists' ability to identify the region of origin of a sample of speakers from Nancy and Rennes based on short audio extracts, and on their perceptions of these speakers as having a rural or an urban background. Further data yet to be analysed and published concern two more key aspects of this study: (i) the identification of the socio-economic background of the speakers and (ii) the hearers' evaluations of the aesthetic qualities of the speech samples.


Research supervision

Postgraduate Supervision since 2001

  • MRes on ‘"Levelling" in Metropolitan French: The Role of the Younger Middle-Class Female', Sophie Nicholson, 2006-07.
  • Three MA dissertations.
  • MRes on 'Guernsey Norman French', Helen Simmonds, 2007-8, funded by the AHRC.
  • PhD on 'The Legacy of the Substrate: Vestiges of Breton in Regional French Phonology', Sophie Nicholson, 2007-10, funded by the AHRC.
  • PhD on Guernsey Norman French, Helen Simmonds, 2008-11, funded by a University of Exeter Department of Modern Languages Graduate Teaching Assistantship.
  • MRes on Sociolinguistic Variation in French, Charlotte Fry, 2008-9.
  • MRes on 'Phonological Variation and Change in Alsatian French', Katharine Pipe, 2009-10, part-funded by a University Merit Scholarship.
  • PhD on the regional French of Alsace, Katharine Pipe, 2010-13, funded by the AHRC.
  • PhD on 'An Empirical Study into Politeness Phenomena in the English Subtitling of French Cinema', Marianne Butler, 2012-15, funded by the AHRC.
  • PhD on Language and Identity in the Margin of Brittany, Adrian Chrimes, 2012-15, funded by the AHRC.

Other information


International Conference Papers (since 2001)

  • ‘Investigating purism in France: Folk perceptions of variation in standard French'
    April 2003 at the University of Bristol,  Linguistic Purism in the Germanic Languages
  • ‘Social-regional variation in metropolitan French: Perceptions and behaviour'
    September 2003 at the University of Sheffield, UK Language Variation and Change 4
  • ‘Accent variation in France: Perceptions, attitudes, behaviour and the ideology of the standard'
    October 2004 at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (travel funded by British Academy), New Ways of Analyzing Variation (NWAV) 33
  • ‘La géographie d'abord? Phonological variation in contemporary French'
    June 2005 at the University of Oxford, Le français parlé au XXIe siècle: Normes et variations
  • ‘The interaction between regional, social and stylistic variation: The case of French'
    September 2005 at the University of Aberdeen, UK Language Variation and Change 5
  • ‘Is perception reality? Perceptual dialectology, accent identification and variation in French'
    January 2006 at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge, Romance Linguistics Seminar XXXIV
  • ‘Sociophonetic variation in "levelled" metropolitan French: Perception, reality and linguistic change'
    July 2006 at the Université Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium (travel funded by British Academy), Colloque international pfc2006 (Approches phonologiques et prosodiques de la variation sociolinguistique: le cas du français)
  • ‘Mind the gap: When perception isn't reality'
    September 2006 at UWE, Bristol, AFLS Conference: Variations, variétés
  • ‘The perception of variation in French: Sex, class and stereotypes'
    September 2007 at the University of Lancaster, UK Language Variation and Change 6
  • ‘La perception et l'évaluation de la variation dans le français parlé'
    September 2007 at the University of Vienna (invited paper, travel funded by British Academy, other expenses paid by the conference organisers), XXX. Romanistentag (Sektion 21: Perzeptive Varietätenlinguistik)
  • ‘Variation et constitution de la norme en français parlé: le rôle de la perception'
    November/December 2007 at the University of Innsbruck (invited paper; expenses paid by the conference organisers), Faut-il réécrire l'histoire du français? Les variations diachroniques et synchroniques du français
  • ‘Variable deletion of /l/ and /R/ in word-final clusters: the interplay of social and linguistic factors'
    September 2008 at the University of Oxford, Congrès AFLS «Les voix du français: usages et représentations»
  • 'La standardisation continue de la langue française: perception et production', December 2009 at the Université de Bretagne Occidentale, Brest (invited paper; expenses paid), Séminaire de la Bretagne Linguistique du Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique (CRBC)
  • 'Chercher la diatopie: is social variation in French regionally localised?', September 2010 at the University of Cambridge, Congrès AFLS «Le français: langue une, langue plurielle»
  • 'Space and standardised French: the final frontier?', January 2011 at Peterhouse, Cambridge (invited paper; expenses paid), The Linguistic Correlates of Space, second workshop of the AHRC research network Language and Social Structure in Urban France
  • 'Locating Variation in French', September 2011 at Peterhouse, Cambridge (invited paper; expenses paid), AHRC network conference Language and Social Structure in Urban France

In addition, four invited papers at research seminars outside Exeter (Bristol, York, Oxford, Cambridge) and four in Exeter.


I completed my BA Hons in French (first class), MA Linguistics and PhD in French at Newcastle University. My doctoral research focused on sociolinguistic variation in the phonology of metropolitan French. I was appointed Lecturer in French at Exeter in 2001, and Senior Lecturer in 2006. I have served in a variety of administrative and leadership roles over the years, including Programme Director in French, Deputy Director of Education in Modern Languages, and Chair of the Ethics Committee in the College of Humanities. Currently I am Assessment Officer for Modern Languages and Cultures, incorporating Art History & Visual Culture and the Foreign Language Centre. Beyond Exeter, I have acted as external examiner on BA French and Modern Languages programmes at Newcastle (2012-2016) and at Queen's University, Belfast (2008-2012). I am a past member of the editorial board of the Journal of French Language Studies (Cambridge University Press).

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