May I at the outset crave the reader's indulgence for focusing the subject matter very largely on metropolitan France. The regional varieties of French referred to in the title are therefore those spoken in the French regions, rather than, for example Belgian or Canadian varieties. Moreover, while it is impossible to discuss the regional languages question without taking into account the languages of the DOM-TOM and, indeed, the so-called non-territorial varieties, both of which have taken on considerable political significance in recent times, I have largely limited myself to reviewing sociolinguistic studies of ‘metropolitan’ regional (i.e. territorial) languages. I have also decided to concentrate on the present and thus may be perceived as giving short shrift to the large and growing body of excellent socio-historical work in the field.
Four major approaches are reviewed: firstly, the work inspired by the dialectological tradition on French regionalisms (section 2); secondly, quantitative variationist studies (section 3); thirdly, the Imaginaire Linguistique approach to linguistic perceptions (section 4) and fourthly, the approach emerging from the notion of diglossia, as defined by Catalan and Occitan linguists (section 5). Sections 6 to 8 deal with current issues – the Poignant (1998), Carcassonne (1998) and Cerquiglini (1999) reports and the vitality of regional languages as presented in numerous surveys of largely professed practices and exposure in the audio-visual media.