dialects and languages

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Fri Feb 22 03:08:03 UTC 2008

Probably the easiest way to solve this is ask her what her definitions
of language and dialect are. It sounds like she thinks a language is
something sanctioned by the state or society and that a dialect is
something that is not.

Also, note that in Mandarin, dialect is 方言 (fang1 yan2), which
literally means direction speaking, implying that it is something spoken
out in the provinces or outer regions. This could potentially be causing
trouble for your interlocutor or her husband.

BTW, my understanding is that Mandarin encompasses a number of norther
dialects and that the common language is based on those. BB

James Harbeck wrote:
> I've been having a discussion on another list
> with someone, and I seem to be having trouble
> persuading her, so I just wanted to make sure
> that what I was saying was agreed on by linguists
> with more standing than I. Here's what she said
> initially:
> ----
> Mandarin is a language. Cantonese is a dialect.
> This is what I've been told by my husband, who is
> from the PRC & speaks both.
> ----
> Anyway, I will send you, off list, an article my
> husband wrote for STIBC (Society of Translators
> and Interpreters of BC) on Chinese. It's called
> "It's All in the Sign." I hope it clarifies
> things. I think it's important to note that, for
> practical purposes, there's a standard language
> in the PRC, a result of the May 4th Movement in
> 1919. It happens to be what we call Mandarin,
> although in Chinese it's /putonghua/, or common
> speech.
> ----
> So I'm still not sure whether she quite gets that
> she can't say that Mandarin _is_ Chinese and not
> a dialect, and that Cantonese is a dialect. Am I
> not giving her enough credit? And, for that
> matter, am I wrong?

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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