dialects and languages

Mark Mandel thnidu at GMAIL.COM
Fri Feb 22 15:05:56 UTC 2008

IMHO it's somewhat more than "convention". Part of the problem here is that
Mandarin, Cantonese (etc.) are mutually unintelligible IN SPEECH, but in
writing the differences are on the order-of-magnitude of US vs. UK English,
or less. We European-language-speakers are so used to alphabetic writing
systems that it's very easy for us to treat spoken and written expression as
interchangeable; and as linguists we generally treat written expression as
derivative of spoken expression, and therefore ignore it when considering
the question of language vs. dialect. But the logographic Chinese writing
system demands a whole 'nother way of looking at it. Which, I think, is a
large part of the reason for calling Chinese a "language" with all these

m a m

On Thu, Feb 21, 2008 at 10:52 PM, James Harbeck <jharbeck at sympatico.ca>

> I agree that Cantonese and Mandarin could readily be called separate
> languages, but they are conventionally called dialects, and if one
> is, so is the other. (They do have sub-dialects, of course.)
Mark Mandel

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

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