dialects and languages

JAMES A. LANDAU Netscape. Just the Net You Need. JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Sun Feb 24 15:36:22 UTC 2008

>>>-----Original Message-----

>>>header -----------------------
>>>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>>Poster:       Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET>
>>>Subject:      Re: dialects and languages

>>But if we follow the mutual intelligibility criterion, then Danish and
>>Norwegian are the same language.

>I would say that "language" (in this sense) is a
>distinction and "dialect" is a linguistic one. Any categorization of
>dialects that groups them into "languages" is not doing so strictly on
>linguistic terms.socio-political-historical

My take on the "socio-political-historical distinctions:

There is a consistent rule on dialects versus languages.
It is: IN EUROPE AND ASIA a tongue is a language if its original or most well-known users are considered a distinct national or ethnic group.

Examples:  in northern Spain there are three main Romance tongues: Castilian, Gallego (Galician), and Catalan.  Since Castile became the center of Catholic Spain, the "Spanish language" which is the main tongue of Spain (and the only major version of "Spanish" in the New World) is based on Castilian, although there are recognized regional dialects, such as Andalucian and Cuban.  In part this is political---the Spanish Academy uses Castilian.

Gallego, the tongue of Galicia, is considered to be merely a dialect because the Galicians are not generally recognized as ethnically or politically distinct from the Spaniards.  On the other hand, Catalan, the tonge of Catalonia (northeast Spain, around Barcelona) is (I think) generally recognized as a language rather than a dialect, because Catalonia has a somewhat independent political history and there is an extensive and well-known literature in Catalan.  There probably is a literature in Gallego, but it is not well known.

And of course there is Portuguese.  Portugal was only briefly part of united Spain and has maintained an independent political existence for centuries now.  Therefore even the Spaniards consider Portuguese a language rather than a dialect of Spanish.

I am told (by a former co-worker who has extensively travelled in Western Europe) that Dutch and Norwegian are mutually intelligible.  However, the Scandinavians (including the Danes) have a different culture from the rest of the Germanic speakers below the Baltic (e.g. Vikings) so nobody considers any of the Scandinavian tongues to be dialects.  Within Scandinavia Danes and Norwegians and Swedes have long had independent political histories (although there have been political conquests and mergers) so Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish are considerd separate languages.

Finnland has also had a separte history (for a long while, it was part of Russia) so Finnish classifies as a language rather than a dialect of perhaps Estonian.  Then there are the Lapps.  There is no independent country of Lappland; however Scandinavians think of the Lapps as a separate ethnic group and therefore Lapp is considered a language.

Now for China.  Mandarin and Cantonese are so distinct phonetically that someone who does not speak Chinese can tell them apart.  However, the Han Chinese consider themselves to be one ethnic group and China to be one political unit, so both Mandarin and Cantonese are considered to be dialects of a "Chinese language".

IN THE NEW WORLD things are different.  It takes an extreme divergence, e.g. Haitian Creole, to get a tongue considered to be a separate language.  (Question: how is Gullah usually classified?  I don't know)  If the New World followed the European rule, AAVE would be considered a separate language from English (as it is spoken exclusively by a separate ethnic group).

>>>-----Original Message-----

Date:    Sat, 23 Feb 2008 22:04:24 -0500
From:    Mark Mandel <thnidu at GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: Frogs as WOTY? Only if Obamafied...


Sorry, but I can't resist asking: is this what is meant by Obamified?

           James A. Landau
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