dialects and languages

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon Feb 25 02:59:50 UTC 2008

Isn't the easternmost variety of "Dutch" really Fries and the
westernmost variety of "German" - again, taking latitude into
consideration - really Low German? (I'm making do with the "atlas" in
the appendix of a dictionary.)


On Fri, Feb 22, 2008 at 1:20 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>  Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>  Subject:      Re: dialects and languages
>  -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>  At 10:32 AM -0500 2/22/08, Dennis R. Preston wrote:
>  >I don't understand why both aren't
>  >sociopolitical? Why would (at a certain latitude
>  >of course) the easternmost variety of Dutch, for
>  >example, be a "Dutch dialect" and the westernmost
>  >variety of German be a "German dialect"?
>  A nice example is Skåne, spoken in what is now
>  the south of Sweden; it used to be a dialect of
>  Danish (when the area belonged to Denmark) and
>  then magically became a dialect of Swedish,
>  without having undergone any appreciable changes
>  overnight.
>  LH
>  >They are
>  >"dialects of" a language for the same
>  >sociopolitical reasons that the languages are
>  >languages. No linguistic features would make them
>  >better members of the Dutch or German "set." If
>  >"dialect" means linguistically different variety
>  >of some historical family (i.e., West Germanic),
>  >this might be OK (as it is in many historical
>  >texts), although the metric of difference would
>  >also come into play.
>  >
>  >dInIs
>  >
>  >>---------------------- Information from the mail
>  >>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 socio-political-historical
>  >>distinction and "dialect" is a linguistic one. Any categorization of
>  >>dialects that groups them into "languages" is not doing so strictly on
>  >>linguistic terms.
>  >>
>  >>-----Original Message-----
>  >>From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
>  >>Laurence Horn
>  >>Sent: Thursday, February 21, 2008 7:42 PM
>  >>Subject: Re: dialects and languages
>  >>
>  >>The only quarrel I might have with your
>  >>observations relates not to the relative status
>  >>of Cantonese and Mandarin, with which I am in
>  >>accord with what you say, but rather to the
>  >>assumption that Cantonese and Mandarin are
>  >>dialects of Chinese.  While there is a good deal
>  >>of arbitrariness in where "dialect" (or
>  >>"variety") leaves off and where "language"
>  >>begins, one standard (if admittedly imperfect)
>  >>criterion is based on mutual intelligibility, and
>  >>that is absent between speakers of Cantonese and
>  >>Mandarin, from what I've read.  The other
>  >>criterion is the old Max Weinreich "A language is
>  >>a dialect with an army and a navy" one, which
>  >>militates in the opposite direction here.  But
>  >>even Ethnologue, which is conservative about such
>  >>matters, lists Cantonese and Mandarin as distinct
>  >>languages (see www.ethnologue.com).  So I agree
>  >>that Mandarin isn't more of a language and less
>  >>of a dialect than Cantonese, but I think by most
>  >>standardly accepted criteria they are indeed two
>  >>languages that share a writing system (and a
>  >>fairly large army and navy).
>  >>
>  >>LH
>  >>
>  >>At 9:43 PM -0500 2/21/08, 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.
>  >>>----
>  >>>
>  >>>My response was as follows:
>  >>>
>  >>>----
>  >>>Um. Well, many a speaker of a hegemonic dialect
>  >>>is likely to make a similar insistence, and the
>  >>>frequent implication is that the "dialects" are
>  >>>degraded versions of the "language" (which could
>  >>>hardly work in this case, since Cantonese is
>  >>>actually less historically changed than
>  >>>Mandarin). Most commonly you will see it said
>  >>>that Chinese is a language and Mandarin and
>  >>>Cantonese are dialects. (All versions of a
>  >>>language are dialects. There is no version of any
>  >>>language that is not a dialect of that language,
>  >>>and this includes whatever standard version is
>  >>>taught as being the only right way to speak it.
>  >>>Likewise, all speakers of any language anywhere
>  >>>have accents; there is no such thing as a
>  >>>language speaker without an accent.) It happens
>  >>>that Mandarin is the officially enforced dialect,
>  >>>and so is the standard; it hasn't always been
>  >>>thus.
>  >>>
>  >>>So your husband's pronouncement is of
>  >>  >sociological interest, in that it displays a
>  >>>certain set of attitudes (which might be objected
>  >>>to by Cantonese speakers), but you will find in
>  >>>general that Mandarin is referred to as a
>  >>>dialect. It _could_ be considered a separate
>  >>>language, but it isn't thought of as one, as a
>  >>>rule, and if it is one, so is Cantonese.
>  >>>----
>  >>>
>  >>>(I recognize that I overstated the case when I
>  >>>said all versions of a language are dialects, as
>  >>>I admitted later -- of course there are other
>  >>>levels of varieties, e.g., registers.)
>  >>>
>  >>>Her response was as follows:
>  >>>
>  >>>----
>  >>>In fact, my husband is Cantonese. His 2nd
>  >>>language is Mandarin. Other Cantonese speakers
>  >>>have said that same thing, that Cantonese is a
>  >>>dialect. Mandarin is what they call standard
>  >>>Chinese. My husband is also a linguist,
>  >>>translator & interpreter. Chinese grammar is
>  >>>based on Mandarin rather than on dialects such as
>  >>>Cantonese, Shanghainese, etc.
>  >>>----
>  >>>
>  >>>My response was this (I've trimmed bits to get to the point):
>  >>>
>  >>>----
>  >>>A standard dialect is still a standard _dialect_,
>  >>>though. ... The Queen speaks a dialect; the
>  >>>AcadÈmie franÁaise enforces a dialect. Cantonese
>  >>>isn't a dialect of Mandarin; it's a dialect of
>  >>>Chinese. It's not derived from Mandarin. Mandarin
>  >>>is the standard, but it's not the language; it's
>  >>>the standard dialect of the language. ...
>  >>>
>  >>>Also, I assume, when you're speaking of Chinese
>  >>>grammar, you're referring to what's taught in
>  >>>schools. The grammar of Cantonese as it's used by
>  >>>hundreds of millions or Cantonese speakers is, of
>  >>>course, Cantonese grammar, based on how Cantonese
>  >>>has evolved through history; it's not a mere
>  >>>derivative version of Mandarin grammar. ... Any
>  >>>given dialect might be grammatically different
>  >>>from the standard, but it has a grammar, and a
>  >>>consistent one at that. It couldn't be a
>  >>>coherent, viable form of communication otherwise.
>  >>>
>  >>>...
>  >>>----
>  >>>
>  >>>After another exchange, where we mainly repeated
>  >>>the same points in other words, her most recent
>  >>>missive is this:
>  >>>
>  >>>----
>  >>>Well. I also didn't mean to imply that dialects
>  >>>are inferior or that Cantonese is a dialect of
>  >>>Mandarin. Of course dialects aren't inferior. And
>  >>>by grammar, I'm not talking about "good grammar"
>  >>>but the forms & usages in a language. I once
>  >>>taught a course called varieties of English and
>  >>>had to set one student straight who thought that
>  >>>Canadian English was "just a dialect" because
>  >>>it's spoken in only one place - Canada. During
>  >>>the (20) years I taught ESL, English, & EFL, I
>  >>>had to explain to students that BrE isn't The
>  >>>English, that Parisian French isn't The French,
>  >>>etc.
>  >>>
>  >>>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?
>  >>>
>  >>>Thanks,
>  >>>James Harbeck.
>  >>>
>  >>>------------------------------------------------------------
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>  >>
>  >>------------------------------------------------------------
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>  >>
>  >>------------------------------------------------------------
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>  >
>  >
>  >--
>  >Dennis R. Preston
>  >University Distinguished Professor
>  >Department of English
>  >15C Morrill Hall
>  >Michigan State University
>  >East Lansing, MI 48824
>  >517-353-4736
>  >preston at msu.edu
>  >
>  >------------------------------------------------------------
>  >The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>  The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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