a family of languages

Aurolyn Luykx aurolynluykx at yahoo.com
Fri Jul 1 20:50:49 UTC 2005

Ditto to what Ron said (below).
We can at least all agree that English is a family of
dialects, and since the difference between language
boundaries and dialect boundaries is such a muddy one
(to say nothing of the muddiness of the boundaries
themselvs), it's not much of a stretch, to me, to talk
about English as a family of languages. Sure,
intelligibility isn't symmetrical, and all the issues
of power, exposure, etc. are relevant, but I don't see
how that strengthens the argument for a single
While I don't think there's any good single criterion
for distinguishing between dialects and languages,
reference to a single standard strikes me as a useful
one for grouping dialects into the same language
category (note that that doesn't mean SPEAKING the
standard). And it certainly doesn't hold for English.

> I think there are maybe two ways of looking at this
> that make sense 
> to me. The first is to count two places where we can
> find 
> singularities: one at the level of the individual,
> the idiolect; and 
> the other at the level of the species, human
> language. Everything in 
> between is open to negotiation. I believe this is
> Chomsky's position.
> McWhorter adds a third: the dialect ("dialects are
> all there is"). 
> I'm not 1005 comfortable with this, but surely it
> makes some sense to 
> take the language of a speech community, which is
> what a dialect is, 
> and render it as something "real" or at least
> quasi-real in the world.
> My current modus operandi on this is to merge
> Chomsky and McWhorter: 
> There is language, the species property; dialects,
> the language 
> behavior shared by members of speech communities;
> and idiolects, all 
> of which are unique to individuals. For me, what's
> important is that 
> whether you let dialects in or not, there's no
> longer any room for 
> "languages" like "English," which become socially
> and culturally 
> negotiated collections of dialects.
> One of the reasons I like to do this is because it
> drives the English 
> teachers in my classes nuts.
> Ron
> (Preparing to go into the Witness Protection
> Program...)

 "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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