Language vs Dialect

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by J.F. de TROYES, Feb 6, 2009.

  1. J.F. de TROYES Senior Member

    My question is closely tied to a previous thread, but I would like to stick to the linguistic field. Let's suppose we are searching for classifying an unknown or poorly known language that shares many features, but not all with the language A which has been cleared up. Can we decide whether this is an A dialect or a B language ?
    In many cases studying phonological, grammatical, lexical similarities and discrepancies are more than enough to make up his mind. Undoubtedly Catalan is not a dialect of Spanish (or vice-versa ) and Occitan is'nt either a dialect of Catalan. But in case data is poor, native speakers are few, is it possible to settle the question ? Where does the linguistic boundary goes through ( I don't mean a geographical one ) ?
    We can perhaps hang on to the mutual intelligibility ; people who understand each other , whatever the dialectal forms, use the same language. If we are in agreement with this definition, we can say, for example, that Moroccan, Egyptian and so on are really different languages, by the fact that an Egyptian speaker cannot make out the Moroccans' language ( Common, written Arabic is rightly called M.S.A, Modern Standard Arabic ).
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 8, 2009
  2. arsham Senior Member

    Persian - Iran
    This is very difficult question to answer, this link may help:

    I think in the case of dead or "poorly recorded" languages one needs to be cautious and perhaps classify them as related languages, simply because we don't dispose of sufficient information. Of course, historical facts can always be helpful!
  3. trance0 Senior Member

    This is almost impossible to answer fully and I think it also exceeds the purpose of this forum. It is a very broad linguistic question/problem often additionally plagued by political issues. However, we do have some professional linguists on this forum and it could be interesting to get some input from them as long as we all manage to keep politics out and stick to pure linguistic arguments.
  4. Athaulf

    Athaulf Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    You might this Wikipedia article interesting:

    It describes different ways of defining a "language" in a systematic way. Each of them is fuzzy in its own way, of course, but in my opinion, this approach clarifies a lot of common confusion.
  5. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    In my opinion there is no way of "objectively" defining the border between language and dialect.

    From a linguistic point of view each and every dialect which has its own grammar is a linguistic code, and thus a language, in its own right - that's one extreme - while in real life, and from a philological point of view, there is an accepted canon of "languages" and dialects who aren't "accepted" are "dialects" - here the other extreme.
    Reality lies between both.

    To elaborate, Nordic languages: Norvegians, Swedes and Danes usually claim they can understand each other quite well even when each of them speaks his or her own native language (see this thread here for opinions).
    Still they are considered different languages, and Norwegian even has two standard languages.

    On the other hand, Chinese regional languages many times are considered dialects even though they are not mutually intelligible.

    And half-between these two, take German: if German native speakers from distant regions speak their dialects they cannot communicate at all, or they can only communicate partially - it depends on region and speakers. Also Letzebuergisch - Luxemburg language was considered a "German dialect" about 200 years ago and over time has developped into a language even though it isn't more different from standard German than plenty of other German dialects. There's even a Wiki site in this language; but there's also a Bavarian Wiki site, and even more "dialect" sites (dialects not considered "languages" so far, by majority agreement so to speak).

    All in all, your question is pretty unanswerable: it depends on political points of view what to consider a language and what not.
    By the way, even linguists might disagree here, that is: where a dialect begins, and when a dialect becomes a language.

    Or in other words, with the words attributed to Max Weinreich:
    A language is a dialect with an army and navy.
    This describes our "social" reality.

    Linguistic reality would split German into hundreds if not thousands of dialects if you take the most radical point of view; but as I said the controversy also exists with linguists: some indeed defend the philological concept of a "standard language categorisation", that is: a standard language "covering", so to speak, several "dialects" for them is enough of an argument for defining language and dialect.
    If you'd like to follow this reasoning you would describe German as "one language" even though there are a great many "dialects" so to speak "covered" by this language while Hindi and Urdu would be considered separate languages because two different standard languages cover different dialects.

    So even linguistic definitions are very problematic here. Choosing any definition - whichever you prefer - really is a political choice already. Except if you stick to the extreme linguistic definition - if you define each (relatively homogenuous) subset of grammatical rules*) (which includes everything from phonetics and phonology, morphology, grammar, syntax and semantics, even lexicon) as a code, a language.

    *) Obviously you always have to leave room for some variation, else you would have to define each person's competence as "one (single) language": which would be nonsense. Or put in other words: the language of an individuum is an idiolekt - everyone of us has some idiosyncrasises, right? - but a language even in this "minimal" sense should not be defined as idiolect, but as a "relatively homogenuous" grammatical subset.
  6. Mr.Slade Member

    U.S. English
    The word "dialect" in linguistics is like the word "weed" in botany. It is not a valid concept. It is meaningless.

    "Dialect" is a term used in popular non-scientific political and social discourse, generally without any defined meaning. It is often used to denigrate some specific speech variety, impying that it has less value than some other variety.
  7. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)

    I would agree if you'd have written: "The word "dialect" outside linguistics is like the word "weed" in botany.
    Alas, and here is where I agree with Mr.Slade, it's indeed most often used like the word "weed" and hence meaningless, in most non-specialist dicussions, and, equally alas, it's indeed most often found back on non-specialist language boards or in other discussions.

    So, I also agree that most often, when used by non-linguists,
    Agreed, sadly enough.
    Just to give one extreme example, triggered by J.F. de Troyes reference to Morocco: most Moroccans I know will refer to Arabic as a language, while Berber (or rather, one of the three big Berber groups in that country) "is just a dialect". I think it's clear that we're dealing here with a "popular non-scientific political and social discourse".

    But... how can I say: it's not because we eat that we're specialists in metabolism. It's not because we speak that we're specialists in linguistics. If you want to know something on metabolism, you take a scientific book written by a specialist (or even better, several books by different specialists). The same goes for linguistics.

    Where I beg to differ with Mr.Slade is that within linguistics, the term dialect is used. Linguists like Walt Wolfram do use the term 'dialect' meaning "any variety of a language which is shared by a group of speakers. In the book American English he goes on to say that "[l]anguages are invariably manifested through their dialects, and to speak a language is to speak some dialect of that language". There's no escape. The only way not to speak a dialect is to not speak at all :).

    The term dialect is an incredibly neutral label (there aren't "bad or good dialects", dialect is not bad (standard) language), and it's not limited to regional aspects: regiolects, sociolects and (what's considered to be) standard language are all dialects.

    See also Trask's A dictionary of grammatical terms in linguistics: "Dialect: A distinctive variety of a language used by speakers [1] in a particular geographical region or [2] in a particular social group."

    [1] is what we remember from secondary school, [2] is what hardly made the secondary school handbooks (at least in my case, 28 years ago) and hence largely ignored or unknown by the public.

    What is utterly nonsensical and meaningless are statements like "I don't speak a dialect, I speak a language". We all speak a dialect.

    So, back to the original question.
    I don't see an opposition between language versus dialect. I mean, the "versus", the opposition or (how do you call it, juxtaposition??) here doesn't have a real linguistic meaning. At least, as far as I can see.

    But I wear glasses...


    Last edited: Feb 8, 2009
  8. Wilma_Sweden

    Wilma_Sweden Senior Member

    Lund, Sweden
    Swedish (Scania)
    Do you mean that their pronunciation is so different that they cannot communicate, or do you mean that their syntax and vocabulary are too different, or is it a combination of both? I'm only asking because it doesn't seem unique to German the fact that people from different regions have trouble communicating if their dialects are different enough, even if they speak, essentially, the same language.

  9. palomnik Senior Member

    Quite so. The word makes much more sense from a sociolinguistic aspect.

    We all speak dialects. The question of how "dialects" are grouped depends on historical context.

    This is not to say that the winners in history are the ones who get to decide what is called a "dialect" and what is not. Basically all complex societies have had to develop some concept of what constitutes accepted intelligent communication over a large area. Earlier societies often developed some linguistic edifice, a semi-artificial form of language. Hence Sanskrit, literary Chinese, classical Arabic and medieval Latin - all of which were, incidentally, largely written means of communication, with their spoken forms frequently subject to a wide variation of acceptable pronunciation, with some exceptions in specific situations, like Vedic Sanskrit. Sometimes one spoken dialect became associated with the literary form, but this was largely incidental and tended to change over time.

    With the development of modern nation states it gradually became common for one dialect to become the "prestige" dialect on the spoken level as well, although this is a relatively recent concept, and not incidentally influenced by the increase in forms of communication in the modern world. In turn, this is also subject to change over time; none of us pronounce our languages exactly the same way that they were pronounced 100 years ago - it's just that with the development of recording capabilities we are more aware of that now than our ancestors were.
  10. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Definitely both; but mutual intelligibility of course gets better quickly with full exposure to a different dialect - and of course some dialects (dialect groups) are closer and allow better mutual intelligibility.

    To give an example: let's consider Swiss German being an "accepted" standard language (it really is already, but that's not the point here :)). Austrians (especially Easterners) claim they do not understand Swiss German dialect at all (any of them): so "no mutual intelligibility".
    But I know from own experience that what you need is just some willingness to understand, and some exposure to Swiss German, and you will learn to understand quite a lot of it within a few weeks even if your native dialect is Bavarian/Austrian (and not Swabian/Alemannic).

    Thus technically the situation of Austrian vs. Swiss dialect probably is not too different from the one between Norwegian vs. Swedish language.
    But obviously I know far too little about Scandinavian languages to be sure about the degree of intelligibility between them, so this is more of a guess. :)

    Exactly. :)
  11. Maurice92 Senior Member

    France french
    I would better say : we all speak a language.
    To me "dialect" means a variant of a language. "dialect" alone has no meaning. a dialect of a language has a meaning.
  12. J.F. de TROYES Senior Member

    I have opposed the words dialect and language in the title of my post just to sum up the question I have raised in the passage you are pointing out. Undoubtedly it's a fact that every language is made up of various geografic, social dialects. The point is to wonder whether there are criteria to decide if a speaking pattern close to a language is a variant of this language or another one and if the mutual intelligibility is relevant or not to classify it.
  13. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    There are no universally accepted criteria for distinguishing them [= languages and dialects, sokol], and the difference is often a matter of degree rather than of kind. The Dictionary of Linguistics defines dialect as a variety of a language used by people from a particular geographic area.
    (National Science Foundation)

    "Dialect" is defined by sociolinguistics as a variety "according to region" - a linguistic code which is defined as used in a certain region, or certain social group (the latter also may be called "sociolect").
    But there exist also plenty of other definitions - both terms, those of language and those of dialect, unfortunately are used inconsistently even by scientists.
    Basically, as already argued, there is no difference between "language" and "dialect" - both describe a linguistic variety. A codified standard language is a dialect - linguists even use the term "standard dialect" -, and a dialect is a language in its own right.
    The distinction is rather "political" than "scientific" really.

    Still, to get back to your original question, JF de Troyes: let's say that ethnologists discover tribes A and B who speak so far unknown languages (or) dialects which are obviously related but not identical: how would we decide if A and B were "dialects" of one "language" or "two separate languages"?

    But again, the question doesn't really make sense.
    A linguist would have to describe the linguistic variety of tribe A as dialect A and that of B as dialect B, simple as that.
    It is up to the tribes themselves to claim that either they speak "the same language" or "different" ones: so again, in a way, a "political" decision. Only if both dialect A and B were close enough to be practically identical it would be different - but then it wouldn't be correct to speak of dialect A and B, it would be rather one single dialect AB.

    The conclusion being - language and dialect is the same thing. The distinction we make between both is social and political, but not scientific.
  14. Æsop Banned

    Suburb of Washington, D.C.
    English--American (upstate NY)
    In many cases, the distinctions between "languages" are political rather than linguistic. I have read about two examples in Europe.

    (1) Supposedly, if one begin on the coast of Spain, say in Grenada, and travels along the coast all the way around the Tyrrhenian sea and down the Italian coast past Naples, in any pair of adjacent towns or villages, the people can understand each other: Village A can understand B; B can understand A and C; C can understand B and D; etc. But of course the Neapolitan can not understand the Cartagenan and there is no question that they speak different languages which we call "Italian" and "Spanish." But in between "Italian" and "Spanish" there is "French," and according to most of the people around Barcelona and beyond, a separate language called in English "Catalan." Where are the boundaries between Spanish, Catalan, French, and Italian? Conventionally, they lie at the political borders; but Rivierans on opposite sides of the French-Italian border (say, Nice and Imperia; certainly, I believe, in Menton and Ventimiglia) can understand each other as long as they speak their local dialects and not their "national standards," Parisian and Florentine.
    (2) Farther north, if one starts on the coast of Holland and proceeds due east, the same phenomenon prevails. So residents of Ootmarsum (in eastern Overijssel province of the Netherlands) and Nordhorn (in far western Niedersachsen state of Germany, near the Dutch border) can understand each other as long as the Nordhorners don't speak High German and the Ootmarsumers don't speak the Dutch standard (Amsterdam?). But of course people from opposite ends of the line, say Amsterdamers and Berliners, can not understand each other: the first speak "Dutch," the second speak "German" or "Low German." Where is the boundary between "German" and "Dutch"? At the political border.

    Of course, what is used in schools is the national standard, so children in Menton are taught Parisian French, children in Ventimiglia are taught Florentine Italian, children in Ootmarsum are taught the same grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation as children in the rest of the Netherlands, and the children of Nordhorn are taught High German.

    There appears to be a different phenomenon with Arabic. Perhaps because there is a standard in the Koran, or children in the Islamic world have long been taught the Arabic of Mohammed so that they can read the Koran, what people speak all the way from Morocco to Iraq and south to Yemen is called "Arabic" even though Moroccans, Iraqis, and Yemenis can not talk to each other unless they use some common standard, and even though there are many political borders that would make it possible to define "Moroccan," "Algerian," "Tunisian," "Libyan," etc. I know an sociologist who was born in Palestine and grew up in Lebanon. When she did a study of the Arab-American community in the Detroit area, she was able to interview all of the adults in Arabic except for the Yemenis; to talk to them, she needed an interpreter. But nominally, Yemenis also speak "Arabic."

    Of course, language boundaries are not only political; to English-speaking Canadians, French really is a foreign language that has to be learned, and vice versa for French Canadians, and so on in Belgium, Switzerland, and other multilingual countries. But there is a large political element to the determination of whether "related" languages like Russian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian or Macedonian and Bulgarian are "dialects" or distinct "languages."
  15. Mr.Slade Member

    U.S. English
    It's different, but the same. The national standard for all the Arab countries is standard Arabic so that is what is taught in schools. As for the spoken varieties, you can move along towns of the North African coast from Tangiers to Benghazi to Alexandria, and each speech form will morph into the next.

    The "dialects" don't have official forms (for historical, political, and religious reasons), so when linguists write Arabic dialect dictionaries, they usually choose the local prestige form of the dialect, normally the variety spoken in the capital. A "Dictionary of Iraqi Arabic" will present the speech of Baghdad. A "Dictionary of Gulf Arabic" will either be based on a specific variety and will say so up front, or it will be full of little italic notations indicating the various areas of use.
  16. almufadado

    almufadado Senior Member

    Português de Portugal
    Political Considerations:
    When establishing the sovereignity of a country, the ruler or the founding people must, not necessarily in this order:
    1- Define the frontiers of the territory either by military means, diplomacy, treaties with neighbor countries
    2- Define the symbols of the country, it's flag, anthem, coat of arms, allegories, which give a "singular personality" to the unity it intends to stand for.
    3- Define a common language to all the population, either by assimilating the inhabitants and it's culture, by establishing a common religion, creating a new alphabet, forcing new grammars to the school system. All this in order to create a "cultural border".

    Social considerations :
    1- People are always constrained to their social background. It's from birth we acquire the vocal skills that will later enable us to speak our native language, that is particular sounds (diphthong , triphthong, etc, unique conjugation of sounds).
    2- The graphic representation of sound (alphabet/writing) and the actual production of the sound (vocalization/phonetics). There is always a hiatus between the two, creating all forms of phonetic variations of the same symbol (from language to language/within the language).
    3- While physical barriers separating similar human populations (mountains, rivers, oceans) results in divergences of sounds, it's use, intercourse, and finally it's representation, the closeness of other populations tend to the establishment of common grounds usually of attribution of names to things (trade is the main mean of name exchange) adding new sounds and new symbolism.

    In conclusion :
    Dialects are the result of cultural background, exchange, and even of the deterioration of the language imposed to a particular population. The variances are more or less marked due to geography, population mobility, exogenous influences, and not to say the least the ability to properly vocalize specific sounds/symbols.
  17. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    There are obviously lots of different definitions to the terms "language" and "dialect" that may all be OK in their different contexts.

    So maybe it would make sense to step back from the theories for a moment and have a look at how you decide if it is a dialect or a language when you hear somebody speaking: Could you mix it up with the standard language without sounding totally ridiculous? Example: I know a guy who moved to Vancouver, BC. when he was a child after spending some of his childhood in Scotland. He still uses a few Scottish words pronounces a lot of words in a rather Scottish way but you can still tell he spent most of his life in Vancouver. People notice but find it OK - are we talking about dialects here?

    Or somebody moves from Denmark to Sweden - basically he speaks Danish, picks up Swedish words pronounces them more or less in Swedish, still uses Danish grammar, because he still has not noticed where the significant differences are. He is usually understood - in fact the Swedes believe that he is speaking a dialect that is more easy to them to understand than the Danish they usually get to hear. So are Danish and Swedish different dialects or different languages?
    Is it regarded socially acceptable to mix the two and still be taken 100% seriously?

    I think most people could answer that.
  18. almufadado

    almufadado Senior Member

    Português de Portugal
    I think not ! This is a constrain of vocalization abilities.
    I have a nice exercise to try this: Speak French with an English accent (You will find all your handicaps, as one open the mouth and rolls the tongue, the other join teeth, do not (almost) touches the palate. Some expire more ("colder tongues" as a result of colder weather).
    "Hot languages" are a result of hot weather were you can open your mouth more.
    Now, this is to say there are geographical constrains (cold/hot weather) between many others.
    If a bunch of people start a "perverting" :)):warn:) the ancestor root of the common language, then it may become a dialect.
    The example are:
    - the French-French and the Canadian-French (people talking french with an apparent english accent).
    - Portuguese, Spanish and Galician (from Galicia), Catalan, and other Iberian languages (as in official)/dialects all of this a have common ancestral languages (local dialects + latin + country of influence). You will find common root within the Portuguese and Catalan languages ... and the country and the "country"(lol) are far apart.
    To have a dialect you must have a lot of people making the same "mistakes"!;)

    Also Portuguese and Spannish have something similar.
    Wording : Just like you say ""tomato" and i say "tomato"".
    There are so many cognates that sometimes is irritating.
    For exemple: Cookie. Portuguese say "bolacha" and Spannish say "galleta"."Galheta" (same sound, different graphism(?)) in Portuguese means "to slap someone" while the other does not even exist in Spannish.

    Phrasing : usully the placement of adjectives (meaning vs what you really mean), the way you question someone (power vs need), etc

    Language is a mean of building identity. Kingdoms thrive on this while democratic societies thrive on building bridges, closing gaps, so that all you get, on the end, is that you neighbour is not so different after all.

    See Yugoslavia (jugoslavia (pt)), Germany, France, Spain ... they all are multi-dialect countries that thrive on diversity, yet some always try to bring them apart to get (local) power.

    Just see the "baby language" thread and see WE ALL say "mama" (no mater accentuation, tone, or meaning).
  19. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
    galleta f also equals slap in Spanish.
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2009
  20. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Moderator note:

    Please try and concentrate on the definitions of language and dialect; it makes of course sense to give examples, but to discuss particular examples in too much detail (and political implications with it) just puts us off track. :)

    If you want to discuss a question emerging out of this discussion then please open a new thread in the appropriate forum.

    (For example,
    MarcB's mentioning of "galleta" is relevant concerning almufadado's previous post, but the discussion of the meanings of "galleta" is not an EHL topic.)

    Thank you very much!
    Moderator EHL
  21. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    This would strike me as rather odd. But I don't know. Let's stick to linguistic contexts. Can you please explain which linguistic context requires which kind of definition? Can you give me some different useful definitions which would apply to different contexts and can you explain me why the definitions already given in this thread won't do in what kind of context?

    What would be the sense of that? What you suggest now is "Let's talk about languages but let's forget about linguistics".
    It doesn't really matter what people think to be a dialect or a language by whatever ad hoc standards people come up with. When talking linguistics, we should stick to linguistics. By the way, that's the aim of this forum.

    'Ridiculous' is a very subjective evaluative term which falls far outside the scope of linguistics.

    Dialects, by almost any kind of definition at least so far, are shared by a group. The particular language usage of an individual is called an idiolect. So, your example is a bit off topic.

    That's an irrelevant question from a linguistic point of view.

    I don't think so. What do you mean by "100% seriously" (or not)? And socially acceptable by whom?

    I beg your pardon? You are pulling our legs, aren't you? Can you back up this rather peculiar claim that a language would depend upon the weather?

    This is a very idiosyncratic view upon dialects. I must say that I don't know where to start to debunk this claim...
    Maybe you can start explaining why you think that the "ancestor root of the common language" in itself isn't to be called a dialect, or, if you want, isn't to be considered as a bundle of dialects. Then you need to explain how one can "pervert" a language.
    Next, if I understand well... How can I say: you seem to imply that for example Galician is perverted Classical Latin and that Portuguese perverted Galician? Or did I misread?

    It's sad that in the 21 century people still consider a dialect as some kind of language variant with a lot of mistakes, no matter how many winking smilies follow a statement like this. Any which way, in this kind of logic (which I do not adhere), one could call a standard language as something containing a lot of mistakes too, for the rather simple reason that a (standard) language is also a dialect.

    One common (standard) language as a factor in ethnicity (nation) building is a rather modern notion. A notion which is rapidly loosing ground in quite a lot West European nations these days, at least in practice. (I am not talking about either imposing one language used by the government or by the powers that be, e.g. the usage of Latin in governmental affairs (let's say roughly the Middle Ages) or in the Catholic church (officially up to the 2nd Vatican Council) nor about the usage of teaching one standard language in schools).


    Last edited: Mar 15, 2009
  22. Wilma_Sweden

    Wilma_Sweden Senior Member

    Lund, Sweden
    Swedish (Scania)
    Danish and Swedish are two different languages, and what you get if a person mixes them is an individual's personal mixture of the two languages, that's all.
    I'd say yes: if you're mixing the two languages on purpose to ease communication, it's a show of good will (rather than speaking pure Danish in Sweden or the other way round). However, people might see it differently if you're a Dane and, after living 20 years in Sweden, your syntax, vocabulary and accent are still predominantly Danish...

  23. almufadado

    almufadado Senior Member

    Português de Portugal
    First, my view is that the main difference between "language" and "dialect" is political (that's why I brought politics in my previous post).
    In history dialects became "the official language" of a country by means of power, conquest, freedom from occupation and so on.

    Also, languages are usually collections of dialects not the inverse. Word are added, new meanings, and, in the extreme, new sounds resulting in phonetic changes.

    Is sterile to discuss which comes first, as it's the "chicken and the egg" theme.

    There are examples where dialects (re)surge from "the official language", that may or may not divide/diverge from it but can be see as distinctive.

    I learned French by a text/grammar book that had pictures of the mouth as to illustrate the pronunciation.
    I did similar exercises with other languages, and found that one common points of variation is the way teeth, tongue, a volume of air need to produce sound. Phonology studies i read point to "weather influences in the production of sound" between northern languages (cold and ice) and southern (hot and dry and even sand/dust not as a weather condition but as a consequence).

    Further more, weather influence lots of human activities, so influencing language is not absurd nor is original claimed by me. It may not be the decisive factor but it play a part, and in my view and important one.

    Don't have time to search more. But it's in the field of phonology and phonetics.

    What this brings to discussion is the fact that a "language" may result or it's the product of all that influenced, influences and will always add to it's body and "soul".

    There we tribes in Europe that had languages, when conquered became dialects, and when freed became again "official language". As language is a collection of word that is presumably known to all speakers, so it can also be corrupted by bad teaching/learning, misuse, coded as means of defense, therefor transforming ("perverting" in comas ) its root.

    In my personal opinion, languages are political standardizations. There is not a single country in the world that do not have variations in the "official language", if politically recognized become 2nd language, if not may range from dialect, jargon, regional accent, and so on.

    Romans occupied the whole of Europe, they enforced the Latin language (the official language of Rome as the political power center). From Romania to Portugal you will find it's influence on local languages (considered by Augustus Cesar as dialects yet tolerated. But all trade, army operational rules, and medecine where to be conducted in Latin by conquered peoples).

    Languages and dialects are not static. Go south from Galicia through Portugal and you will learn that they have common ground both from local ancestors and by roman presence. As Portugal and Galicia become different countries so their influence evolved in different direction, Galicia to Spannish language and Portugal to Portuguese.
    One of Portugal offical language is "Mirandês". It started as a regional dialect (and is one) with sheer similarities to Galician. When acknowledged by official recognition as a language is now the Portuguese official third language (along with Portuguese sign language).

    From your opinions, I see you find languages to be static, which i think they aren't. By "perverting" i mean the natural or forced way languages and dialects separate from their common tree as "it springs it's new branches, leafs and flowers". That's why one say "Latin languages" that derived and diverged from this route.

    English and German languages may be now apart but have some roots together too.

    The "official view" is that they are "mistakes", hence some linguistic fundamentalisms. The "" signs means the word is not to be taken literally.

    "Mistakes" became official. Just go through English from England and from America.

    What differs in both collection of words and meanings is it's official status, which makes them a standard or not.

    A modern notion ?!?!? Greek city states based their power and identity also in language. Francs (Franks?) stood in power by assimilating also supported by language the various tribes.
    Mohamed, Saladin and all Arabic conquerors went from Arabia to Europe (the Iberian peninsula) and established their power based on language (not only of course!).
    Constantin created the New testament in latin so he could rule and unite all conquered and subdued tribes, countries and peoples. His rule and method is even felt in england today.

    Just to exorcise the "mistake demon" with an example:

    Plumber is English for "a craftsman who installs and repairs pipes and fixtures and appliances
    Is a word of latin origin (...) that comes from plumbum in Latin ('Pb' for lead). Roman baths used lead for piping and for the main baths. Thus, a person with expertise in working with lead was known as a Plumbarius, eventually shortened to plumber.(...)" (Wikipedia)
    If you were Cesar, this was a mistake from the official language. But in present English is and official "mistake"!!!:) Portugal had Romans too and say "Canalizador" (Canal/pipe fixer) because Romans here used canals !!! Hey Portuguese "Canal" and English "canal" are the same word, have the same meaning and both come from latin ... no mistake here. ;)
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 16, 2009
  24. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    It's not sterile, it's pointless, as I explained at least two times in this thread.

    This is a paper on the influence of orthography on pronunciation. I scanned the text very quickly, but I couldn't find anything about the weather influencing pronunciation. But maybe I missed that part. Can you please point out where exactly this paper helps us with relation to the weather aspect?
    This links leads us to a book called The Weather in the Imagination "a thought-provoking chronicle of how humans throughout history have been bewildered, infuriated, and often terrified by the weather". I am sorry, but this doesn't really illustrate your point either.

    No, it isn't.

    I'm sorry, but I think that linguistics can do without his kind of fake r/Romantic notions. Languages don't have bodies neither souls.

    Once again, how do you pervert or corrupt a language??? Can you please provide us with a manual?

    Do you mean standard languages?

    From my opinions you deduce this? Why am I always the last one to find out things like that. Can you please explain why you think that I think that languages are static?

    Which "official view". Official to whom? I am sorry, but I start to have the impression that you're beating around the bush. Oh ja, can you please explain what you mean without using these ambiguous ""-marks, just straight to the point? Thank you.

    Last edited: Mar 15, 2009
  25. almufadado

    almufadado Senior Member

    Português de Portugal
    Starting from the end up. Why the correction ? Is it the "official view" that the point besides being " deficient in originality or creativity"/not fertile as in not baring useful content ?;
    If "It's pointless", so it's sterile too, in "my official view".

    How many meaning have a word ? I have ten dictionaries and each can give me more or less ambiguousness or disambiguousness ? That is viewed more as the "official one", so I was taught, and the other may be "garbage" or ... less !

    In context, how many ways are there to use a specific word ?
    The English language use "verb" + for/up/down/... and so on ... is the meaning the exact same in all English speaking countries ?
    It may have the same follow up, but it can also have many subtle meanings.

    And how about the same word in different languages, even with the exact same lettering, but with different meanings ?

    The word exist ! Which is the "owner" of the word ? Is this a case of a dialect ?

    To overrule all doubts the is a "official view" ! We can find this many times in the forum ! I am not a native English but I can speak and write English. If my English is "good" or "bad", then who can overrule me and correct me ! Am I, in fact, not allowed to speak it just because you can get my point ? I try to go by "the common standardization of the English language", and sometimes I am confronted with the fact the an American can not understand me as an UK inhabitant would.

    Direct to the point ? I am not allowed to use metaphors ? Just a little figure of speech ? Are they not "official" to you ?

    One characteristic that make out dialects and languages are mannerisms, sayings, jargon, allegories and metaphors.

    The "body" of a language is all its components, from verbs to prepositions, from words to phrasing.
    It's "Soul" of the language is the existence of "blinkers" either the leather flaps on a bridle used to restrict a horse's lateral vision (US usu.: blinders) or the blinkers as in the lights on a car that indicate the direction about to be taken * (UK: indicators). The "soul" is the sum of all its parts, more than the meaning is what is meant.

    So languages may have more "body" than dialects, but the latter are always the "soul" of a language.

    I still do not understand (being this history of languages forum) why the negation of political influence and height in the creation of languages, as many of us live in a continent were it was taken to extremes, in a mixture of language, religion, politics and military rule and trade .

    The founders of the old "New Russia" got to even create a different alphabet to support the new "official language", Russian, so all its inhabitants (Russia had even more dialects than China !) submited to the power of the Czars.

    A Chinese dynasty (don't remember which) started a "new standard character dictionary" so that from the China sea to the Great wall all traders understood who was whom, which was what, and so on. This is the rule of language over dialect by political means.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 16, 2009
  26. Diaspora Senior Member

    Serbocroatian, English
    To put my two cents in here, I think one cannot deny that politics and sociolinguistics play a large role in defining languages and dialects. Especially in Europe, since identity and ethnicity is very important there in making one German, a Swede or an Irish for example. However, in the Americas, countries stem from colonialism so their identity is not based on language as much. One can speak Mandarin and still be 100% American.

    So what I'm trying to say is that there is a mentality, that a seperate country should have its own language, even if they are just dialects of some other language. It is sad that politics plays such a large part.
  27. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)

    I have the impression that you're mixing up personal views with linguistics and sociolinguistics.

    By whom? Which teacher (or handbook) taught you about "garbage"?? "Garbage" doesn't strike me as the most technical term when talking about semantics, dialectology or linguistics in general. But I could be wrong.

    What's your point?

    I am not talking about "official". I just have the impression that your figures of speech, as much as your examples (and links) don't strike me as acceptable arguments in a linguistic discussion. I could be wrong, though.

    Those are 5 characteristics.
    I suppose you mean standard languages when talking about "language". Just a guess, since you haven't been clear about this. If not, please explain what you mean by "language" (versus? dialect).


    You mean that dialects lack what you call "components" (standard?) languages have? In which way would (standard?) languages have more verbs, prepositions etc.?
    I have no clue at all what you mean by "soul". But why would a dialect have more "soul" than the dialect that happened to become the standard variety (as you said before yourself, there is at least one thing we agree upon)? It sounds like a huge contradiction.

    Yes, and?

    Oh, I noticed that you didn't address the weather as a possible factor on languages anymore. The links you provided turned out not to illustrate your point. Do you have better information?
    I am asking, because I came across this idea long time ago in relation to the Germanic sound shift. Due to the weather, the theory went, the Germani started to shift their sounds. Needless to say that this theory has been widely and generally and completely debunked long time ago. It's a bit strange to see a similar theory pop up in the 21st century. But I am always willing to consider new arguments. Please?

  28. TriglavNationalPark

    TriglavNationalPark Senior Member

    Chicago, IL, U.S.A.
    Slovenian (a.k.a. Slovene)
    Yugoslavia, which no longer exists, was multilingual, not just multi-dialect. At least in theory*, Slovenian, Macedonian, and Serbo-Croatian had equal status. In this respect, Yugoslavia was more like Switzerland than, say, Germany.

    * Yes, things were different in practice.
  29. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    This equation, language = nation, is another facette of the term "language", but it is more applied to Central and Eastern Europe: it is somewhat important in Italy and Germany (but not Austria and Switzerland, for obvious reasons I guess :)) where the national unification tried to achieve that "language border".
    And it is even more obvious in the nations lying to the east of both those nations.

    But this is not the definition of "language" as opposed to "dialect": it is another (important) facette which, strictly speaking, is somewhat off-topic-ish here I guess (as it would lead us to discussions about nations and nationalism).

    In everyday speech the terms "language" and "dialect" can mean a very broad range of meaning which differ also from the cultures where they are used. (And I think the posts above are enough proof for that, right?)
    I'd thus prefer to at least try to stick to "somewhat" linguistic definitions.

    And here mainly two definitions are used - both of which are intertwined:
    (a) To define language according to "standard languages" (and subsume all dialects related closely to that standard language and spoken in the region where that standard is used); and
    (b) to define language according to linguistic distinctivity.

    To explain this further, many will describe "German" as a language and "Platt, Fränkisch, Alemannisch, Sächsisch, etc." as dialects - as they are all more or less closely related to Standard German, and as they are spoken in a region where Standard German is used: here they use definition (a).
    However, they also use definition (b) to include German dialects spoken elsewhere (in Alsace, or in some small, isolated villages in Italy like Sauris where no one knows Standard German but where they speak a Tyrolean dialect, or even to the dialects of migrants in Russia, or overseas).

    This however is contradicted by the fact that, in terms of linguistic distinctivity, at least the great dialect groups (Platt, Alemannic, Bavarian, etc.) constitute languages of their own; if anything it should be discussed if Alemannic (which certainly is a language, significantly different from Standard German) should be divided into several "languages": this is the linguistic point of view.

    In everyday life, most people have still different concepts of "language"; and I think it is rather pointless to argue about those - it is far better to try and stick to categories which at least thrive to be scientific.
  30. almufadado

    almufadado Senior Member

    Português de Portugal
    I do agree with you Sokol, at least mostly.:)

    My view of languages is an historical, some philosophical and seasoned with a bit of poetry (I like the "body and soul"'s).

    In the concept of "language vs dialect", there is implied within the question a sense of the categorization, if not graduation. This is the way I read it.

    A Language is a distinctive set phonetic sounds, that form words with accepted meanings, that result in phrasing with standard rules, that culminate in the writing of intelligible texts.

    A Dialect is a distinctive set phonetic sounds, that form words with accepted meanings, that result in phrasing with standard rules, that culminate in the writing of intelligible texts.

    Language have root languages, so do dialects.

    A language read out loud with different accent or simply tone can appear to the listener as a different language.

    The same words can have many different meanings, not only within the language (context), but also can be present in the set of word of a different "language".

    The way all words can be integrated/inter crossed with each other, makes both language and dialect distinct.

    So if one consider some form of variation of the language as a dialect, therefor distinct, it becomes a language or should be considered to be one. This of course if all other contextual considerations are taken out.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 17, 2009
  31. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    Moderator note: Start of merged thread.

    How do linguists draw the line between a language and dialect? What got me thinking of this is while I was attending a portuguese discussion group at my local university run by graduate student from Asturias who had studied in northern Portugal for many years. The influence of Asturian on his portuguese was interesting it made him sound almost Brazilian. So I did some reading and I saw that Asturian is in many ways a half way point between Castilian and Portuguese with many of it's own features as well. So leaving a aside the political boarders hypothetically how do you draw the line where Castilian becomes Asturian or Asturian becomes Galician/Portuguese?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 27, 2014
  32. Awwal12

    Awwal12 Senior Member

    Moscow, the RF
    There is no exact line, I'm afraid, it's totally conventional in each case. Usually mutually intelligible idioms with minor differences are called "dialects", but politics, ethnic identities amd other non-linguistic factors play a large role here. Cantonese is officially called "a Chinese dialect", despite in vocal form it is mutually unintelligible with Mandarin. Even worse, the Low German "dialects" of the German "language" are linguistically closer to the Dutch "language" than to the High German "dialects". With Karelian it's quite the same; the Karelian proper "dialects" of the Karelian "language" are closer to Eastern Finnish "dialects" of the Finnish "language" than to the Livvi "dialect" of Karelian (Finnish scholars normally consider Livvi as a "language" and Karelian proper as a "Finnish dialect", but at least Karelians mostly won't not agree).
  33. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish

    Or maybe even more vice versa - a highly political problem, plagued by lingusitic issues.

    Look at all the Italian "Dialects". they differ more from Standard Italian than Norwegin from Danish. I do not even want to discuss why they are not considered languages in their own right.
  34. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    It's a weird concept even mutual intelligibility is not cut and dry, I was in Italy last year(Tuscany and Lazio). I know a few Iberian romance languages and after about 3 weeks I understood most spoken Italian, was that time learning? Or just longer version of the same adjusting period I have when I encounter a thick English dialect?
  35. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    If you know several languages of the same family, it's rather adjusting than learning, you just learn the basics, the correspondences and the differences, you absorb the language like a sponge absorbs water. At least, that was my experience with both Catalan & Portuguese after learning French, Spanish & Italian.
  36. mataripis

    mataripis Senior Member

    Hi! I am not a scholar but there is misinterpretation in providing the clear meaning of language and dialect.I believe that dialect appeared as second language o least used expression because of the new vibrant one is accepted by majority.but usually this dialect is an older forms of ancient expressions and need not to be regarded as insignificant in language my observations most of the words from dialects of the same region hold the rules of their correct usage in shifting of situations.and if i provide the meaning of dialect, all languages in this world are considered dialect.
  37. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    I agree, thought this is what makes the situation in Italy as described by Sepia difficult. Because while northern "dialects" such as Milanese are closer to Catalan, Occitan and french, someone from Tuscany would learn to understand Milanese in a short time as I did with standard Italian/Tuscan.
    Last edited: May 31, 2014
  38. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    You know, I can understand contemporary written Occitan (i. e., most of the Wiki articles - literature is another thing) quite easily (thanks to Catalan rather than French), but Milanese and other Gallo-Romance dialects (or "varieties") of Italy are another cup of tea. In my opinion the phonetic evolution of dialects as Bergamasque make them incomprehensible: they got rid of or changed too many consonants & vowels (at least in the written form). Some weeks ago I watched an Italian movie on Youtube ("La casa delle donne") which featured quite prominently the Apulian dialect (akin to Neapolitan) and it was subtitled in the Italian version. I mean, you could guess some of it thanks to the subtitles, but without them it would've been difficult to get even the gist out of the Apulian dialogues.
    Authentic Venetian (i. e. "Il campiello" by Goldoni) is really hard, too, both written or sung (in the opera by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari). On the other hand, I understand the Italian-Sicilian mix in Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano novels quite easily.
  39. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    I was thinking of some one born and raised in Tuscany who moves to Milan, Verona or Naples. As it takes full immersion to start to understand. I think is this why the more nationalistic refer to them as "dialects." I don't agree with this, because under this logic all Romance languages are "dialects" and that is simply not the case.
  40. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Historical dialects of Latin, yes, but not dialects of the koinè, be it Tuscan-based Italian, Parisian French or Castilian Spanish.
  41. irinet

    irinet Senior Member


    I loved this thread from the title!
    Now that you've mentioned the word, I would come with a new question then: what about the term 'variety', like in 'English varieties'? Is it borderly related?
  42. jmx

    jmx Senior Member

    Spain / Spanish
    If I'm not wrong, "linguistic variety" is a term coined by Uriel Weinreich in order to have a neutral word with no ideological or historical connotations, one that could include all possible forms of language: a literary language, a local dialect, a sociolect, etc.

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