The term dialect (from the Greek Language word dialektos, Διάλεκτος) is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors, such as social class. A dialect that is associated with a particular social class can be termed a sociolect; a regional dialect may be termed a regiolect or topolect. The other usage refers to a language socially subordinate to a regional or national standard language, often historically cognate to the standard, but not a variety of it or in any other sense derived from it. This more precise usage enables distinguishing between varieties of a language, such as the French spoken in Nice, France, and local languages distinct from the superordinate language, e.g. Nissart, the traditional native Romance language of Nice, known in French as Niçard.
A dialect is distinguished by its vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation (phonology, including prosody). Where a distinction can be made only in terms of pronunciation, the term accent is appropriate, not dialect. Other speech varieties include: standard languages, which are standardized for public performance (for example, a written standard); jargons, which are characterized by differences in lexicon (vocabulary); slang; patois; pidgins or argots.
The particular speech patterns used by an individual are termed an idiolect.
Standard and non-standard dialect
A standard dialect (also known as a standardized dialect or "standard language") is a dialect that is supported by institutions. Such institutional support may include government recognition or designation; presentation as being the "correct" form of a language in schools; published grammars, dictionaries, and textbooks that set forth a "correct" spoken and written form; and an extensive formal literature that employs that dialect (prose, poetry, non-fiction, etc.). There may be multiple standard dialects associated with a single language. For example, Standard American English, Standard Canadian English, Standard Indian English, Standard Australian English, and Standard Philippine English may all be said to be standard dialects of the English language.
A nonstandard dialect, like a standard dialect, has a complete vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, but is not the beneficiary of institutional support. An example of a nonstandard English dialect is Southern American English or Newfoundland English. The Dialect Test was designed by Joseph Wright to compare different English dialects with each other.
Dialect use in arts
Sometimes in stories authors distinguish characters through their dialect.
"Dialect" or "language"
There is no universally accepted criterion for distinguishing a language from a dialect. A framework that may aid in analyzing the issues is provided by the linguistics concepts of Ausbausprache, Abstandsprache and Dachsprache. A number of rough measures exist, sometimes leading to contradictory results. Some linguists do not differentiate between languages and dialects, i.e. languages are dialects and vice versa. The distinction is therefore subjective and depends on the user's frame of reference. Note also that the terms are not by themselves mutually exclusive; there is by itself nothing contradictory in the statement that "the language of the Pennsylvania Dutch is a dialect of German". However, the term dialect always implies a relation between languages: if language X is called a dialect, this implies that the speaker considers X a dialect of some other language Y, which then usually is some standard language.
Language varieties are often called dialects rather than languages:
- because they have no standard or codified form,
- because the speakers of the given language do not have a state of their own,
- because they are rarely or never used in writing (outside reported speech)
- or because they lack prestige with respect to some other, often standardised, variety.
The term vernacular or idiom is used by some linguists instead of language or dialect when there is no need to commit oneself to any decision on the status with respect to this distinction.
Anthropological linguists define dialect as the specific form of a language used by a speech community. In other words, the difference between language and dialect is the difference between the abstract or general and the concrete and particular. From this perspective, no one speaks a "language," everyone speaks a dialect of a language. Those who identify a particular dialect as the "standard" or "proper" version of a language are in fact using these terms to express a social distinction.
Often, the standard language is close to the sociolect of the elite class.
In groups where prestige standards play less important roles, "dialect" may simply be used to refer to subtle regional variations in linguistic practices that are considered mutually intelligible, playing an important role to place strangers, carrying the message of where a stranger originates (which quarter or district in a town, which village in a rural setting, or which province of a country); thus there are many apparent "dialects" of Slavey, for example, by which the linguist simply means that there are many subtle variations among speakers who largely understand each other and recognize that they are each speaking "the same way" in a general sense.
Modern-day linguists know that the status of language is not solely determined by linguistic criteria, but it is also the result of a historical and political development. Romansh came to be a written language, and therefore it is recognized as a language, even though it is very close to the Lombardic alpine dialects. An opposite example is the case of Chinese, whose variations such as Mandarin and Cantonese are often considered dialects and not languages, despite their mutual unintelligibility, because the word for them in Mandarin, 方言 fāngyán, was mistranslated as "dialect" because it meant "regional speech".
The Yiddish linguist Max Weinreich published the expression, A shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot ("אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמײ און פֿלאָט" "A language is a dialect with an army and navy") in YIVO Bleter 25.1, 1945, p. 13.
Modern Nationalism, as developed especially since the French Revolution, has made the distinction between "language" and "dialect" an issue of great political importance. A group speaking a separate "language" is often seen as having a greater claim to being a separate "people", and thus to be more deserving of its own independent state, while a group speaking a "dialect" tends to be seen not as "a people" in its own right, but as a sub-group, part of a bigger people, which must content itself with regional autonomy. The distinction between language and dialect is thus inevitably made at least as much on a political basis as on a linguistic one, and can lead to great political controversy, or even armed conflict.
The classification of speech varieties as dialects or languages and their relationship to other varieties of speech can thus be controversial and the verdicts inconsistent. English and Serbo-Croatian illustrate the point. English and Serbo-Croatian each have two major variants (British and American English, and Serbian and Croatian, respectively), along with numerous other varieties. For political reasons, analyzing these varieties as "languages" or "dialects" yields inconsistent results: British and American English, spoken by close political and military allies, are almost universally regarded as dialects of a single language, whereas the standard languages of Serbia and Croatia, which differ from each other to a similar extent as the dialects of English, are being treated by many linguists from the region as distinct languages, largely because the two countries oscillate from being brotherly to being bitter enemies. (The Serbo-Croatian language article deals with this topic much more fully.)
Similar examples abound. Macedonian, although mutually intelligible with Bulgarian, certain dialects of Serbian and to a lesser extent the rest of the South Slavic dialect continuum is considered by Bulgarian linguists to be a Bulgarian dialect, in contrast with the contemporary international view, and the view in the Republic of Macedonia which regards it as a language in its own right. Nevertheless, before the establishment of a literary standard of Macedonian in 1944, in most sources in and out of Bulgaria before the Second World War, the southern Slavonic dialect continuum covering the area of today's Republic of Macedonia were referred to as Bulgarian dialects.
In the 19th Century, the Tsarist Government of Russia claimed that Ukrainian was merely a dialect of Russian and not a language in its own right. Since Soviet times, when Ukrainians were recognised as a separate nationality deserving of its own Soviet Republic, such linguistic-political claims had disappeared from circulation.
In Lebanon, the right-wing Guardians of the Cedars, a fiercely nationalistic (mainly Christian) political party which opposes the country's ties to the Arab world, is agitating for "Lebanese" to be recognized as a distinct language from Arabic and not merely a dialect, and has even advocated replacing the Arabic alphabet with a revival of the ancient Phoenician alphabet - which missed a number of characters to write typical Arabic phonemes present in Lebanese, and lost by Phoenician (and Hebrew) in the second millennium BC. This is, however, very much a minority position - in Lebanon itself as in the Arab World as a whole. The varieties of Arabic are considerably different from each other - especially those spoken in North Africa (Maghreb) from those of the Middle East (the Mashriq in the broad definition including Egypt and Sudan) - and had there been the political will in the different Arab countries to cut themselves off from each other, the case could have been made to declare these varieties as separate languages. However, in adherence to the ideas of Arab Nationalism, the Arab countries prefer to give preference to the Literary Arabic which is common to all of them, conduct much of their political, cultural and religious life in it (adherence to Islam), and refrain from declaring each country's specific variety to be a separate language, because Literary Arabic is the liturgical language of Islam and the language of the Islamic sacred book, the Qur'an.
Such moves may even appear at a local, rather than a federal level. The US state of Illinois declared "American" to be the state's official language in 1923, although linguists and politicians throughout much of the rest of the country considered American simply to be a dialect.
There have been cases of a variety of speech being deliberately reclassified to serve political purposes. One example is Moldovan. In 1996, the Moldovan parliament, citing fears of "Romanian expansionism," rejected a proposal from President Mircea Snegur to change the name of the language to Romanian, and in 2003 a Moldovan-Romanian dictionary was published, purporting to show that the two countries speak different languages. Linguists of the Romanian Academy reacted by declaring that all the Moldovan words were also Romanian words; while in Moldova, the head of the Academy of Sciences of Moldova, Ion Bărbuţă, described the dictionary as a politically motivated "absurdity".
In contrast, the spoken languages of the Han Chinese are usually referred to as dialects of one Chinese language despite their vast differences. See Identification of the varieties of Chinese" for more details.
In the Philippines, the Commission on the Filipino Language declared all the indigenous languages in the Philippines as dialects despite the great differences between them, as well as the existence of significant bodies of literature in each of the major "dialects" and daily newspapers in some.
In 18th and 19th century Germany, several thousand local languages of the continental west Germanic dialect continuum were reclassified as dialects of modern New High German although the vast majority of them was (and still is) mutually incomprehensible, despite the fact that they all existed long before New High German, which had at least in part been shaped as a compromise or mediative language between these local languages.
To support the intended process of nation building even further, a vague myth of some common Germanic original language developed, and German dialectology began to name dialect groups after presumed and real groups of historic tribes having existed from BC to about 600 AD, from which they were assumed to have descended. Linguistic, historic and archeological evidence for such connections is scarce, meanwhile several such ideas were proven false, yet they lead to several pertaining misnomers in German dialectology. Today, all diverse local languages under the Standard German umbrella are collectively referred to as "German dialects", the vast majority of German speakers still believe, they were variations of "original" or even Standard German.
The significance of the political factors in any attempt at answering the question "what is a language?" is great enough to cast doubt on whether any strictly linguistic definition, without a socio-cultural approach, is possible. This is illustrated by the frequency with which the army-navy aphorism discussed in the preceding section is cited.
Many historical linguists view any speech form as a dialect of the older medium of communication from which it developed. This point of view sees the modern Romance languages as dialects of Latin, modern Greek as a dialect of Ancient Greek, Tok Pisin as a dialect of English, and Scandinavian languages as dialects of Old Norse. This paradigm is not entirely problem-free. It sees genetic relationships as paramount: the "dialects" of a "language" (which itself may be a "dialect" of a yet older tongue) may or may not be mutually intelligible. Moreover, a parent language may spawn several "dialects" which themselves subdivide any number of times, with some "branches" of the tree changing more rapidly than others.
This can give rise to the situation in which two dialects (defined according to this paradigm) with a somewhat distant genetic relationship are mutually more readily comprehensible than more closely related dialects. In one opinion, this pattern is clearly present among the modern Romance tongues, with Italian and Spanish having a high degree of mutual comprehensibility, which neither language shares with French, despite some claiming that both languages are genetically closer to French than to each other: In fact, French-Italian and French-Spanish relative mutual incomprehensibility is due to French having undergone more rapid and more pervasive phonological change than have Spanish and Italian, not to real or imagined distance in genetic relationship. In fact, Italian and French share many more root words in common that do not even appear in Spanish.
For example, the Italian and French words for various foods, family members, and body parts are very similar to each other, yet most of those words are completely different in Spanish. Italian "avere" and "essere" as auxiliaries for forming compound tenses are used similarly to French "avoir" and "être", Spanish only retains "haber" and has done away with "ser" in forming compound tenses, which are no longer used in either Spanish or Portuguese. However, when it comes to pronunciation, some Italian sounds are familiar to Spanish speakers, and native speakers of Italian and Spanish may attain some limited degree of mutual comprehension using single words or short phrases.
One language, Interlingua, was developed so that the languages of Western civilization would act as its dialects. Drawing from such concepts as the international scientific vocabulary and Standard Average European, linguists developed a theory that the modern Western languages were actually dialects of a hidden or latent language. Researchers at the International Auxiliary Language Association extracted words and affixes that they considered to be part of Interlingua's vocabulary. In theory, speakers of the Western languages would understand written or spoken Interlingua immediately, without prior study, since their own languages were its dialects. This has often turned out to be true, especially, but not solely, for speakers of the Romance languages and educated speakers of English. Interlingua has also been found to assist in the learning of other languages. In one study, Swedish high school students learning Interlingua were able to translate passages from Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian that students of those languages found too difficult to understand. It should be noted, however, that the vocabulary of Interlingua extends beyond the Western language families.
Selected list of articles on dialects
- Bengali dialects
- Catalan dialect examples
- Connacht Irish, Munster Irish, Ulster Irish
- Cypriot Greek, Cypriot Turkish
- Dialect of Chalkidiki
- Dialects in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia
- Dialects of the French language
- Dutch dialects
- Isfahani, Shirazi, Yazdi (Persian dialects)
- Italian dialects
- Japanese dialects
- Korean dialects
- List of Assyrian tribes (dialects)
- List of Chinese dialects
- List of dialects of the English language
- Norwegian dialects
- Portuguese dialects
- Rauma dialect
- Sicilian language
- Slovenian dialects
- Spanish dialects and varieties
- Sri Lankan Tamil dialects
- Swedish dialects
- Swedish dialects in Ostrobothnia
- Warsaw dialect
- Yiddish dialects
- Yooper dialect
- Creole language
- Dialect levelling
- Koiné language
- Literary language
- Regional language
- Sarkar's Linguistic Concepts and Criteria
- ^ Oxford English dictionary.
- ^ Merriam-Webster Online dictionary.
- ^ Finegan, Edward (2007). Language: Its Structure and Use (5th ed.). Boston, MA, USA: Thomson Wadsworth. p. 348. ISBN 9781413030556.
- ^ "American" as the Official Language of the United States.
- ^ see also: Ausbausprache, Abstandsprache and Dachsprache#Change of roles during history
- ^ including Slavic, Frisian, Dutch, and Danish ones.
- ^ a b Morris, Alice Vanderbilt, General report. New York: International Auxiliary Language Association, 1945.
- ^ a b Gode, Alexander, Interlingua-English Dictionary. New York: Storm Publishers, 1951.
- ^ Gopsill, F. P., International languages: A matter for Interlingua. Sheffield: British Interlingua Society, 1990.
- Sounds Familiar? — Listen to regional accents and dialects of the UK on the British Library's 'Sounds Familiar' website
- International Dialects of English Archive Since 1997
- whoohoo.co.uk British Dialect Translator
- thedialectdictionary.com — Compilation of Dialects from around the globe
- A site for announcements and downloading the SEAL System
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