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The term dialect (from the Greek word διάλεκτος, dialektos) refers to a variety of a language that is 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 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 (although in common usage, "dialect" and "accent" are usually synonymous).
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 dialects
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 British 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 English. The Dialect Test was designed by Joseph Wright to compare different English dialects with each other.
Sometimes in stories authors distinguish characters through their dialect.
"Dialect" or "language"
There are no universally accepted criteria for distinguishing languages from dialects, although a number of paradigms exist, which render sometimes contradictory results. The exact distinction is therefore a subjective one, dependent on the user's frame of reference.
Language varieties are often called dialects rather than languages:
- solely because they are not (or not recognized as) literary languages,
- because the speakers of the given language do not have a state of their own,
- because they are not used in press or literature, or very little.
- or because their language lacks prestige.
The term 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.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
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, "Fangyan", was mistranslated as dialect because it meant regional speech.
See also Mesoamerican languages#Language vs. Dialect
The Yiddish linguist Max Weinreich published the expression, "A shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot" ("אַ שפראַך 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). The origin of this statement is, however, uncertain — Weinreich explicitly says that he did not coin it. It illustrates the fact that the political status of the speakers of a variety influences its perceived status as language or dialect. Most governments establish a standard variety of their language (or languages) to be taught in schools and used in official documents, courts and so on; often it is also promoted for use in the media.
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.[How to reference and link to summary or text] 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 lesser 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, and refrain from declaring each country's specific variety to be a separate language.
Interestingly, 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, spoken languages of Han Chinese are usually referred to as dialects of one Chinese language, because the word "fangyan", which means regional speech, was mistranslated as dialect.. The article "Identification of the varieties of Chinese" has more details.
In the Philippines, the Commission on the Filipino Language declared all the indigenous languages in the Philippines as dialects[How to reference and link to summary or text] 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.
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.[How to reference and link to summary or text] 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 where 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:[How to reference and link to summary or text] In fact, French-Italian and French-Spanish relative mutual incomprehensibility is due to French having undergone more rapid and more pervasive 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 eachother, yet most of those words are completely different in Spanish. The Italian "avere" and "essere" grammar are used the same way as French "avoir" and "etre", which niether Spanish nor Portuguese use. However, when it comes to pronunciation, Italian sounds very clear to Spanish speakers.
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.
Concepts in dialectology
Concepts in dialectology include:
- Main article: Mutual intelligibility
Some have attempted to distinguish dialects from languages by saying that dialects of the same language are understandable to each other. The untenable nature of blunt application of this criterion is demonstrated by the case of Italian and Spanish cited above. While clever native speakers of the two can converse at length with very good mutual understanding, few people would want to classify Italian and Spanish as dialects of the same language in any sense other than historical. Spanish and Italian are similar, but the vocabulary and grammar are simply too different for the languages to be considered dialects. Italian has plenty of completely different words and grammar rules to separate it from Spanish. Not every Spaniard can understand Italian, and not every Italian can understand Spanish. They are no more dialects than are English and German.
- Main article: Diglossia
Another problem occurs in the case of diglossia, used to describe a situation where, in a given society, there are two closely-related languages, one of high-prestige, which is generally used by the government and in formal texts, and one of low-prestige, which is usually the spoken vernacular tongue. An example of this is Sanskrit, which was considered the proper way to speak in northern India, but only accessible by the upper class, and Prakrit which was the common (and informal or vernacular) speech at the time.
Another example of diglossia are the ancient Egyptian languages Demotic and Hieratic.
- Main article: Dialect continuum
A dialect continuum is a network of dialects in which geographically adjacent dialects are mutually comprehensible, but with comprehensibility steadily decreasing as distance between the dialects increases. An example is the Dutch-German dialect continuum, a vast network of dialects with two recognized literary standards. Although mutual intelligibility between standard Dutch and standard German is very limited, a chain of dialects connects them. Due to several centuries of influence by standard languages (especially in Northern Germany, where even today the original dialects struggle to survive) there are now many breaks in intelligibility between geographically adjacent dialects along the continuum, but in the past these breaks were virtually nonexistent.
The Romance languages—Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Occitan/Provençal, French, Sardinian, Romanian, Romansh, Friulian, other Italian dialects, and others—form another well-known continuum, with varying degrees of mutual intelligibility.
In both areas - the Germanic linguistic continuum, the Romance linguistic continuum - the relational notion of the term dialect is often vastly misunderstood, and today gives rise to considerable difficulties in implementation of European Union directives regarding support of minority languages. Perhaps this is no more evident than in Italy, where still today some of the population use their local language (dialetto 'dialect') as the primary means of communication at home and, to varying lesser extent, the workplace. Difficulties arise due to terminological confusion. The languages conventionally referred to as Italian dialects are Romance sister languages of Italian, not variants of Italian, which are commonly and properly called italiano regionale ('regional Italian'). The label Italian dialect as conventionally used is more geopolitical in aptness of meaning rather than linguistic: Bolognese and Neapolitan, for example, are termed Italian dialects, yet resemble each other less than do Italian and Spanish, yet Bolognese and Neapolitan are lexically closer to Standard Italian, than Spanish, a separate language, is. If another dialect such as Sicilian can seriously be considered separate from Italian, then Italian and Spanish are definitely separate, as Italian and Sicilian vocabulary are still closer than Italian and Spanish, which, again, are separate national languages. Misunderstandings ensue if "Italian dialect" is taken to mean 'dialect of Italian' rather than 'minority language spoken on Italian soil', i.e. part of the network of the Romance linguistic continuum. The indigenous Romance language of Venice, for example, is cognate with Italian, but quite distinct from the national language in phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon, and in no way a derivative or a variety of the national language. Venetian can be said to be an Italian dialect both geographically and typologically, but it is not a dialect of Italian.
- Main article: Diasystem
A diasystem refers to a single genetic language which has two or more standard forms. An example is Hindi-Urdu or Hindustani, which encompasses two main standard varieties, Urdu and Hindi. Another example is Norwegian, with Bokmål having developed closely with Danish and Swedish, and Nynorsk as a partly reconstructed language based on old dialects. Both are recognized as official languages in Norway.
In a formal sense, the diasystem of a set of dialects can be understood as the underlying language for which each dialect has a typical realisation (language of metaphonemes). An example can be taken with Occitan (a strongly dialectalized language of Southern France) where 'cavaL' ( < late Latin *caballu-, 'horse') is the diasystem form for the following realizations.
- Languedocien dialect: [kaɞal], spelled 'caval' (v is pronounced as in Spanish and -L > -l, sometimes velar, used concurrently with French borrowed forms 'chival' or 'chivau');
- Limousine dialect: [tʃavau], spelled 'chavau' (ca > cha and -L > -u regularly);
- Provencal dialect: [kavau], spelled 'cavau' (-L > -u regularly, and used concurrently with French borrowed forms 'chival' or 'chivau');
- Gascon dialect: [kawat], spelled 'cavath' (intervocalic v is w and final -L is -t, sometimes palatalized, and used concurrently with French borrowed forms 'chibau')
- Auvergnat and Vivaro-alpine dialects: [tʃaval], spelled 'chaval' (same treatment of 'ca' cluster as in Limousine dialect)
This conceptual approach may be used in practical situations. For instance when such a diasystem is identified, it can be used so as to define the way these dialects are written in a common form that eases greatly written communication with the highest tolerance to the various spoken form. After such a unification, the dialects appear as mere 'accents' of the diasystem. 'Yes, people from region A pronounce [X] what we spell z, while in region B, they pronounce it [Y]'. It should be noted that the goals in this example are more sociopolitical in essence than scientifically linguistic. Linguistically, Occitan is a cover term for a large number of languages (reduced to a typology of five here for convenience) of varying relational proximity in terms of linguistic features, and the dialect continuum does not stop at the outer geolinguistic boundaries conventionally assigned to Occitan.
- Main article: Pluricentric language
A pluricentric language has more than one standard version: English and Portuguese are two examples of these languages.
The Ausbausprache — Abstandsprache — Dachsprache framework
- Main article: Ausbausprache - Abstandsprache - Dachsprache
One analytical paradigm developed by linguists is known as the Ausbausprache - Abstandsprache - Dachsprache framework. It has proved popular among linguists in Continental Europe, but is not so well known in English-speaking countries, especially among people who are not trained linguists. Although only one of many possible paradigms, it has the advantage of being constructed by trained linguists for the particular purpose of analyzing and categorizing varieties of speech, and has the additional merit of replacing such loaded words as "language" and "dialect" with the German terms of Ausbausprache, Abstandsprache, and Dachsprache, words that are not (yet) loaded with political, cultural, or emotional connotations.
Examples from Many Languages
- Main article: Ryukyuan languages#Examples in other languages
A useful set of examples of the difficulty of distinguishing languages from dialects may be found in the article cited above.
Selected list of articles on dialects
- Arab 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 in Ostrobothnia
- Warsaw dialect
- Yiddish dialects
- Yooper dialect
- Ausbausprache - Abstandsprache - Dachsprache
- Creole language
- Dialect continuum
- Dialect levelling
- Dialect Test
- Koiné language
- Literary language
- Nonstandard English
- Prestige dialect
- Regional language
- Oxford English dictionary
- Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
- Morris, Alice Vanderbilt, General report. New York: International Auxiliary Language Association, 1945.
- Gode, Alexander, Interlingua-English Dictionary. New York: Storm Publishers, 1951.
- Gopsill, F. P., International languages: A matter for Interlingua. Sheffield: British Interlingua Society, 1990.
^ Oxford English dictionary
^ Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
^ Note, for example, the use of "dialect" in the following sentence from a biographical portrait of Theodore Roosevelt (The river of doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's darkest journey (2005) by Candice Millard, Doubleday), "... and Rondon, although he knew ten different Indian dialects..." (p. 80). A perusal of current newspaper columns shows the same usage.
^ 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
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