LINGUIST List 6.1321

Wed Sep 27 1995

Disc: Dialect

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Ole Ravnholt, dialect
  2. Stavros Macrakis, Dialect vs. language (19c)
  3. Annemarie Valdez, Disc: Dialects (fwd)

Message 1: dialect

Date: Tue, 26 Sep 1995 09:48:40 dialect
From: Ole Ravnholt <>
Subject: dialect

In an off-the-list note, Hartmut Haberland suggested that my reading of
Mark Lewellen's posting (in my previous one) probably does not quite match
the one intended: I had understood Lewellen as claiming that Danish might
have been classified as a German dialect, whereas what he probably intended
was that it couldn't because the differences at the borderline between the
two languages are too great. So apparently we agree: don't let emotion sway
your judgment and reading abilities.

It may be of some general interest that I realised I would not have reacted
the same way if anybody had suggested that the (mainland, at least)
Scandinavian languages might have had just one common standard. At the same
time, I am convinced that one could find a Norwegian who would, and for the
same reason I reacted against Danish being classified as more or less a
German dialect: Denmark has been a dominating power, and Danish was the
language of administration and culture for a very long time (I understand
that the Norwegian written language has developed so fast in the last
century that it is now easier for a Danish high school student than for a
Norwegian one to read Ibsen in the original).

So perhaps a language is a dialect that WANTS to have a bureaucracy, army,
navy, etc to be able to fend off the big guys from across the street who
claim that it is just a dialect and not entitled to a bureaucracy of its
own. And probably such a wish will arise only where a sufficient (possibly
small) number of isoglosses are clustered, AND this fact is coupled with
other perceived cultural differences.

Ole Ravnholt
Institut for Kommunikation
Aalborg Universitet
Langagervej 8
DK-9220 Aalborg =D8

phone: +45 98 15 42 11 - 7114
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Dialect vs. language (19c)

Date: Tue, 26 Sep 1995 17:09:35 Dialect vs. language (19c)
From: Stavros Macrakis <>
Subject: Dialect vs. language (19c)

The 19c use of "dialect" was not pejorative, not limited to "savages",
and not used only for unwritten languages: prestige languages like
Ancient Greek, German, and English all had dialects in 19c
terminology. The Greek dialects were even written, and the Greek
language did not have an army or a bureaucracy until Alexander.
Africa and Asia did have languages (Chinese, Persian, Arabic) as well
as dialects.

On the other hand, many philologists did believe that there were
fundamental differences between the languages of "civilized" peoples
and others. F. Max Mueller, for instance, believed that comparative
philology could not be profitably applied to the Turanian languages
(non-Indo-European languages of Asia).

Surely someone must have systematically studied the history of the
various meanings of the words "dialect", "language", etc.?

Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Disc: Dialects (fwd)

Date: Wed, 27 Sep 1995 00:16:21 Disc: Dialects (fwd)
From: Annemarie Valdez <>
Subject: Disc: Dialects (fwd)

Forwarded message:

>From bodomoCsli.Stanford.EDU Mon Sep 25 05:51:44 1995
Message-Id: <199509250951.CAA15005Csli.Stanford.EDU>
To: avaldez
Cc: bodomoCsli.Stanford.EDU (Adams Bodomo)
X-Mailer: ELM [version 2.4 PL24alpha3]
Mime-Version: 1.0

Anthea Fraser GUPTA <> writes:

"The original Philippines problems was an extension of definition
(1),where an assumption had been made in a text that if there was no
standard language, the thing was a dialect. This is what led (and
leads) to 19C (and modern) writers talking about "European languages"
vs. "Indian and African dialects"."

This is basically true in the Ghanaian context, especially during the
period before independence in 1957. Infact, besides the dichotomy
between "language" and "dialect", with the former reserved for the
colonial speech form (English) and the latter for Ghanaian speech
forms, there is a third term, "vernacular" or even "vernacular
language" also reserved for Ghanaian speech forms. Consider the way
the terms "dialect" and "vernacularS are used in the excerpt below,
which is from a 1956 colonial administration document, justifying why
English should be taught in place of Ghanaian languages:

	'It is pointless to teach any of the vernacular languages as a
subject in schools; for such insignificant and uncultivated local
dialects can never become so flexible as to assimilate readily new
words, and to expand their vocabularies to meet new
situations........their absence of literature discredits them and the
use of any of them as a medium of expression.'

This was apparently translated into policy and so even as late as 1970
some of us were severely whipped or, if lucky, made write a thousand
or so times the following sentence : "I will never speak vernacular in
school", "I wil never speak vernacular in school".....

I think linguists have done a good job and they should even strive
harder to let non-linguists know that all languages, whether written
or unwritten, are LANGUAGES, each of which has its own set of dialects
(i.e. geographical, temporal and social variants of a particular

Adams Bodomo
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue