LINGUIST List 7.887

Thu Jun 13 1996

Disc: Non-standard grammar

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Waruno Mahdi, Re: Disc: Non-standard grammar

Message 1: Re: Disc: Non-standard grammar

Date: Tue, 11 Jun 1996 20:50:16 +0200
From: Waruno Mahdi <>
Subject: Re: Disc: Non-standard grammar
A lot has been said in this discussion in support of the use of standard
dialect in the appropriate occasion (including my own squib in 7-841),
with much of which I agree. Just for the record, however, I would like
to remind of examples of opposite treatments, including a celebrated
historical instance, in which a classical standard dialect was dumped
in favour of a vernacular which then took up the position of new standard.

The most famous instance was probably the replacement of Latin by Italian
vernacular in the Renaissance. It was propounded by Dante Alighieri in
"De vulgari eloquentia", and put into practice in his "La divina commedia"
(The Divine Commedy), marking the transition from Latin to Italian as
standard dialect of science and literature in 14th century Italy.

In modern times, we may witness the elevation of Tok Pisin and Bislama,
both English Pidgins, to national languages of communication in Papua-
New Guinea and Vanuatu respectively.

In my own study on the competing roles of High and Low Malay dialects in
the formation of modern Indonesian, now approaching completion, I have
tried to follow the decline of the High Malay of traditional literature
and court languages, and rise of Low Malay vernaculars on the trade routes
and sea ports. In the first half of the 20th century, an actually all but
extinct High Malay language tradition was officially re-installed as language
of Malay instruction in government schools and government popular literature
publication under the colonial administration, while Low Malay vernacular,
a.k.a. as Bazaar Malay, was the language actually used in the indigenous
press and privately published literature, and spoken in social and political
organizations of the indigenous population.

My generalized conclusion is, that the arguments put forward earlier in
favour of recognizing the need of a standard dialect and its use in
academic, serious, official, etc. genres only apply under "normal"
conditions, when purely linguistic criteria are permitted to be the
determining factors. It happens, however, that a standard dialect and
a vernacular may acquire competing social tags, and that then the social
group that is identified by the vernacular rises to a position of at
least equal footing with that of the group identified by the (former)
standard dialect. In this case, the vernacular may attain the role
previously reserved for the former standard, acquiring the additional
features (terminology etc.) needed for this in the process.
The "dialectal upheaval" may be the result of a fight-out between
opposing social factions (as in Italian Renassance) or that of a more
peaceful concord (the Melanesian examples), or it may become dissolved
in a convergence of the two dialect traditions (the Indonesian example).

I would greatly appreciate other examples of such processes, as also
references to the role of Low German in the development of Nordic
languages, the replacement of Rigsmol in Norway, and the influence of
local American dialects and vernaculars on American Standard English
particularly in the post-World-War-II period (please mail directly to
me to avoid cluttering up LINGUIST List; I'll post a summary if enough
material accumulates).

All the best, Waruno

- ---------------------------------------------------------------------
Waruno Mahdi tel: +49 30 8413 5408
Faradayweg 4-6 fax: +49 30 8413 3155
14195 Berlin email:
Germany WWW:
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue