Re: Off-topic : Linguaje (was Re: Peking/Beijing)

From: Edward Cherlin (
Date: Sat Oct 16 1999 - 18:37:41 EDT

At 14:55 -0400 10/15/1999, Patrick Andries wrote:
>-----Message d'origine-----
>De : Edward Cherlin <>
> >At 22:32 +0200 10/7/1999, Jonathan Rosenne wrote:

[Ed Cherlin wrote:]
> >> >And of course, that several of the various languages of China are
> >> >called "dialects", which is like calling English and Castilian
> >> >(Spanish to the hoi polloi) "dialects" of Latin, or calling Catalan
> >> >and Portuguese "dialects' of Castilian.
> >>
> >>The principle difference between a dialect and a language is that a
> >>language has an army. Thus, Danish and Dutch are languages, Frisian and
> >>Schwabish are dialects.
> >>
> >>Jony
> >
> >An old joke with a good political point but not much accuracy. Look
> >at all the Spanish-, English-, French-, Chinese-, and Arabic-speaking
> >countries. That's why I put in Portuguese and Catalan together as
> >minimally contrasting examples.
>I am not sure I understand. The multiplicity of French speaking countries
>does not mean that it didn't take a least one state (and its army as symbol)
>to transform the dialect spoken by those in power in that state into a
>language. After all, isn't this the reason why a small "language" like
>Luxembourgeois actually exists : it is the majority language of a (very
>small) state, while right across the German border the same language is a
>As I said, I'm not sure I understood.
>P. Andries

I forgot. German, too. Frisian, Swiss German, Yiddish, Pennsylvania
"Dutch", Dutch, Flemish, Afrikaans...

The joke is evidently false in both directions. First, there are more
than 6,000 languages and fewer than 200 national armies. Several
countries (U.S., Russia, China, India, Senegal,...) have more than a
hundred indigenous languages each, with India at the top of the list.
India has claimed to have 1,800 languages, although Ethnologue lists
only 800 odd.

Second, it is easy to cite pairs of countries, each with its own
army, speaking what is universally regarded as dialects of the same
language, as in the Francophonie, Austria/Germany, Spain/Latin
America, Portugal/Brazil, UK/US/Canada/Australia/Liberia, and
China/Taiwan/Singapore. (The case of Arabic is more complicated.)
There are also cases of groups such as Jews, without an army of their
own for well over 2,000 years, creating what are universally regarded
as separate languages such as Yiddish and Ladino.

French does not have as wide a range of offspring as some of these
others. Louisiana Cajun (Acadien) and Haitian Creole French are
perhaps the more extreme examples. I haven't heard Haitian called a
separate language, and there is no doubt about the existence of the
Haitian military.

Ed Cherlin
"Well, you may be right, and certainly I cannot go so far as
to say that you are wrong, but still, at the same time..."
Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice, by James Branch Cabell

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