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

From: Patrick Andries (
Date: Mon Oct 18 1999 - 12:32:59 EDT

-----Message d'origine-----
De : Edward Cherlin <>
>I forgot. German, too. Frisian, Swiss German, Yiddish, Pennsylvania
>"Dutch", Dutch, Flemish, Afrikaans...

Yes but isn't it interesting that Afrikaans is a language while Swiss German
is not usually regarded as one (which Swiss German dialect? Why not an
Austrian language then?) Obviously the standardization process an official
language goes through helps very much.

>The joke is evidently false in both directions. First, there are more
>than 6,000 languages and fewer than 200 national armies.

I believe that there are really at least two criteria to determine what a
language is : the fact that it cannot be understood by those that do not
speak it, and when it is understood the fact that it is standardized and
officialized (the army bit), that what's make us say that Picard is a
dialect of French and not that French is a dialect of Picard.

>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.

Yes, but this does not contradict what I said : what distinguishes the
official language from its dialects is its "officialness" (its army), this
does not mean that several countries could not adapt the same language,
neither that languages that are clearly languages (and not dialects because
they are not understood by the speakers of official languages) do not exist
without states (no one is disputing that Apache is a language different from
US English).

>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.

My point would be that if the Haitan military adopts Haitian creole as a
language (it officializes it), then it is surely a language. But it does not
mean that Haitian Creole is not a distinct language even without being
legally anointed: we would have to determine if it has sufficient
differences with other French creoles. If it is very different and
incomprehensible : it is a language. But again, even it is very close from
other Creoles, and thus a variant of a larger set, it may be *treated*
officially as a language if a country decides to adopt it as its official
language (the cases of the Scandinavian languages closer to each other than
some German dialects springs to mind). No one has as yet ever spoken about
the official dialect of a country.

P. Andries

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