The Difference Between a Language and a Dialect – The Atlantic


The Difference Between a Language and a Dialect – The Atlantic

The realities of speech are much more complicated than the words used to describe it.


What’s the difference between a dialect and a language? It’s really hard to say actually. We often have the sense that language is the “proper” version of it and dialects are quaint local variations, but the truth is a lot more complex than that. In Scandanavia, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are mutually intelligible, even though they are seen as separate languages.

Whereas in China, Cantonese and Mandarin are seen as mere dialects of Chinese (maybe because they both use the Chinese writing system). The problem here is that linguistically, there is no way to tell dialects apart from languages. All dialects are living communication systems and all are valid ways to communicate.

In some cases, it is languages themselves that are artificial. Standard varities of languages can sometimes be mere construct that try to amalgamate the variations of a language, but the result is a language that isn’t spoken anywhere. While a standard version of a language is useful for country wide communication it can also affect dialects such that those dialects aren’t used as much anymore.

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