Language Varieties

December 31, 2015

 

In learning languages, one might notice that people from different regions may speak that language differently. Languages generally come in many varieties, or dialects, but what exactly makes it a variety, vocabulary, accent, grammar? In truth, it depends. #English, #Spanish, and American Sign Language all have varieties that are mutually intelligible, that is, speakers from those varieties could #communicate with one another. Someone speaking #American English can communicate with someone speaking #Australian English and someone who signs west coast American Sign can communicate with someone who signs east coast American Sign. While there may be some initial #confusion regarding the differences in #vocabulary and pronunciation, conversation is still understandable.

 

China has two official dialects, Mandarin and Cantonese, which are not mutually intelligible. Meanwhile, Dutch, Swedish, and Norwegian are mutually intelligible but are considered separate languages. In the case of Mandarin and Cantonese, they are literally completely separate languages with almost nothing in common. #Swedish, #Dutch, and #Norwegian share a great deal of vocabulary (sometimes with different meanings and pronunciations). So why are Mandarin and Cantonese varieties, but Swedish, Dutch, and Norwegian not? It all boils down to the idea that “a dialect is a language with an army and a navy.”

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