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  • The distinct forms of speech heard

  • around Bremen, Germany and Interlaken, Switzerland

  • are considered regional dialects of the German language.

  • And yet, when someone from Bremen is visiting the Swiss Alps,

  • the conversations they hear between locals will likely be incomprehensible to them.

  • Similarly, outside of China,

  • Mandarin and Cantonese are often referred to as Chinese dialects.

  • But they're even more dissimilar than Spanish and Italian.

  • On the other hand, speakers of Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish,

  • which are recognized as three distinct languages,

  • can usually communicate in their native tongues with little difficulty.

  • And Turkish language soap operas, broadcast without dubbing or subtitles,

  • are some of the most popular shows in Azeri-speaking Azerbaijan.

  • So, when is a form of speech considered a dialect versus a language?

  • It seems reasonable that the degree of mutual intelligibility would determine

  • whether two ways of speaking are classified as separate languages

  • or as dialects of the same language.

  • But as we've seen, there are many occasions where this is not the case.

  • Perhaps surprisingly, the distinction between a language and a dialect

  • usually has nothing to do with pronunciation, vocabulary,

  • or any other linguistic features.

  • However, it's not coincidental, either.

  • It's a matter of politics.

  • The basis for what's officially deemed a language

  • was shaped by the emergence of a European nation states beginning around the 1500s.

  • In order to establish and maintain centralized governments,

  • clear territorial boundaries, and state-sponsored education systems,

  • many nation states promoted a standardized language.

  • Which form of speech was chosen to be the standard language

  • was usually based on what people spoke in the capital.

  • And while other forms of speech persisted, they were often treated as inferior.

  • This tradition extended across the globe with European colonization

  • and into modern times.

  • Italy, for example, has at least 15 of what might be called regional dialects.

  • One of them, the Florentine dialect,

  • became known as Standard Italian when the country politically unified in 1861.

  • It was selected because legendary authors like Dante and Machiavelli

  • used it in their original works,

  • And it came to represent an image of Italian national identity

  • that some found particularly desirable.

  • Later on, in his attempt to establish a unified, fascist state,

  • Italian dictator Benito Mussolini saw language standardization

  • as an important objective.

  • His government promoted standard Italian while prohibiting other forms of speech

  • from the public sphere,

  • framing them as backward and unsophisticated.

  • In everything from job applications to court testimonies,

  • standard languages act as gatekeepers around the world.

  • For instance, one 1999 study showed that landlords responded to apartment inquiries

  • based on what form of speech their prospective tenants used.

  • When callers spoke African-American Vernacular English, or AAVE,

  • landlords were more likely to reject their inquiries.

  • When they spoke so-called Standard American English,

  • which is often associated with whiteness,

  • landlords responded more positively.

  • Both of these forms of speech are considered English dialects.

  • In the United States, some people have cast AAVE

  • as an incorrect or simplified version of mainstream US English.

  • But AAVE follows consistent grammatical rules

  • every bit as sophisticated as other forms of English.

  • Linguists tend to avoid the term dialect altogether.

  • Instead, many opt to call different forms of speechvarieties.”

  • This way, languages are seen as groups of varieties.

  • So the English language is made up of varieties

  • including Standard British and American English, AAVE,

  • Nigerian English, Malaysian English, and many others.

  • Each has its own unique history and characteristic pronunciation,

  • vocabulary, and grammatical structures.

  • But the dividing line between varieties is murky.

  • Human language, in all its cross-pollinating, ever-evolving glory,

  • naturally resists the impulse to sort it into neat buckets.

  • Oftentimes, forms of speech exist on a kind of linguistic continuum

  • where they overlap with others,

  • and the differences between them are gradual

  • not clear cut.

  • And that's the confounding beauty of the dynamic, diverse,

  • and dazzling universe of human communication.

The distinct forms of speech heard

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B2 US TED-Ed language speech dialect standard italian

What makes a language... a language? - Martin Hilpert

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    nao posted on 2021/09/14
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