Posted by: u4499075 | August 3, 2009

Language? dialect? variety!!!…

I went back to chapter 1 of the main text – Introducing Sociolinguistics, page 37: “Even countries like France, Germany and England that are sometimes characterised as monolingual in fact have a vast array of languages within their border”. But are they languages or are they dialects?

The sentence is arguing that each country is multilingual. I believe that multilingual communities often borrow words from one community to another, just as words are borrowed from one country’s borders to another. In which case couldn’t it be said that there are no pure “languages”? I can certainly see the issue/s faced in trying to differentiate between language and dialect….

Still in chapter one it talked about the fact that borrowing words is part of the development of a language. It is confusing for me to think of this in terms of a language/dialect/variety distinction. Personally for example I speak Spanish (from El Salvador, Central America), at least I thought I spoke the language Spanish, until a recent trip I took to Spain, where I learnt that there are many words in Salvadoran Spanish that are not understood in Madrid, Spain. With the family that I was staying with I had to find other ways of explaining certain things. Likewise, there were some words that I could not understand. And then there is an uncle I have who speaks “Spanglish”, influenced by North American English (but that’s another issue). In these cases are we speaking Spanish or are we speaking varieties of Spanish. Why is our way of speaking not classified as a dialect or as a new language, like the differences between Swedish, Danish and Finnish? Do I speak a different language at home when I speak to my parents? Because sometimes I feel like we have our own little variety of a language (which language I’m not quite sure, because it is a variety of Spanish and English words)…

Understandably I’m a little confussled on which language I speak, if (linguistically) I speak a language at all!!

Martha 🙂



  1. I reckon that sometimes the distinction about a language, dialect or variation is quite tricky.

    About borrowing words, it is a phenomenon which also occurs in my standard language (Bahasa Indonesia) with has so many loanwords from Arabic, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, English, Sanskrit, and other tribal language. It can happen because of various factors such as politics, trading, and so on.

    I also reckon that especially for the case of ‘border-language/dialect’, it sometimes is not so easy to distinguish whether it is a language or dialect or variation. I suppose it depends on the perspective we use, because indirectly it deals with ‘standard Vs. Non- standard’. (See in Wardhaugh, 1998. An introduction to sociolingustics. Page 31 – 33) i.e. I also saw this case in my grandmother’s village from my father’s side. It is the village in the border between two provinces in Java Island, Indonesia. The village becomes the border for the people who speak Sundanese (West Java Province) and the speaker of Javanese (Central Java province), but in politic perspective, they considered as the part of Central Java. However, the inhabitants of my grandmother’s village speak Sundanese but they (do) understand Javanese and sometimes can speak Javanese, too. To some extent, have different accent which is so distinctive. The people of this village tend to consider themselves as Sundanese, yet they are the descendants of Sundanese migrants centuries ago. It is really interesting since the fact that this village is surrounded by 5 other villages who inhabitants speak Javanese. That is why, this language phenomenon is expressed the name of my grandmother’s village “Tanggung Sari” which literally means ‘The essence of nearlyness ’ or generally speaking, It expresses the situation of ‘in the middle of something’.

    The way you express your confusion about your language at home whether it is a varieties, dialect or a new language, reminds me about my friend when I was in undergraduates. She speaks one of tribal languages in West Papua which is called ‘Biak language’. For centuries, the Biak tribe has spread from Biak Island to other places in West Papua’s coastal areas and they becomes many migrants in other tribes’s territory, and my friend is one of the descendants of Biak migrant in my place. Sometimes, she says that she speaks ‘Biak dialect’ but sometimes she says she refers that as a language called ‘Doreri’ (the name of Biak Migrant in my place). She understands when other Biak speakers from Biak Island speak, but sometimes she says that she can’t understand because the different accent and vocabulary. I reckon that for her and other Biak migrant’s descendant in my place is a matter of identity symbol. Since the Doreri people in my place is now considered as sub-native people in my place which also has the privilege to claim the natural resources property. So, in my friend’s case, I reckon that it is more on political and economy reasons in determining whether it is a language or a dialect or even a variety.

  2. А если посмотреть на это с другой точки зрения то не все так гладко получается

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