Chapter 2 – Languages, Dialects, and Varieties
Variety (Hudson) : a set of linguistic items with similar distribution.
ex. : Canadian English, London English, English of football commentators
According to this definition all languages spoken by a multilingual speaker would consist of the same
variety because they are have the same social distribution.
Both Hudson and Ferguson define variety in terms of a specific set of linguistics items or human speech
patterns which we can uniquely associate with an external factor. Sociolinguistics must determine,
among other things, if such sets of patterns do exist.
Language v. Dialect :
Vernacular : language a person grows up in and uses in everyday life, common places and social
interactions. Often has pejorative associations when used in public.
Koine : form of speech shared by people with different vernaculars, although for some people the koine
might be the vernacular.
Koine is a common language but not necessarily standard.
Ex. Hindi in several parts of India. (non standard hindi can serve as the koine)
People struggle in determining whether their vernacular is a language or a dialect.
Language ---> refers to a single linguistic norm
Dialect ---> used to refer to one of the norms
French ambiguity : dialecte : regional variety with a literary tradition
patois : regional variety with no literary tradition
... But!! Dialect ≠ standard language
No French speaker would consider standard French to be a dialect, meanwhile
English speakers could consider standard English as a dialect.
Dialect is used both for local varieties and for different types of informal, lower-class, rural speech. It is
often seen as equivalent of non-standard and substandard and connotes various degrees of inferiority.
Power and Solidarity (and how both concepts may help our understanding of variety):
Power : involves some asymmetrical relationship between entities. A language is necessarily more
powerful than its dialects (a dialect with an army and a navy)
Solidarity : involves a common interest around which people will bond. People might preserve a local
dialect to resist power or affirm independence
Some examples .... Hindi-Urdu :
Same language but differences are becoming magnified for political and religious reasons : quest for
stronger national identities. In everyday use, boundary between spoken varieties of Hindi and Urdu is
very flexible, but in the back lies an ideal that can be appealed to : either proper HIndi or proper Urdu.
Serbocroate is a single south slav language but it is split in serbian and croatian varieties differing mainly
in vocabulary choices and pronunciation (some grammar). They use different scripts. As conflict grew
between both ethnic groups, they split further apart and are now considered as different languages.
NB : Loyalty can be directly to the language, like in Britany, where people are centering a movement for
autonomy around the preservation of Breton language but may also be directed towards cultural
heritage like in Alsace where people speak German but identify overwhelmingly to French identity.
Examples of confusions surrounding language/dialect divides
(Confusions can arise from the different perceptions people have of their own variety and others,
perceptions often shaped by social, political factors)
Danish, Norwegian, Swedish: considered three different languages but they have a high mutual
intelligibility Danes claim to understand Norwegians much better than Norwegians claim to
understand Danes : reflects power relationships. (Norway more influential than Denmark)
Thai and Lao : Same situation. Thai speakers don't understand Lao, which has low prestige status and
Lao speakers understand Thai, which has a high prestige status in Laos. Reflects power relationships.
China: people claim they speak dialects of the same language but the mutual intelligibility is very low.
communication only happens through a shared writing system. Reflects political situtaion : tradition of
Another confusion : do speakers of Cockney and speakers of Ozark mountains USA speak the same
language even though they can't understand each other ?
Another confusion : language and dialect are used to refer to historical changes in languages. Usually,
these changes are depicted as clean-cuts by the neo-grammarian model of language variation, in which
it is suggested that when two varieties diverge they lose contact with each other, but it’s not that
simple. Language and dialects differences also become further obscured when speakers of a given
community are likely to be multilingual.
Bell 's 7 criteria for indentifying a language :
7-De Facto norms 1-Standardization :
The process by which a language has been codified, (grammar, dictionaries, spelling books, literature) . It
implies that some agreement has been reached about what is and isn’t in the language.
Once a language is standardized, it becomes possible to teach it and it takes ideological dimensions
beyond strictly linguistics ones (political, cultural)
Haguen (1966) indicates the steps a variety of a language has to go through in order to become the
1- Codification (development of grammars, dictionaries, etc.)
2- Elaboration (use of the variety in literature, courts, education, et.)
Haguen says that in addition to those two formal matters, there is a functional matter :
Norms must be selected and accepted for codification and elaboration to proceed in the community.
The selected norm is likely to become an idealized norm. (a norm that reflects what speakers aspire to
rather than the actual linguistic behavior)
-Serbs and Croats were never able to agree on a norm
-Indonesians and Malaysians try to agree on norms over their Islamic bond to reduce the differences in
Functions of Standardization:
-unifies people and groups within the community
-separates resulting community from other communities
-reflects and symbolizes an identity (regional, ethnic, social…)
-gives prestige to some members of the community , marking off those who speak the standard variety
and those who don’t.
Governments sometimes deliberately engage in standardization of the language.
Most famous example :
Richelieu created the Académie Française in 1635, whose mandate was the codification of French
spelling, vocabulary and grammar. The goal was to fashion and reinforce French nationality.
Deliberate Standardization can happen quite quickly for political reasons :
The Finns developed theirs in order to assert their independence from both Swedes and
Russians. Finnish is now a strong marker of Finnish identity.
Turkish was also standardized and modernized successfully under Atatürk. Today similar attempts happen in many countries :
Tanzania (Swahili) and many more....
In each case a variety is first selected, than developed (codified) and accepted in the larger society. It is
an ideological matter.
Standardization is also an ongoing matter :
Only dead languages (latin, classical greek) are standardized forever. Living languages change and so
standardization is ongoing.
Standardization is also a process that attempts to eliminate diversity and variety :
In India, Hindi is still in the process of being standardized but things are going very slowly because of
regional resistance by people who fear that local varieties will be submerged.
Existence of a living community of speakers
This criterion distinguishes between dead languages (celtic languages like manx and Cornish) and alive
languages. Languages can still be influent after their death. (Sanskrit, latin, greek)
Refers to the fact that a group of people finds a sense of identity using that language . The
group might have other ties, but the bond over language is likely to be the most powerful.
-19 century Germans unifying around German language
- Jewish people unifying around a shared identity of threatened people through
Language is be felt by its speakers as different from other languages by subjective criterion
Speakers of AAE maintain that they don’t speak a variety of English à AAE and
English are autonomous.
Cantonese and Mandarin speakers maintain that they speak the same language
à Cantonese and mandarin are not autonomous languages .
Refers to th