Archive for Dialects

An army and navy

See, I didn't even quote the whole quip, and you already knew that this post is about Max Weinreich's ubiquitous saying:  "A language is a dialect with an army and navy".  It may well be the most frequently invoked formula in all of linguistics.  Readers of Language Log are certainly no strangers to it, since we've written a number of posts that are about the adage or mention it prominently (see Readings below), and it is often cited in the comments, even when there is no conceivable rhyme or reason for doing so.

Actually, it wasn't Max Weinreich (1894-1969), a specialist in sociolinguistics and Yiddish, who dreamed up the army-navy quip, but — by his own testimony — someone who attended a series of his lectures and mentioned it to him after one of them.  Subsequently, however, Weinreich did make a point of popularizing the saying, so it is not entirely wrong to associate it with him.

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Dialect vs. accent (vs. language)

Yesterday, I posted on "'How Millennials are Destroying the Philly Accent'" (11/29/18).  Last night, before I went to bed, I wanted to add a comment about my views on the difference between "dialect" and "accent", but didn't have the energy to type it out.  So I was pleased to find when I woke up this morning that others share the same view.

Namely, in my idiolect, and in the speech of my family and people from my neck of the woods (Osnaburg township, northeast Ohio), "accent" refers to distinctive pronunciation, whereas "dialect" gets into differences of vocabulary, grammatical constructions, and so on — but still implies mutual intelligibility (which is why I've always, even before becoming a Sinologist, considered it strange to call Cantonese, Taiwanese, etc. "dialects" of "Chinese").  Thus, for me and my circle back home, we say things like "He / She has a special / odd / unique / funny / peculiar accent" and are only talking about differences in pronunciation, such that we surmise they're from somewhere else, and often we can form a judgement about where they're from, or at least have some idea about it, even though we might be wrong.  However, when we say that somebody has a "thick" accent, such that it makes intelligibility difficult, and when they use many words that are unknown to us and employ grammatical constructions that are unfamiliar to us, then it's getting over toward the dialect end of the accent-dialect scale.  There's another scale between dialect and language, the dialect-language scale, but that's a separate matter, one which we have debated endlessly on Language Log.

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"How Millennials are Destroying the Philly Accent"

Episode 35 of "The Vocal Fries" podcast:

"This linguistics podcast breaks down Philly’s great, and changing, dialect:  The hosts thankfully get way past 'jawn' and 'wooder ice'", by Adam Hermann, PhillyVoice (11/27/18)

Philadelphia’s accent is unmistakable, and it’s often a source of pride among residents….

The podcast chatted with Betsy Sneller, who did her Ph.D. research at Penn, about what she calls Philadelphia English.

“Philly has such a great dialect,” Sneller said. “It’s got a lot of features that differentiate it from other dialects, and some of those are salient, so speakers from Philly will be able to say, ‘We say this.’ And some of those features are not salient, so it’s basically only linguists who notice it and care about it.”

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Arabic as a macrolanguage

Article published three days ago in The Economist:  "Arabic, a great language, has a low profile:  Part of the reason is that it is not really a single language at all", Johnson (10/18/18).

The article begins:

AMONG THEIR many reverberations, the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 had a linguistic side-effect. Between 2002 and 2009 the number of university students in America learning Arabic shot up by 231%, making it a more popular subject than Latin and Russian. This was a "Sputnik moment": like the Soviet satellite, it shocked Americans into studying their adversaries.

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Seven flavors

Jichang Lulu reports that an eating establishment in London has chosen the name qī wèi 柒味 ("seven flavors").  This comes via Yuan Chan on Twitter:

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Central government control over words for grandmother

Recently there was quite a ruckus over the correct word to be used for "maternal grandmother" in second-graders' textbooks in Shanghai:

"Much Ado About Grandma: Textbook Change Sparks Linguistic Debate:  Critics call ‘waipo’ to ‘laolao’ change ‘cultural hegemony’ from the north", Kenrick Davis, Sixth Tone (6/22/18)

"A debate over the word for ‘grandmother’ in China exposes a linguistic and political rift", Echo Huang and Ziyi Tang, Quartz (6/26/18)

The big controversy was over whether students should be taught to say "lǎolao 姥姥" or "wàipó 外婆", both of which mean "maternal grandmother".

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Fub

The University of Pennsylvania is instituting a Two-Step Verification for PennKey WebLogins. Up till now, our PennKey for login consisted of a Username and Password. After much effort and practice, I finally mastered that. Now, however, for the sake of greater security, after using our PennKey to log in, we will in addition be asked to go through a second step that requires us to enter a randomly generated number that will be sent to us via cell phone.

That really freaked me out, since I don't have a cell phone.

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North Korean English

Remarkable video from the DPRK:

"Kim Jong Un meets U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo & releases 3 U.S. prisoners [English]"

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Cantonese is not the mother tongue of Hong Kongers, part 2

Half a day after the first part of this series, "Cantonese is not the mother tongue of Hong Kongers" (5/4/18), was posted, someone unhelpfully and snarkily asked, "…but are we sure he used the English word 'dialect'?"

That's not the point.

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Zora Neale Hurston and Kossula

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North Korean with a Swiss German accent?

The video embedded in this article features North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un speaking at the historic summit meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone yesterday:

"Hang on, what language is Kim Jong-un speaking?  Livestreaming reveals that the North Korean leader has a unique ‘Swiss-influenced’ accent, a result of his years studying at a German-language boarding school near Bern", Crystal Tai, SCMP (4/27/18).

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Yibin, Sichuanese, Cantonese, Mandarin…; topolect, dialect, language

From Charles Belov:

My Apple Music subscription served me a folk-pop hip-hop song "Yibin BBQ" by Yishi Band at the tail end of a playlist mostly made up of rock from the former Yugoslavian republics.

Googling this band reveals that they sing in a dialect called Yibin.

I thought I heard a final consonant stop at 0:57-58 and 1:10 but I imagine that's a mishearing as the Wikipedia entry for Sichuan dialect does not list any consonant stops as possible finals. Also, as someone who doesn't know Mandarin, I fear this could be standard Mandarin without my knowing it. That said, when I try to match the first few words, what they rap doesn't quite match the printed lyric, and in particular, the character for the number one appears in the printed lyric and I'm hearing something that sounds like the number one in Cantonese and not in standard Mandarin.

(I took three semesters of Cantonese but never became fluent.)

I couldn't find this on YouTube and hope you either have streaming or know someone who can stream this for you.  Hope you can find and enjoy this.

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Mighty Maithili, monstrous Mandarin

In case you're in need of some intensely elegiac and panegyric reading material, this lovely volume just might fit the bill:

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