In the midst of our ongoing debates about whether Cantonese, Shanghainese, Taiwanese, and so forth are Sinitic languages or dialects, I continually find evidence that the custom of referring to them only as "dialects" is exceptional when compared with linguistic usage elsewhere (e.g., India, Europe, Africa).
Today I came across an Iranian language that I'd never heard of before, Zazaki, although — without knowing it — I probably met some of its speakers in Sweden, where there are many Zazak refugees. Also called Zaza, Kirmanjki, Kirdki, Dimli, and Dimili, Zazaki is found primarily in eastern Anatolia. It belongs to the northwestern branch of the Iranian group of the Indo-European family.
Zazaki does not have an army, navy, or national flag; it only has around 3 million speakers; it has no place on earth that it can call its own country; many of its speakers live in a far-flung diaspora; until very recently it had no written texts; and so forth — and yet linguists accept it as a separate language. Indeed, Zazaki itself is considered to have at least three dialects: Northern Zazaki, Southern Zazaki, and Central Zazaki, and these are divided into many sub-dialects.
Resources for learning about Zazaki:
Yet Another Web Dictionary
For detailed linguistic analysis, see Ludwig Paul, "The Position of Zazaki among West Iranian Languages" in the online journal, Iran Chamber. (pdf)
In comparison with the highly refined classification of Zazaki, with its small number of speakers, our understanding of the taxonomy of Sinitic languages, with their hundreds of millions of speakers, is pathetically crude. Shouldn't linguists be paying Sinitic the same sort of serious attention that is devoted to Zazaki?
Among many Language Log posts that have touched upon this vital question of whether the mutually unintelligible varieties of Sinitic should be referred to as dialects or languages are these two recent posts:
(see especially the second part, "Dialect or Language?")
[h.t. Petya Andreeva]