Archive for Dialects

Cantonese: good news and bad news

The good news is that it's a language.

The bad news is that you can't speak it.

"China’s version of TikTok suspends users for speaking Cantonese:  ByteDance’s short video app Douyin has been urging live streamers to switch to the country’s official language", Abacus via SCMP (4/3/20)

I've been hearing similar reports concerning the use of Cantonese on other social media:  it is definitely discouraged or even forbidden.  At least, though, the Abacus article does not miscall Cantonese a dialect, but affords it the dignity of referring to it as a language.

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The many varieties of Japanese regional speech

Anyone who learns Standard Japanese and then travels around outside of the Tokyo area will quickly come to realize how distinctive and numerous are the local forms of language once one leaves the metropolitan region of the capital.

Some interesting aspects of this phenomenon are presented in a new article in nippon.com, "Linguistic Treasures: The Value of Dialects", by Kobayashi Takashi, professor at the Center for the Study of Dialectology, Tōhoku University, who specializes in dialects and the history of Japanese.

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Yorkshire Topolect

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"God bless his heart"

Alex Isenstadt, "Louisiana delivers Trump a black eye", Politico 11/17/2019:

President Donald Trump campaigned hard in three conservative Southern states this fall, aiming for a string of gubernatorial wins that would demonstrate his political strength heading into impeachment and his own reelection effort.

The plan backfired in dramatic fashion.

The latest black eye came on Saturday, when Trump's favored candidate in Louisiana, multimillionaire businessman Eddie Rispone, went down to defeat. The president went all-in, visiting the state three times, most recently on Thursday.

See also Rick Rojas and Jeremy Alford, "In Louisiana, a Narrow Win for John Bel Edwards and a Hard Loss for Trump", NYT 11/16/2019.

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Interslavic

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Cantonese and Mandarin are two different languages, part 2

From Guy Freeman:

These advertisements on a Hong Kong bus (plastered on the back of every seat on the upper deck) use Cantonese so unashamedly, at least in their main type, that I just had to pass them on.  Clearly advertisers still appreciate that written Cantonese is the best way to connect to the Cantonese-speaking masses.

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Speak Darja (Algerian colloquial), not Fusha (Arabic)

This little clip, of sociolinguistic as well as non-linguistic interest, has gone viral in the Algerian online world (via Twitter):

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Speech like birds chirping

When human beings hear others speaking but are unable to comprehend what is being said, to what do they compare such speech?  We will gain one common characterization from this article about a prematurely dying Iraqi dialect:

"Iraqis amid Mosul's silent ruins fear the loss of a dialect", by Sam Kimball, SFGate (2/1/19)

It begins thus:

For centuries, residents of Mosul have spoken a unique form of Arabic enriched by the Iraqi city's long history as a crossroads of civilization, a singsong dialect that many now fear will die out after years of war and displacement.

Much of Mosul's Old City, where speakers of the dialect are concentrated, was completely destroyed in the war against the Islamic State group. Thousands of residents were killed in months of heavy fighting, and tens of thousands fled, taking with them the city's local patois and memories of its more cosmopolitan past.

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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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