What’s a language, anyway?
Monday, August 13, 2018
Posted by: Dana Walker
What’s the difference between a language and a dialect? Is there some kind of technical
distinction, the way there is between a quasar and a pulsar, or between a rabbit and a hare? Faced with the question, linguists like to repeat the grand old observation of the linguist and Yiddishist Max Weinreich, that “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.”
But surely the difference is deeper than a snappy aphorism suggests. The very fact that “language” and “dialect” persist as separate concepts implies that linguists can make tidy distinctions for speech varieties worldwide. But in fact, there is no objective difference between the two: Any attempt you make to impose that kind of order on reality falls apart in the face of real evidence.