DIALECT: (n) a word that should pass, unmourned, from the English language

Recently, over on Asia Travel, I read the following hogwash in a blog entry on language in Taiwan:


Native Taiwanese and many others also speak one of the Southern Fujianese dialects, Min-nan, also known as Taiwanese. Recently there has been a growing use of Taiwanese in the broadcast media. The Hakka, who are concentrated in several counties throughout Taiwan, have their own distinct dialect.


Dear Asia Travel. Here’s a news flash from the 21st century: Taiwanese is not a dialect. Taiwanese is a language. Hakka is not a dialect ether. Hakka is a language. All of the various languages spoken in China are languages. A language, as a witty linguist put it once, is a dialect with an army and a navy. In other words, the question of “what is a dialect” — at least in this context — is political.

Take that one to heart, guys.

UPDATE: Here’s a piece that argues the distinction is largely a social construction (for anon below). Here’s the discussion from Answers.Com.

UPDATE II: the redoubtable Botel Tobago passed along this link to an NYT article by Howard French on this issue. Says one Chinese scholar:


“No one can clearly answer the question how many dialects there are in China,” said Zhang Hongming, a professor of Chinese linguistics at the University of Wisconsin who is in China doing fieldwork. “The degree of difference among dialects is much higher than the degree of difference among European languages. In Europe they call them languages, but in China we share a culture, so the central government would like to consider that one language is shared by many different peoples. It is simply a different definition.”

Yes, a nasty nationalist definition.

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