Language is a dialect with an army and a navy

By |February 9th, 2011|

This colourful expression was reportedly heard by the Yiddish linguist Max Weinrich, from a member of the audience at one of his lectures. It draws attention to the often political factors which decide whether a dialect can be classed as a language. In fact, even though dialects are generally viewed as sub-languages, belonging to a larger language family, dialects and languages can be defined in such similar ways that the boundaries between them are not always clear. Take the two following definitions, for example:

Dialect: a particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group

Language: […]