To what extend can we satisfactorily create a dividing line between language and dialect? Is even necessary? The reason for these questions stem from the obvious realisation that sometimes what is referred to as language in one context is referred to as dialect in a different context. Sometimes, it is a matter of time; a dialect overtime metamorphoses into a language.
Hudson tries to differentiate language from dialect but it turned out to be confusion as usual whether to consider it as a technical term or as untrained people see it. It could also be examined as part of a culture to make distinction between ‘languages’ and dialects’. He says that according to Ernar Haugen (1966), the term dialect was borrowed from Greek, so the distinction between language and dialect is due to the influence of Greek culture. The use of the two terms are eventually different from the use in English at recent times, they are rather similar in French.
Language is said to be a variety that contains dialects. In this sense, English can be referred to as language containing other dialects like ‘steward English’, Yorkshire English, Indian English and many others.
Another argument is that the contrast between language and dialect is a question of prestige. A language has prestige which a dialect lacks. In this case, Standard English is not a dialect but a language. One can say that a language is used in formal writing while a dialect is not.
According to Hudson, standard language should be the “proper language.” Standard languages are the result of direct deliberate intervention by society. A language is standard after passing through the following processes.
- Selection – this language is selected and developed into a standard language. This is observed by the social or political or economic importance attached to the language. It may be an existing variety or an amalgam of various varieties.
- Codification – dictionaries must have been written on them.
- Elaboration of function – it must be useable in all functions associated with government and writing.
- Acceptance – the variety must be accepted by the relevant population and can stand as a strong unifying force of the state and as a marker of its difference from other states.
Hudson explains that not all linguists accept these factors for standardization. For instance, Macaulay (1973) argues that it is not essential that standardisation should involve matters of pronunciation as well as of writing.
The Delimitation of Language
It has been said that language can be determined based on prestige or size. But looking at size as what determines a language, it is true that a variety can be larger than one and small compared to another. How then can size be satisfactorily used to determine what language should be. But an extra criterion according to him is that of mutual intelligibility even though there are also problems in its application.
- Languages may be mutually intelligible and some instances of the same language may not be mutually intelligible.
- Mutual intelligibility is a matter of degree, ranging from complete intelligibility down to complete unintelligibility.
- Varieties may be arranged in a dialect continuum: a chain of adjacent varieties in which each pair of adjacent varieties are mutually intelligible, but pairs taken from opposite ends of the chain are not. If A is the same language as B, and B is the same as C, then A and C must be the same language as B, but A and C may not be mutually intelligible where A and B are mutually intelligible and B and C are also mutually intelligible.
- Mutual intelligibility is not really a relation between varieties, but between people. They are not the varieties that understand one another. This means that it depends on person A if he cares to understand speaker B. Another point is if two hearers of a variety have good experience of the variety they are listening to.
- Conclusion: mutual intelligibility does not work as a criterion for delimiting languages in the size sense. Still saying that there is no real distinction to be drawn between language and dialect.
Is it, therefore, right to say that a person has a language and no dialect or that a person has a dialect but does not have a language? For instance my language may be Yoruba, but then, Yoruba has several varieties that can be called dialects. Also, the standard Yoruba which is thought in schools seem to be linked to any specific group of people. It seems to only be an improved form of the conglomeration of the various varieties.