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suze
305234.  Fri Mar 28, 2008 8:50 am Reply with quote

Regional accents have always existed. In the days when travel was considerably less common than it is now, many people never left their home town and rarely met anyone who wasn't from it. So it's unsurprising that each isolated group of people had a slightly different way of speaking - indeed, it would be more surprising were it not so.

In the last two hundred years, regional accents have given way somewhat. There are lots of reasons for that, but the main ones are travel, migration (more people now live in a place other than that where they were born than formerly), the public schools (many of which sought to eliminate regional accents from their pupils), and in the last hundred years television and movies.

Now, the "American accent". There is not one American accent, there are many. But there is something called General American - a kind of American equivalent to RP in Britain. Phonetic analysis has shown that the General American accent is closest to the natural accents of Iowa and Nebraska. This is in fact why Nebraska has a huge number of call centers - most Americans understand a Nebraskan when they might not understand a New Yorker or a Texan.

In the modern world, most people from the cities of the midwest and the west coast (including British Columbia) do in fact have something close to the General American accent. But regional accents certainly survive in the USA, especially in the north east and in the south. The main influences on these have been the accents which the early settlers brought with them - so West Country English, Dutch, and German accents have been especially influential.

In some areas, the influence of a particular European accent is unmistakable in the local speech - Irish in Boston, Polish in Chicago, German in Philadelphia, and so on. In the south, the major groups of settlers were from the West Country, from Ireland, and from France, and it is from these that the characteristic southern accent developed.

As for how many regional accents there are, no two researchers would ever agree on that. Off the top of my head a bit, I reckon that a layperson could easily identify eleven in England, three in Wales, and four in Scotland. On that sort of basis, there are probably around thirty in the USA.

 
brouhaha
369689.  Fri Jun 27, 2008 1:29 pm Reply with quote

A fascinating thread all around - and I thought I already knew everything there was to know about language! heh heh

For some reason, this thread has compelled me to look up some information about Esperanto. Given that Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto) estimates somewhere between 100,000 and two million speakers (whoever has the little clicker in possession regarding this tally must have fallen asleep on the job!), I reckon that qualifies it as a "major language", no?

Anyway, here was a little fact that I found interesting, again from Wikipedia:

Quote:
Esperanto has never been an official language of any recognized country. However.... In China, there was talk in some circles after the 1911 Xinhai Revolution about officially replacing Chinese with Esperanto as a means to dramatically bring the country into the twentieth century, though this policy proved untenable.


I wonder why?

And another faintly ridiculous question has come up for me as a result of this curiosity (and we all know what that did to the cat, eh?). According to Wikipedia there are 1,000 or so "native speakers" of Esperanto in the world.

This has thrown me into a state of confusion... I do realise that it is overly simplistic (not to mention ethnocentric, perhaps) to suggest that because Esperanto has no countries it can have no native speakers. There was, I should mention, a little blurb on Wikipedia on native Esperanto speakers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_Esperanto_speakers), but I confess I did not find it all that helpful.

However, I've started to torture my already sadly diminishing Friday brain as to the question of whether this makes me a native speaker of Greek. I am an anglophone Canadian of Greek origin, and learned both English and Greek in my childhood. But if I was not born somewhere where Greek is the major language (that is... in Greece, and maybe in Melbourne, Australia!), can I be a native speaker of Greek?! Hmm.

My apologies if this is too obtuse. The weather is warm here and I suspect my brains are starting to fry. I'd be interested to know your thoughts, though - even if those thoughts end at "get off this board, you idiot!".

Cheers,

Kristina

**Edited to correct stupid luddite link errors. But that hasn't worked all that well either. Sigh.

 
suze
369841.  Fri Jun 27, 2008 3:49 pm Reply with quote

It's really quite hard to know how many people speak Esperanto, since there is no central body counting them. And furthermore, there's no universal agreement on what level of proficiency is needed before one should count as a "speaker" of a given language.

One approach would be to consider a forum like this. While we do have people here whose first language is not English, they form a small minority. The number of people in the world who can use Esperanto to a level which would enable them to contribute to this forum if Esperanto were the language used here is probably towards the lower end of the range that you cite.

As for "native speakers", I'd agree that the term is not an ideal one; different writers use it with slightly different meanings. In the context of Esperanto, it's generally used to mean that a person grew up in a home where Esperanto was the language normally used. There aren't very many such people; the best known is the Hungarian-American financier George Soros.

If you've lived your whole life in Anglophone Canada, I'd guess that English is really your first language - but if you went to live in Greece this might change over time. The language in which one dreams is sometimes claimed as the arbiter for bi- or multilingual people, while for women it's often said to be the language in which one curses when giving birth.

All the same, under some understandings of what "native language" means, you'd be quite entitled to call yourself a native speaker of both English and Greek.

 
jsteel
369935.  Fri Jun 27, 2008 5:47 pm Reply with quote

Thank you for your post brouhaha - without it I would have missed this wonderful debate.

I think, this thread really needs a kind of summary, because although such summary exists in specialist books, but not on the net :-( and I think suze is qualified for it, judging the contributions here and elsewhere. Now stating this, somewhat against my own will, I'm making some points... :-), but definitely not as a substitute for a summary!

The question of what is a dialect and what is language is purely a political and not a lingusitic question. From a linguistic point of view, let's say Swedish and Norwegian could be classified as two dialects, but they are classified as two languages, and it's fine for linguists. The same applies for northern German and Dutch, I'm afraid (and we still use Flamish to trace back some of the Saxon words to their old Germanic origins). So, it is a political debate and not one of the science of languages.

In addition, with the invention of writing (that is a cultural influence) it becomes even more difficult - think of Serbian and Croatian.

In some countries, especially those where there is an "official" dialect (e.g. Germany) or - again the effect of writing - where there is an offical way of spelling (Hungarian for that matter, where the north-east dialect was favoured, although not consequently, against the western one) and also where the communication channels adhere to these, we can see the disappearance of local dialects.

In some countries, a dialect, spoken by a minority as mother tongue becomes the language of the elite (e.g. Oxford British English), which, in tendency, overcomes the geographical (spatial) distribution of dialects in favour of social (class) divisions. This, on the one hand maintains the local dialects, on the other hand makes the reproduction of these dialects the task of the elites (e.g. the policy of BBC to use local dialects in many programmes).

In effect, some of the dialects actually become a social code rather than a dialect. Which takes it even further from the field of traditional linguistics (for good). For example, a son who studies somewhere in Germany or Hungary and returns to his birthplace for a visit, he expresses belonging by using the local dialect or just the opposite: distancing himself by insisting on using the "official" dialect. The same happens, when a Liverpoodlian deliberately suppresses both the use of grammar in the dialect and the accent (both being attribute for his or her mother tongue, dialect) for social (e.g. work) advancement. It also happens not only in dialects, but also among languages, when, for example, in the US work matters are discussed in English and social matters in Spanish, or in Paraguay, where social matters (and the soaps) are in guarami and the elite speaks Spanish or in Arabic countries, where the language of elite education is a kind of High Arabic (and more and more English), but they use the local dialect for everyday purposes.

It is then further complicated by the perception of the people who speak the language: in Hungary there is a significant group whose grammar is more different from the "official" one than let's say the difference between Swedish and Norwegian, yet it would never occur to these people that they speak any other language than Hungarian, though even the basic rules of conjugation are different.

So, the question of how many languages are in the world is meaningless. How many are recognised as an independent language and how many as a dialect at a given moment is meaningful, but it is a political and sociological issue rather than a lingustic problem.

P.s.: In one of the earlier episodes in QI, the reference to Gestapo Müller and the mother crying out in her mother tongue and the example of the Russian radio woman I THINK (because of this reference to the radio woman) comes from a Soviet series called the 17 moments of the Spring (Stirlitz, the Russian spy in the SS, is played by Vjacheslav Tihonov, who played Prince Andrei in War and Peace). While it is pretty faithful in terms of giving a panorama, it is not really a source for strong claims about women crying out during birthgiving (moreover, in the plot, the woman gives birth while having a concussion because of Allied bombing, thus half-conscious and hence could not keep her word to Stirlitz that she would cry in East Prussian dialect).

 
brouhaha
369949.  Fri Jun 27, 2008 6:05 pm Reply with quote

jsteel wrote:
Thank you for your post brouhaha - without it I would have missed this wonderful debate.


And I thank both you and suze for your very thought provoking responses.

jsteel wrote:
I think, this thread really needs a kind of summary, because although such summary exists in specialist books, but not on the net :-( and I think suze is qualified for it, judging the contributions here and elsewhere.


Well, jsteel, it seems to me as though your synposis was a creditable effort!

The socio-political constructs of language, I do find rather fascinating. Regarding suze's comment that my "first language" (as a person of greek heritage but raised in anglo Canada) is likely English - my brain thinks that this is correct, and must be as I was raised reading primarily in English, watching English language media, etc. However, my heart, funnily enough, thinks that my first language was Greek - when I think about life basics, for example, such as food, I think primarily in Greek. So, there is some truth to both, obviously ...

I must confess that I am sitting here with a rather hangdog expression given that <blushing> my undergraduate degree was in linguistics. However, I got fascinated by semiotics early on and so much of the historical information learned about languages/dialects/etc have passed me by. Now, I specialise in legalese - I'm not sure whether this is a language or a dialect, but certainly peculiar, often frustrating and relied upon by a rather restricted elite group of people. Hmm.

Anyway, thank you both very much and let the debate continue! (I'm also sorely tempted to start a thread, if one doesn't already exist) about the new language of "texting". I don't text myself and don't begin to understand it... I have some unspecified fears about the dwindling of proper grammar, usage, etc, but then again, what is "proper"?

End of ramble. :)

Edited to remove vestiges of post I responded to. Computer acting up.


Last edited by brouhaha on Fri Jun 27, 2008 7:00 pm; edited 1 time in total

 
suze
369983.  Fri Jun 27, 2008 6:33 pm Reply with quote

You're right there jsteel, the thread could do with a summary. Maybe one of these days I'll write one...

On the matter of dialects, it's certainly the case that politics has a lot to do with the conventional understanding of what are dialects and what are languages.

One could consider Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish as one language - it would be no worse than the conventional Western understanding that Arabic is one language. Then again, while Danish is by now reasonably standard throughout Denmark, Norwegian isn't - a person from Oslo would struggle more to understand the speech of Ċlesund than he would the speech of Copenhagen. And hey, Norwegian doesn't even have one standard form for written use - there are three, one of which is actually Danish.

As for writing, in Europe at least the choice of script is usually to do with religion more than anything else. This is why the Roman Catholic Croats and Poles use the Roman alphabet, and the Orthodox Serbs and Ukrainians use the Cyrillic alphabet. (In the case of Serbian, possibly not for much longer - the Roman alphabet is gaining ground fast.)

Yes, Bosnian Muslims use the Roman alphabet, but before 1878 many used Arabic script. There seems no desire to return to it, but loanwords in Bosnian are consciously taken from Turkish in preference to German and Italian (as seen in Croatian) and Russian (as seen in Serbian).

Arabic is a complex case - a Moroccan and a Lebanese just will not understand one another's normal spoken Arabic. While they could converse in Standard Arabic (which has developed from the language of the Qur'an, and is no one's normal mode of speech), in practice they are at least as likely to use French. Just to make it even more complicated, if we consider Arabic as one language, then Maltese ought really to class as an Arabic dialect too rather than a distinct language.

 
jsteel
370790.  Sun Jun 29, 2008 1:00 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
On the matter of dialects, it's certainly the case that politics has a lot to do with the conventional understanding of what are dialects and what are languages.

Yes, Arabic is a good example, but also Chinese. There are 6 dialects in China that are spoken by more than 15 million people and are incomprehensible for each other, yet they are considered dialects of Chinese, but if let's say the cantonese territory becomes an independent country (we may not want to experience that), its language could be a separate one instead of being Cantonese Chinese.

To stay closer: Sicilian Italian is incomprehensible in Florence and years ago conscripts from Sicily had to memorise the orders given in "standard" Italian like foreign words so that they could carry them out. Yet nobody questioned that these dialects belong to the same language.

Now compare these with the mutually comprehensible Swedish, Norwegian...

In addition, I recently experienced some interesting differences by age. In Moscow I heard that young people pronounced Ш in place of Щ thus said "shi" instead of "schi" (but maybe hearing goes with age :-)), but I would feel very uncomfortable hearing about "youth dialect".

 
brouhaha
370987.  Sun Jun 29, 2008 4:43 pm Reply with quote

jsteel wrote:
In addition, I recently experienced some interesting differences by age. In Moscow I heard that young people pronounced Ш in place of Щ thus said "shi" instead of "schi" (but maybe hearing goes with age :-)), but I would feel very uncomfortable hearing about "youth dialect".


Interesting notion - so as we age, we lose the ability to make distinctions between "schi" and "shi"? :-)

I'm curious to know, jsteel, what precisely would make you uncomfortable hearing about youth dialects? (this is a bit of a cheat because the notion made me feel a bit uncomfortable as well). Would not text messaging in English qualify as a "youth dialect", for example? (I do realise people over the age of 20 do this as well, but it seems that the youth are the leaders of the pack).

 
suze
371308.  Mon Jun 30, 2008 6:12 am Reply with quote

jsteel wrote:
There are 6 dialects in China that are spoken by more than 15 million people and are incomprehensible for each other, yet they are considered dialects of Chinese, but if let's say the cantonese territory becomes an independent country (we may not want to experience that), its language could be a separate one instead of being Cantonese Chinese.


No, there is really no valid reason to consider the Chinese languages as one, except that they all share a written form. Written Chinese is usually Mandarin, occasionally Cantonese, rarely any of the other languages.

The easiest way to understand this is to think of numbers. When an English speaker sees "4" he thinks "four", a Frenchman thinks "quatre", a Pole thinks "cztery", and so on. So it is with the reading of Chinese characters, but the grammatical particles as written are those of Mandarin.

jsteel wrote:
Yet nobody questioned that these dialects belong to the same language.


These days, the usual position in Sicily is that Sicilian is a language that is not Italian, and a speaker of standard Italian would have some difficulty in understanding a conversation in Sicilian. Sardinian has always been accepted as a distinct language, and in some ways is more like Catalan than Italian. Whether Corsican is a dialect of Italian, a dialect of Sardinian, or a distinct language is a harder question to answer. Corsicans and Sardinians both get cross if one alleges that they speak dialects of the same language, but it's more linguistically justifiable than to claim Corsican as an Italian dialect.

jsteel wrote:
In addition, I recently experienced some interesting differences by age. In Moscow I heard that young people pronounced Ш in place of Щ thus said "shi" instead of "schi" (but maybe hearing goes with age :-)), but I would feel very uncomfortable hearing about "youth dialect".


I would be too. But languages do change over time, and for a sound which takes a long time to say gradually to turn into an easier one is well attested. The Polish equivalent spelled <szcz> is not as common as the Russian Щ, but here too there is a developing tendency in some parts of the country for it to be pronounced as though it were <sz>.

 
jsteel
371324.  Mon Jun 30, 2008 6:32 am Reply with quote

suze wrote:
These days, the usual position in Sicily is that Sicilian is a language that is not Italian, and a speaker of standard Italian would have some difficulty in understanding a conversation in Sicilian.

I didn't know that it's now considered as a separate language (I knew about the Sardinian). Thanks.

I still have a problem with the classification (I agree with your position about the Chinese language, just wanted to highlight the political influence even more), partly because it is based on "understanding" words (if I think of some of the English dialects...), especially as it suggests that the word is the basis of a language and not (as I think :-)) the sentence (but of course one could argue that it is the morpheme).

About the slow changes, you are very right suze. In my visits to Budapest I feel that the long vowels, so characteristic to Hungarian, are pronounced shorter and shorter (and hence my pronounciation out of date :-().

 
jsteel
371493.  Mon Jun 30, 2008 10:10 am Reply with quote

brouhaha wrote:

I'm curious to know, jsteel, what precisely would make you uncomfortable hearing about youth dialects? (this is a bit of a cheat because the notion made me feel a bit uncomfortable as well). Would not text messaging in English qualify as a "youth dialect", for example? (I do realise people over the age of 20 do this as well, but it seems that the youth are the leaders of the pack).


Huh. Very difficult question. And mult-layered.

There's a scientific level, so to say. There is too much partitioning, which makes mockery of science in the name of science. If everything is unique at all levels of abstraction, there is no need for science. It is because science becomes descriptive instead of analyitical. If the comparative linguistic studies shows that all languages and dialects are different (suppressing similarities), then I can continue and can claim that everbody speaks a different language and this leaves us in the nowhere. At least Wittgenstein was honest enough with the notion of "private language" and recognised that if private language existed there was no meaning of writing anything at all. So the notion of "youth dialect" 1) takes away the measure that we can use, 2) takes away history as it is, because it a) denies that language is a stock to which everybody adds and takes, b) abolishes continuity as all generations are perceived unique, that is there is the generation of X, Y, Z, a non-continuous, distinct function. 3) and if there's no continuity, no past, then there is no future and consequently the present is meaningless. And by the way, it is not the youth who do it, or formulate it, but the scientists, who for the fashion of the day are ready to give up their duty (and are afraid of generalisation anyway).

At the cultural level, I!m uncomfortable with the notion of "youth dialect", because it opens the way to an extreme relativism (as above). In fact, texting is not much different from the telegram language (or the internal speech a la Vigotsky) - cutting out all the "unncecessary" bits, because each word (or in text each character) costs money. Essentially it cuts the redundancy in the language to an absolute minimum. But with this it takes away an important function of redundant elements in language: that it opens communication channels. It is really redundant: if you ask someone "how are you", you don't expect the person to take out his latest medical report and read it to you. It is redundant, but helps reception of the conversation later on. Because of this I feel that text is rude and I'm less receptive when I get one, and although I'm fully aware of the rules, I do start my texts with a greeting... Terrible :-). It simply forces the parties of the communication to stick to the immediate (no question with uncertain answer can be discussed in such a manner), which is rather boring. In addition, because of the cutting of redundancy of the living speech, text language is very imprecise as contextual elements are also deemed to be redundant. Now, I really have a go :-): texts create depiction of a world that in spite of its speed and constant seek of the immediate reflects a world that is unchanging, unmoving, unchangeable and unmoveable, mechanistic and boring, because all the tools, means that could change it are in the contexts that are cut out as redundant elements.

As to the language of the English text - it's an interesting problem. I get texts from Hungary and France (but roughly from the same age group as I am, which probably disqualifies me) and I don't see the same type of spelling as in English texts (so if anyone knows, please come in and let us know). It is an interesting twist anyway, as previously writing got an upperhand against speaking in some languages (the morphemes are pronounced as they are written instead of the way they should be pronounced), while in text pronounciation gets the upperhand against spelling.

 
jsteel
373132.  Thu Jul 03, 2008 10:42 am Reply with quote

suze wrote:
As for "native speakers", I'd agree that the term is not an ideal one; different writers use it with slightly different meanings. In the context of Esperanto, it's generally used to mean that a person grew up in a home where Esperanto was the language normally used. There aren't very many such people; the best known is the Hungarian-American financier George Soros.

Yet, he has a pretty strong Hungarian accent in English (though there is some accent in his Hungarian, too), the same one you could detect in the late Solti's speech.

 
suze
373147.  Thu Jul 03, 2008 11:24 am Reply with quote

Oh no, is he one of us poor unfortunates who sound "foreign" wherever we go?

I'm like that as well - if I'm in Vancouver I sound English, but in England I'm told I sound American. (Which, much as I hate to admit it, is accurate; the people of Vancouver have American, not Canadian, accents.)

When I was in Poland, I was variously told that I speak Polish with an American, English, or German accent - but when I was in Lithuania and discovered that the common language was German, well apparently I speak it with a Polish accent!


Does Mr Soros speak Hungarian with an American accent, or is it an Esperanto accent (whatever one of those might be)?

 
AlmondFacialBar
373398.  Thu Jul 03, 2008 4:03 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
Oh no, is he one of us poor unfortunates who sound "foreign" wherever we go?

I'm like that as well - if I'm in Vancouver I sound English, but in England I'm told I sound American. (Which, much as I hate to admit it, is accurate; the people of Vancouver have American, not Canadian, accents.)

When I was in Poland, I was variously told that I speak Polish with an American, English, or German accent - but when I was in Lithuania and discovered that the common language was German, well apparently I speak it with a Polish accent!


Does Mr Soros speak Hungarian with an American accent, or is it an Esperanto accent (whatever one of those might be)?


sure it always gives us a conversation topic, no? ;-) i don't know how many times since i came here i've been asked where i'm from, and people ALWAYS get it wrong. bang, conversation started. ;-)

:-)

AlmondFacialBar

 
suze
373442.  Thu Jul 03, 2008 4:43 pm Reply with quote

True enough, AFB!

So let's see. I reckon you're accused of speaking English with an American accent, and German with an Irish accent. I dread to think what accent you speak Irish in ...

 

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