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'Dialect' versus 'language,' what's the big deal?!

'Dialect' versus 'language,' what's the big deal?!

This week on the podcast we step gingerly into scalding waters to explore the question: What is the difference between a language and dialect? Linguists hate to define it. “As a linguist I will not engage in trying to define language and trying to define dialect and I’m not alone in that,” said linguist Bojan Belić. He’s certainly not alone. We reached out to linguists and language experts and were met with sigh after sigh. There are many rubrics that people cite as indicators of a dialect versus a language. Take mutual intelligibility. Two varieties of speech that are mutually intelligible surely must be dialects. But what happens when they’re not? Then there’s the old cliché, coined apparently by a Yiddish scholar, “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.” Is language and dialect purely politics? This week we discuss two places where these labels might make you scratch your head: Scandinavia and the Balkans.

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