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A dialect continuum or dialect area was defined by Leonard Bloomfield as a range of dialects spoken across some geographical area that differ only slightly between neighboring areas, but as one travels in any direction, the differences accumulate in such a way that dialects from opposite ends of the continuum are no longer mutually intelligible. (It is analogous to a ring species in evolutionary biology.) The lines that can be drawn between areas that differ with respect to any feature of language are called isoglosses.
According to the abstand and ausbau languages paradigm, dialects can be considered abstand languages (stand-alone languages by linguistic distance). However, they can be seen as dialects of a single language as well, provided that a common standard language exists through which communication is possible (a Dachsprache).
In sociolinguistics, a language continuum is said to exist when two or more different languages or dialects merge into each other without a definable boundary. That happens, for example, across large parts of India or the Maghreb. Historically, it also happened in various parts of Europe such as in a line stretching from Portuguese to Walloon (in Belgium); from Portuguese to the southern Italian languages; and between German and Dutch.
Within the last 100 years or so, however, the increasing dominance of nation-states and their standard languages has been steadily eliminating the nonstandard dialects of which these language continua were formed, making the boundaries ever more abrupt and well-defined.
In some cases, controversy often arises regarding the question of which particular dialect an individual is using or even to which language a particular dialect belongs. To varying degrees, such cases involve sociolects and/or the distinctions are subjective rather than having any discernible basis in objective linguistics. They are generally found when two or more distinct ethnicities have long histories of shared linguistic development and geographic residence but nevertheless regard themselves, and/or each other, as speaking different dialects or languages. That occurs as a result of divisions related to religion, political ideology, nationalism or regionalism, and/or other dimensions of historical identity. In such cases, the dialects concerned may have emerged or re-emerged, as a result of splits in extinct or declining standard languages.
Examples of controversies include regions such as Kashmir in which local Muslims usually regard their language as Urdu, while Hindus regard the same speech as Hindi. Similar complications arise across much of the former Yugoslavia, in which Bosniaks, Croats, Montenegrins and Serbs may appear to speak the very same dialect. Perhaps the prime example is the Shtokavian dialect, which is officially regarded by Croats as Croatian, Bosniaks as Bosnian, Montenegrins as Montenegrin, and Serbs as Serbian.
- 1 Middle East
- 2 Chinese
- 3 Germanic languages
- 4 Indo-Aryan languages
- 5 Romance languages
- 6 Slavic languages
- 7 Cree and Ojibwa
- 8 Hmong
- 9 See also
- 10 References
Turkic dialect continuum
Turkic languages are best described as a dialect continuum. Geographically this continuum starts at the Balkans in the west with Balkan Turkish, includes Turkish in Turkey and Azerbaijani language in Azerbaijan, extends into Iran with Azeri and Khalaj, into Iraq with Turkmen, across Central Asia to include Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, to southern Regions of Tajikistan and into Afghanistan. In the south, the continuum starts in northern Afghanistan, northward to the Chuvashia. In the east it extends to the Republic of Tuva, the Xinjiang autonomous region in Western China with the Uyghur language and into Mongolia with Khoton. The entire territory is inhabited by Turkic speaking peoples. There are three varieties of Turkic geographically outside the continuum: Chuvash, Yakut and Dolgan. They have been geographically separated from the other Turkic languages for extensive period of time, and Chuvash language stands out as the most divergent from other Turkic languages.
The Turkic continuum makes internal genetic classification of the languages problematic. Chuvash, Khalaj and Yakut are generally classified as significantly distinct, but the remaining Turkic languages are quite similar, with a high degree of mutual intelligibility between not only geographically adjacent varieties but also among some varieties some distance apart. Structurally, the Turkic languages are very close to one another, and they share basic features such as SOV word order, vowel harmony and agglutination.
Arabic is a standard case of diglossia. The standard written language, Modern Standard Arabic, is based on the Classical Arabic of the Qur'an, while the modern vernacular dialects (or languages) branched from Classical Arabic a few hundred years earlier, from North Western Africa through Egypt, Sudan, and the Fertile Crescent to the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq. The dialects use different analogues from the huge Arabic language inventory, use different shortcuts[according to whom?] and have been influenced by different substrate and superstrate languages. Adjacent dialects are mutually understandable to a large extent, but those from distant regions are not at all.
The difference between the written standard and the vernaculars is apparent also in the written language, and children have to be taught Modern Standard Arabic in school to be able to read it.
In Assyrian Neo-Aramaic the continuum starts from the Assyrian tribes in northern Iraq (Alqosh, Batnaya), which are at times considered part of the Chaldean Neo-Aramaic language. Nearing the Northern Iraqi-Turkey border, the Barwar and Tyari dialects would begin to sound "traditionally Assyrian". The Barwar and Tyari dialects are "transitional", having both Chaldean and Assyrian phonetic features.
In Hakkari, as one goes eastbound towards Iran, the Gawar, Baz, Jilu and Nochiya dialects would respectively begin to sound slightly distinct to the Tyari/Barwar dialects in the west and more like the prestigious "Urmian" dialect in Urmia, Western Azerbaijan, which is considered the Standard Assyrian dialect, alongside Iraqi Koine.
The dialects in Northern Iraq (or "far west" in this continuum), such as those of Alqosh and Batnaya, would be not be completely intelligible to those in Western Iran ("far east") even if the same language is spoken.
Iran and Central Asia
The Persian language in its various varieties (Farsi in Iran, Dari in Afghanistan and Tajik in Tajikistan and other parts of the former Soviet Union, is representative of a dialect continuum. Although official and written forms of the language vary less from one another, spoken Tajiki of Uzbekistan would be virtually incomprehensible to a Persian-speaker of the Persian Gulf islands and vice versa. The divergence of Tajik was accelerated by the shift from the Perso-Arabic alphabet to a Cyrillic one under the Soviets. Western dialects of Persian show greater influence from Arabic and Oghuz Turkic languages, but Dari and Tajiki tend to preserve many classical features in grammar and vocabulary.
The varieties of Chinese are highly divergent, and are comparable to a language family like that of the Romance languages. However, all the variants more or less share a common written language, though there are vernacular variations in vocabulary, grammar, and orthography.
The written language originally shared by all varieties was Classical Chinese, which was in normal use from the Han Dynasty (200s) up until the early 20th century. In pre-modern times, Northern Vernacular Chinese grew up alongside Classical Chinese as a standard vernacular dialect. The modern standard dialect, Standard Chinese (often called Mandarin), is largely based on Baihua.
Within the varieties, gradations do exist between pure local vernacular and the more refined speech of the better educated that incorporates elements from the standard language or written language.
The continued unity despite divergent Chinese varieties was made much easier because the characters used for writing Chinese are not tied as closely to pronunciation as alphabetic or syllabic scripts are, and most speakers of Chinese do not typically write in a way that is unintelligible to speakers of other Chinese varieties. In other words, a Standard Cantonese speaker may write much the same as a Mandarin speaker and yet pronounce the written text in an entirely different manner (see Diglossia: Chinese for more information).
Mandarin, in its broader sense, encompasses numerous regional dialects spread across the northern half of China as well as the south-western regions. The dialects are mutually intelligible when the proximity is close but at the two extreme ends of the continuum, speakers are not able to communicate with one another. An example would be a speaker of Harbin dialect (a form of Northeastern Mandarin) cannot understand a speaker of Sichuanese Mandarin (but a speaker of Sichuanese Mandarin can understand Harbin dialect because of its high similarity with standard Mandarin).
Yue is a group of southern Chinese used in the western half of the Guangdong province and the eastern and southern regions of Guangxi in China. The Yue variant used in the city of Guangzhou (Cantonese) is considered the standard form. This standard form is also used in Hong Kong and Macau because of migration of Guangzhou natives to these two regions.
Min Nan continuum
Southern Min, or Min Nan is a group of south-eastern Chinese used in southern parts of Fujian province, the southeastern part of Guangdong province as well as the further south on Hainan (Hainanese), across the strait in Taiwan as well as in diaspora communities in Southeast Asia. Apart from Hainan, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia where Min Nan was introduced relatively recently and is highly divergent, the long stretch of coastal region forms a dialect continuum.
North Germanic continuum
The Germanic languages and dialects of Scandinavia are a classic example of a dialect continuum, from Swedish dialects in Finland, to Swedish Swedish, Gutnish, Elfdalian, Scanian, Danish, Norwegian (Bokmål and Nynorsk), Faroese, Icelandic, with many local dialects of those languages. The Continental North Germanic languages (Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian) are close enough and intelligible enough that some consider them to be dialects of the same language, but the Insular ones (Icelandic and Faroese) are not immediately intelligible to the other North Germanic speakers.
Continental West Germanic continuum
The many dialects making up German (belonging either to Low German or High German subdivisions) form a dialect continuum. Dutch and Frisian[dubious ] are generally included within this continuum, though the transition between the German and Dutch dialects mentioned above, and the Frisian dialect continuum is far less gradual than the one between the various German and Dutch dialects.
The Germanic dialects spoken on the island of Great Britain, which are usually called either "English" in England and "Scots" in Scotland are often mutually intelligible in areas along the border. The Orcadian dialect of Scots is very different to the various dialects of English in southern England, but they are linked by a chain of intermediate steps.
Many of the Indo-Aryan languages of Northern India (including Assam Valley as for the language Assamese) and Pakistan form a dialect continuum. What is called "Hindi" in India is frequently Standard Hindi, the Sanskritized register of the colloquial Hindustani spoken in the Delhi area since the Mughals, the other register being Urdu . However, the term Hindi is also used for most of the Indo-Aryan languages from Bihar to Rajasthan and, more widely, some of the Eastern and Northern dialects are called Hindo. The Indo-Aryan Prakrits also gave rise to languages like Gujarati, Assamese, Maithili, Bengali, Odia, Nepali, Marathi, and Punjabi. They are not considered to be Hindi despite being part of the same dialect continuum.
The western continuum of Romance languages, which comprises, from West to East: in Portugal, Portuguese; in Spain, Galician, Leonese or Asturian, Castilian or Spanish, Aragonese and Catalan or Valencian; in France, Occitan, Franco-Provençal, standard French and Corsican which is closely related to Italian; in Italy, Piedmontese, Italian, Lombard, Friulian, Ladin; and in Switzerland, Romansh and other languages with fewer speakers, is sometimes presented as another example, but the major languages in the group have had separate standards for longer than the languages in the Continental West Germanic group and so are not commonly classified as dialects of a common language. In recent centuries, the intermediate dialects between the major Romance languages have been moving toward extinction, as their speakers have switched to varieties closer to the more prestigious national standards. That has been most notable in France, owing to the French government's refusal to recognise minority languages, but it has occurred to some extent in all Western Romance speaking countries. Language change has also threatened the survival of stateless languages with existing literary standards, such as Occitan.
A less arguable example of a dialect continuum are the Romance languages of Italy. For many decades since its unification, the attitude of the French government was copied by the Italian government.
The eastern Romance continuum is dominated by Romanian in many respects. Romanian is spoken throughout Romania and its dialects meet the Moldovan registers spoken across the border in Moldova. Romanians believe the Moldovan language to be a dialect (grai) of Romanian and some separatist political forces in the Republic of Moldova claim that Moldovan is a separate language. Outside Romania, across the other south-east European countries, various Romanian language groups are to be found: pockets of various Romanian and Aromanian subgroups continue to live throughout Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Albania and Croatia (in Istria).
West and East Slavic (also North Slavic)
The Slavic sub-groups of West and East Slavic could also be considered distinct dialect systems. East Slavic consists of the Russian, Belarusian, Carpatho-Rusyn and Ukrainian languages. The Polish, Slovak and Czech languages, which are in turn closely connected to the Sorbian languages, spoken by the Slavic populations of eastern Germany, form the second. The dialects of both sections are linked by a chain of intelligibility with the west/east classification pertaining more to politically-inspired divisions. Together, they may be classed as North Slavic, especially when discussed in relation to the South Slavic dialects from whom the speakers are traditionally separated from the heavy concentration of the principal non-Slavic populations of Romania, Hungary and Austria.
South Slavic continuum
All South Slavic languages form a dialect continuum. It comprises, from West to East, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bulgaria. Standard Slovene, Macedonian, and Bulgarian are each based on a distinct dialect, but the Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian standard varieties of the pluricentric Serbo-Croatian language are all based on the same dialect, Shtokavian.
For that reason Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks and Montenegrins communicate fluently with each other in their own standard language. On the other hand, Croats speaking one dialect (Kajkavian) can hardly communicate with Croats who speak a different dialect (Chakavian). The same goes for Serbian Shtokavian and Torlakian dialects. The latter is closer to the Eastern South Slavic (Bulgarian and Macedonian) than to Western South Slavic. They share a set of grammatical features that set them apart from all other Slavic languages.
Unlike the above scenario (East/West Slavic), the barrier between East South Slavic and West South Slavic is natural and not political: the speakers' ancestors inhabited their respective lands having taken alternative routes thus being apart for some generations. An intermediate dialect linking western and eastern variations thus came into existence over time: called Torlakian, it is spoken on the fringes of Bulgaria, Republic of Macedonia (northern) and Serbia (eastern).
Cree and Ojibwa
Cree is a group of closely related Algonquian languages that are distributed from Alberta to Labrador in Canada. They form the Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi dialect continuum, with around 117,410 speakers. The languages can be roughly classified into nine groups, from west to east:
- Plains Cree (y-dialect)
- Woods Cree or Woods/Rocky Cree (ð-dialect)
- Swampy Cree (n-dialect)
- Eastern Swampy Cree
- Western Swampy Cree
- Moose Cree (l-dialect)
- East Cree or James Bay Cree (y-dialect)
- Northern East Cree
- Southern East Cree
- Atikamekw (r-dialect)
- Western Montagnais (l-dialect)
- Innu-aimun or Eastern Montagnais (n-dialect)
- Naskapi (y-dialect)
Various Cree languages are used as languages of instruction and taught as subjects: Plains Cree, Eastern Cree, Montagnais, etc. Mutual intelligibility between some dialects can be low. There is no accepted standard dialect.
Ojibwa (Chippewa) is a group of closely related Algonquian languages in Canada, which is distributed from British Columbia to Quebec, and the United States, distributed from Montana to Michigan, with diaspora communities in Kansas and Oklahoma. With Cree, the Ojibwe dialect continuum forms its own continuum, but the Oji-Cree language of this continuum joins the Cree–Montagnais–Naskapi dialect continuum through Swampy Cree. The Ojibwe continuum has 70,606 speakers. Roughly from northwest to southeast, it has these dialects:
Unlike the Cree–Montagnais–Naskapi dialect continuum, with distinct n/y/l/r/ð dialect characteristics and noticeable west-east k/č(ch) axis, the Ojibwe continuum is marked with vowel syncope along the west-east axis and ∅/n along the north-south axis.
The Hmong language is considered a dialect continuum.
- Abstand and ausbau languages
- Dialect levelling
- Language secessionism
- Pluricentric language
- Koine language
- Post-creole speech continuum
- Mutual intelligibility
- Standard language
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