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"Regional dialects are structurally or expressively inferior to the standard language."

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AnonymousDo you agree with this comment?

"Regional dialects are structurally or expressively inferior to the standard language."

The question is meaningless. You've handed out the language as being the standard, therefore all variations must be inferior. Not because they are empirically inferior, but because their inferiority is established as the premise of the question.


You took the words right out of my mouth, Crux! Emotion: big smile
Randy_TamI am only taking Mandarin as a complusory second language credit course, my L1 being Cantonese Chinese, now considered a 'dialect' for no justifiable reasons, as there has never been a clear distinction drawn between a 'dialect' and a 'language': do the 2 not share the very same traits of a 'language' (a consistent grammar embedded so that an L1 speaker can tell whether an expression is acceptable in his language)?

The distinction between a 'language' and a 'dialect' seems to me to be so wide and so gray as to be almost arbitrary. In the case of Chinese, it is my understanding that Cantonese is considered a dialect of Mandarin because of the "Official Status" of Mandarin as the official language of the PRC. Such a governmental promulgation automatically relegates any other variants as either undesirable, or at the very least, secondary to the preferred variant.

Of course Cantonese is a language and has all the halmarks of a language. Perhaps if the capitol of the PRC were in Hong Kong, Cantonese would be the language and Mandarin would be the dialect.

Depending on your view of the role of prescriptivism in language, it may be good or bad that one variant is chosen over another as the primary, base, standard, or official language, leaving all others to languish in their subordinate status. Often, it seems to be either the literary class-those looked upon as authorities on the subject-who don the mantle of setting the rules, or it is the language of the area in which the capitol or cultural center lies. As an example, I submit that American English--spoken by far more people than Oxford English (I believe this to be the generally accepted standard)--is considered my many to be the dialect, so to a great extent geography and time (among other things) have roles in this as well.

I personally consider Cantonese to be a separate language from Mandarin because of the enourmous differences in the tone model, the pronunciation of the words, and the phonetics (mind you, I am not an authority on such things). Clarify something for me: if one were not to have been taught Mandarin in school, would Mandarain and Cantonese be mutually intelligible?

Randy_Tam...Putonghua was 'designed and standardized (by a committee of linguists... sadly enough), where the lexicon and pronunciations are fabricated according to the dialects spoken around the northern provinces, to be the common language of the entire Chinese population'....

Case in point, perhaps. The word 'fabricated' is actually used!? Wow.

As a language is used in daily discourse, deviations related to 1. the phonemic form 2. syntactic constructions 3. pragmatic uses 4. stylistic variations 5. logical interpretations and the like, make language change inevitable. I quote again the examples I came across earlier: 1. the use of 'er' being more flexible these days (as more non - L1 speakers of Putonghua now communicate in that language, whereas the use of 'er' is simply insane in their native language, Cantonese for example) 2. the more flexible use of the '5th tone' (probably brought about by intercourse between Mainlander Chinese and Taiwanese Chinese) 3. words borrowed from other Chinese 'dialects'. All these blur, if not make impossible, the precise definition of the shape of a language. It is for this reason that even though Putonghua was intended as a prescribed language for the entire population, speech variations nevertheless take place (Though asserted as 'wrongs', Chinese linguists have devoted much effort in addressing 'common errors' of a particular group of speaker, a prelude to 'language variations') and eventually prevail over such prescriptions.

Absolutely right! I can see that you are very passionate about your view! And maybe a little offended, as well.

All this begs the question: What is the role of prescriptivism?

Well, as Julielai pointed out, such prescriptivism creates a framework for learning. But if that is all it does, then the inevitable change will render the framework useless. Fortunately, it is not all it does.

Prescribing rules for syntax, usage, and grammar is often required to conduct business on a meaningful level; the world economy is based on the ability to communicate effectively and efficiently. Without rules (read: communication protocols), such communication would be virtually impossible and the economy of the world (as an aggregate) would very likely falter or fail.

As with anything, those in power make the rules and you likely will not hear street slang in the board room. Whether this is good or bad is a matter for debate, but rest assured that if street slang were to become the standard, something else would take its place as the variant considered contemptible or quaint among the new elite.

It is clear that languages change--constantly, inexorably, and in different simultaneous ways. There is no Language Tree, rather there is a Language Web (of sorts). The degree to which a language remains constant is in great part reliant on the liturature extant in that language. The more literature there is, the more stable the language, meaning that the language is more resistant to change. But again, liturature doesn't do this alone. What if no one reads? Education in reading such liturature stabilizes the language as well, but that means the prescription of rules.

All this circularity is simply meant to point out that-without sounding like a spineless egalitarian-both change and stability are required. Therefore, both prescription and innovation are required in order for a language (or dialect) to thrive. Linguistic genocide, as you put it, should be a crime against humanity because it restricts the degree to which people can communicate. Languages should never be deliberately extinguished, rather they should be more fully embraced within the context of the importing language. Where would English be without the Spanish word machismo? There's no English equivalent (it must be defined by a phrase rather than a word). What would you call the internet if you couldn't use new technical words? But then, how would you be able to make your case in this forum without rules of usage and grammar?
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The distinction between a 'language' and a 'dialect' is never drawn clear, as it is, as you put it, an arbitrary assignment of jargons. Both a 'language' and a 'dialect' have some major common traits that distinguish them from other communication systems (ie. both are human - specific): traditional Saussurean arbitrariness, the generative 'infinite use of finite means', and dynamism therein. Intelligibility specifies (rather vaguely) the relationship between one 'sign system' and another, rather than defining the differences or similarities between that 2 systems: Spanish and French, though commonly considered '2 languages', are somehow quasi - transparent; French and Italian, and English and French are another 2 good pairs. Cantonese speakers will usually understand Putonghua without prior training and to a satisfactory extent, but interestingly, not vice versa. All this draws me to the conclusion that there is no other justifiable reason than social status and the extent to which a language is used to distinguish between a 'dialect' and a language. Cantonese is a 'minority language' and therefore, according to this definition, can be considered a dialect. But this again, is related to 'how one treats a linguistic region'. Can we not, without regard to political correctness, just say 'Guangzhou' or 'Hong Kong' is actually a linguistic region in itself?

Putonghua is defined as '以北京語音為標準音, 以北方話為基礎語言, 以典範的現代白話文著作為語法規範的現代漢民族的共同語.' It is therefore actually a communication system devised by a group of linguists. I recited the 'definition' wrong last time as to speculate that parts of it is 'fabricated'.

In response to Julie's point, I tried to discuss the tension between the pedagogic and pure linguistic purposes. But this seems to me irrelevant to her point so I just left it. As you point it out, I would like to add a few remarks. Pedagogic study into language logically leads one to confine speech to an ideal type (a vague notion of 'standard'). It is therefore a set of restrictions stating what CANNOT be used. Pure linguistics however, quests into what is the shape of a particular language (and may be more ambitiously, of 'human language' as a naturalist study), not what that shape should be, and a description of language ought to be able to describe what is the state of mind with which an L1 speaker of a language generates that 'infinite set of expressions'. It states 'what CAN BE used'. eg. Chomsky, 1995c, p.4, briefly discusses the inadequacies of the traditional way of language studies in this respect. This tension is not a privilege of linguistics as a scientific study. The concept of 'profit' in economics for example, for the sake of simplicity, is first introduced to students merely as an 'income', while chemistry omits discussion on the state of possibility of the existence of electron. Teaching a language is more or less similar to making students' life easier by making everything brief, and voila what we can 'prescriptive grammar'. But a scientific study of language, and hence a human faculty, can not be satisfied with a set of rules made of dead letters. It needs to be able to describe the nature (as discussed earlier) of human language at least. 'Prescriptivism' accepts change as well, but it tends to be the last one to do so. Just as the sick ones are often the last one to admit this fact. (no puns suggested here... I don't mean prescriptivism is sick) This is a plausible sequel to its thoughts: it provides a 'float' for students. What is said there ought to be correct. As a result, contested linguistic phenomena are not included.

I agree that the formalities thing that exists in some professions somehow serves to foster better understanding. But this is mostly irrelevant to the linguistic prescriptivism in its purest sense, as the latter concerns itself more with stylistic variations than with the 'core linguistic issues' (ie. syntax, semantics and phonetics). Sets of rules as to how, for example, a barrister should write (the sentence structure, choice of words: save technical jargons of course) are seldom, if not never, mentioned or explicitly shown to those concerned (as they are already aware of their status as a practitioner of a particular profession). But of course this sort of 'prescriptivism' is akin to what I termed 'linguistic prescriptivism' in a sense that they are more related to social factors.
O... one more thing, as I said before, 'prescriptivism' is a useful way to begin studying a second language. But THIS IS VIRTUALLY UNNECESSARY in L1 acquisition. A child will formulate tacit rules himself. Frankly I am never taught something like 'Cantonese grammar' and I can at least communicate well with my Hong Kongese compatriots. The time when 'prescriptivism' comes into play is when we have already configured switch - settings (using the Principles and Parameters approach), which cannot be re - set to their initial Zero State. I am quite comfortable with Cantonese without talking about such notions as Agent or Complement. In other words, without an explicit knowledge of 'grammar', a human soul can still formulate speech quite well and rule out what is 'unacceptable' in his language.

But this is not the case in L2 learning. 'Prescriptivism' serves as a 'float' much because everything is just Greek to the student: take an extreme example, English and Chinese. An English L1 speaker is irritated by the (alleged) fact that Chinese characters have virtually no link with their meaning, and hence difficult to remember. They are also fascinated (or infuriated) by the tonic nature of Chinese languages. As a part of human reflexion, he is prone to generate some rules (instead of acquiring the language like a child): what does a word starting with '水' on the left mean? Do we need 'er' here or there? He is already prescribing a set of rules. But I can assure you, not a single native speaker of Chinese will do it this way. It is therefore imperative that a line be drawn between L1 acquisition and L2 learning.
Randy_TamAll this draws me to the conclusion that there is no other justifiable reason than social status and the extent to which a language is used to distinguish between a 'dialect' and a language.

Cantonese and Mandarin share the same written language, so it's harder to see the two as "separate tongues". That on top of sociopolitical factors already mentioned, of course. The way we write Cantonese nowadays, it may very well develop into a language on its own...

Even now, we are all abiding by some basic (prescriptive) rules of English grammar, or I wouldn't be able to understand you, or anyone for that matter. Crux's point, I believe.

Kind of like the traffic lights. They tell me when to cross the street and when not to, though I occasionally jay walk. But traffic lights provide a basic trafficking guideline, or chaos will result.

Most common folks aren't pure descriptivists or prescriptivists. Most of us like to see a happy medium between the two.
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As a part of human reflexion, he is prone to generate some rules (instead of acquiring the language like a child): what does a word starting with '水' on the left mean? Do we need 'er' here or there? He is already prescribing a set of rules.

I eschew Chinese grammar, but as a child, I did ask myself: what does a word starting with '水' on the left mean? But I could answer that question without resorting to formal grammar lessons. I learnt grammar from the sentence and writing drills.

Wow, Randy_Tam! I thought I was verbose!

Your points are well taken, but I'll have to look at the Noam Chompsky reference before I can go on. Do you have a title of the book/paper?

It seems that with respect to prescriptivism, you take umbrage with L1 prescriptivism over L2; the sort of contrived nature of L1 'grammar rules' that are foisted upon the young. I agree to a certain extent, but I'll have to mull that over as well.
Just a heads-up: one of the next Anon replies is actually me responding to Randy_Tam.

I really should remembr to login first...
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AnonymousIt seems that with respect to prescriptivism, you take umbrage with L1 prescriptivism over L2; the sort of contrived nature of L1 'grammar rules' that are foisted upon the young.
Many HK learners are fed up with the grammar-driven teaching approach in the local schools. And they are right, to an extent. Grammar is really the twine on the blinds; the words, the slats. Without one or the other, the blinds cease to work. And you need to apply the rules in reading and writing to understand English.
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