Language or Dialect?: The History of a Conceptual Pair
Auteur : VAN ROOY Raf
Édition : 2020
Éditeur : Oxford University Press
Nb de pages : 384 p.
ISBN : 9780198845713
‘What is the difference between a language and a dialect?’ is one of the questions most frequently asked of linguists. A notorious and oft-repeated answer is ‘A language is a dialect with an army and navy’, wrongly attributed to Max Weinreich. Linguists have mostly used this witticism as a handy way to end the discussion and dismiss the distinction between language and dialect as a political question irrelevant to their discipline. This book does not attempt to answer this seemingly unsolvable puzzle either but aims to shed light on a simple fact usually overlooked by linguists and laypeople alike: the conceptual pair is not a timeless given but has a history, and a much shorter one than one might assume. It starts not in Greek antiquity, as the origin of the word dialect may suggest, but in the sixteenth century. Taking the Weinreich witticism as its starting point, this book guides the reader on the remarkable journey which the conceptual pair has made. It begins with the prehistory of the language/dialect distinction in antiquity and the Middle Ages. The core of the book surveys the emergence, establishment, and elaboration of the conceptual pair during the early modern period, from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, when linguistic diversity first became an object of intense study. Finally, the much-contested and ambiguous fate of the language / dialect distinction in modern linguistics is outlined, with special reference to the persistence of earlier ideas and the rise to prominence of the political interpretation crystallized in the Weinreich quip.