One snarky definition of the difference between a dialect and a language is that a language is nothing more than a dialect with a country – or, a government. A “language” – which comes with a name, and documentation, and a centralized identity – has respect. A “dialect” – something used only in the home village, or only in spoken form, and never in government or education contexts – is homely, backwards, something to be ashamed of.
The latter is nonsense, of course. The difference between a language and a dialect – or a language that attracts respect rather than scorn – is a political, perhaps social one, but not based on any linguistic facts other than perhaps codification itself.
When trying to maintain a minority language, there are a couple of big things that make all the difference. One, of course, is creating a society where people, especially young people, want to speak and use it. Another is creating an environment where they can.
Via the Guardian: a new Welsh language digital service is being launched in Cardiff, Wales, as a tool and resource for the city’s 36,000 Welsh speakers. Like so many digital media projects, it’s designed to supplement and eventually replace the community’s print newspapers, which have seen readership decrease, especially among the younger population. Nice site, and doesn’t it make you want to learn Welsh?
Photo: Welsh language Scrabble by Adam Fagen on Flickr