How do we know the difference between dialects of the same language and very similar, yet separate languages?

Posts48Likes49Joined23/9/2019LocationNovi Sad / RS
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So as a resident of the cluster of political nonsense known as the Balkans and a native Serbian speaker, I've spent my whole life talking to Croatians, Bosnians, and Montenegrins, watching their movies and TV shows, reading their books and similar stuff. The catch is, I don't speak Croatian, Bosnian or Montenegrin, or at least I don't think I do. I speak Serbian. I've never learned these languages, but as a Serbian speaker I understand them perfectly, and those people understand me. In fact, as a Serbian speaker from the north, I'm way more likely to understand a Croatian speaker from Zagreb or Slavonia than a fellow Serbian speaker from the deep south! How does that make any sense?!


I've spent all my childhood wondering why these languages are considered separate, when they are nearly exactly the same. Now I understand that in this exact example politics have made irreversible change to the language family, but there is a ton of examples of very intelligible languages being named separately, and some official "dialects" of one language being very tough to understand for standard or different dialect speakers of that same language. For example, why is Venetian a separate language to Italian or Galician to Spanish, but Swiss German and Latin American Spanish are just dialects of German and Spanish? Why are a Moroccan and an Iraqi both native speakers Arabic, if they are likely to have pretty significant difficulties talking to each other due to how different their dialects are?


What do you think? Do you sometimes disagree with the official definitions? To be honest, to me Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin will always be the same language, even if they are spoken by different nations. Where do you draw the line on what you consider a language or a dialect?

JEG KAN IKKE FORSTÅ

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#1
Posts1198Likes772Joined18/3/2018LocationBellingham / US
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You ask some very good questions. I've wondered about similar situations myself, and I can't answer. I just decided to live with the classifications that linguists have made, but it would be interesting to know the thought process behind it all.

I'm reading the Malazan Book of the Fallen.

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#2
Posts35Likes31Joined20/9/2019LocationRizal / PH
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That's a tough one. Now that I think about it, I also don't know any difference. I think other countries just identified their dialects as a means to have identity even if it's just a small variation of another language. That's why there doesn't seem to be any difference at all because they're just the same. 

"Не волнуйтесь"

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#3
Posts162Likes46Joined19/9/2019LocationSão Paulo / BR
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Language studies are not that "neutral" at all! Your description of "the Balcans" was a great example, as is my own country, and other ex-colonies linguistic situations. History - political, economic, cultural, social - is the clue for all those (artificial) boundaries, and it's fascinating to see languages under these lenses! As for dialects in Spain, you have to check the historical moment of the Nation-State birth, when Castille emerged as political power center, imposing Castillan as "national language" (the same for other European countries). Some Spaniards get very upset when you call the language "Spanish" because of that process, which diminished the status of languages into "dialect"... We cannot forget that, together with language, goes cultural influence and even supremacy.

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#4
Posts48Likes49Joined23/9/2019LocationNovi Sad / RS
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Thanks for the comments, guys!


Yeah, I guess that history and politics are the biggest players in this game, and that linguistics comes second sometimes.


Also, Valeria, if you don't mind me asking a somewhat related question: how different is Brazilian Portuguese from Portuguese spoken in Portugal? I'm thinking of taking up Portuguese at uni since I love so much Brazilian music and films. The lector is from Portugal though, and I'd be bummed if I couldn't understand my favourite movies even after studying the language, if the dialects are too different haha.

JEG KAN IKKE FORSTÅ

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#5
Posts162Likes46Joined19/9/2019LocationSão Paulo / BR
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Kosta.Cirkovic wrote:
Thanks for the comments, guys!
Yeah, I guess that history and politics are the biggest players in this game, and that linguistics comes second sometimes.
Also, Valeria, if you don't mind me asking a somewhat related question: how different is Brazilian Portuguese from Portuguese spoken in Portugal? I'm thinking of taking up Portuguese at uni since I love so much Brazilian music and films. The lector is from Portugal though, and I'd be bummed if I couldn't understand my favourite movies even after studying the language, if the dialects are too different haha.
I'm amazed by your interest in Brazilian music and films! Brazilian and Portuguese are not so different, just some uses and vocabulary which are not impossible to overcome, the main problem is pronunciation, we can understand one another but I guess it wouldn't be that easy for a foreigner to flow between the two languages... anyway, don't give up! It's just a matter of looking for lyrics and watching movies with subtitles until you adapt. I can help you with song translation if you wish!

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