Skip to main content


Isan's 'Dialect' Dismissal

Think about the word 'dialect' for a moment. From a linguistic perspective, the term is pretty bland. Usually, linguist use to refer to a variety of language spoken in a particular area and/or by a particular group of people. It's worth noting that by that same definition, the standard or prescribed form a given language is also one of its dialects.  Okay, that's how linguists see it, now let's think about the word dialect in the way that non-linguists use it. This is where things get a bit more hairy If you spend a lot of time with English speakers, you'll notice that there's a specific way the word is used. It's fine to talk about the different dialects of German, Thai or Arabic. Using the word to refer to varieties of English however will get you looks. Few people mention the Louisiana or Glaswegian dialects of English. Even if a given variety has a different grammar and syntax,  Anglophones generally prefer the term "accent." For r
Recent posts

What We Overlook Talking About Smaller Languages

When I was younger I was really fascinated to learn that Quechua was still spoken today. You might know Quechua as the language of the Incan Empire, or the French sporting goods company. It’s a fascinating language with evidentiality markers, bipersonal verb conjugations and lots of other features that are catnip for a grammar nerd like me. I could go on for days, but that would be missing the point I want to make here, which is that Quechua isn’t a language. Well that's a bit misleading. I should say that Quechua isn't a single language.  In reality, Quechua is a term that people often use to refer to a whole group of related languages spoken throughout the Andes region of South America, many varieties of which are not mutually  intelligible with each other. A rough sketch of where 'Quechua' is spoken A linguist much more informed than I am once explained it to me that using the term Quechua the way we do was like calling all the West Slavic languages (thi

Morocco and the Post-Colonial Binaries

Morocco gained independence from France in 1956 and since then the question of language has been continuously debated. Nationalists wanted to elevate Arabic with many moving to eliminate French entirely. The goal of Arabisation was put forth and by 1970 primary schools were taught completely in Arabic. Conversely, STEM classes (science, technical, engineering, maths) continued to be taught in French.  In 1983, while Morocco was having a resurgence of Arab nationalism, the government changed the language of STEM instruction from French to Arabic in an effort to further the nation's Arabization.  University was another matter however, with almost all STEM university courses remaining in French. Then i n 2020, that decision was reversed. An if you've read this far and had ideas about only French and Arabic, that's understandable. In the national discourse, that's how the question is framed - as a binary between the two languages. But Morocco has many more than t

The Politics of an Alphabet

We generally don't think about the use of an alphabet as a political statement. In fact for many people, a language using a particular writing system seems more like a given than anything else. It seems obvious that Bulgarian uses Cyrillic and Korean uses Hangul - that's what tradition calls for and inertia keeps in place. I'll use any excuse to show Korean script For many countries though, a lphabets and writing systems can and do change and very often the choice can carry a lot of political weight to it. Kazakhstan and the trend of Central Asia In 2017, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan at the time signed a decree that pledged to switch the Kazakh language form the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. The transition plan is meant to be completed by 2025. This will not be first time for Kazakh to take on a new alphabet. In fact it would be the third time in less than 100 years. The written form of Kazakhstan has taken a rather circuitous pat

Belarusian and Soviet Language Policy

Most people in Russian speak Russian, while the majority of Estonians express themselves in Estonian. So what do people from Belarus speak? Belarusian, right? If you were to ask a someone from Belarus what language they grew up with or use at home, you might expect that to be the answer. Belarusian is one of the two official languages there and the traditional language of the Belarusian people. Despite this however,  a majority of the Belarusian population are more like to express themselves the nation's other official language - Russian.  While the use of Russian on former Soviet nations is common, it's normally in tandem with the local language. In Kazakhstan, the majority of the population speaks both Russian and Kazakh and the use of Russian is common in Moldova alongside Romanian/Moldovan. In Belarus, however, Belarusian isn't so much being spoken alongside Russian as it is being displaced by it. Surveys vary, but about 70% of Belarusians use Russian at home, w

The Exceptional Case of Guarani

There's a linguistic trend going on in the Americas. Generally speaking the language of the colonizers has been and continues to be the main language of the state while indigenous languages have been spoken by much smaller and more geographically isolated groups. Again this the trend, not the rule, but you if you look at the official languages from Canada to Chile you'll notice a certain pattern. Paraguay, however is an exception to the general linguistics trends. While Spanish became an extremely important language (spoken by more than 90% of the population), it did not supplant native tongues so thoroughly as happened in other countries. Today, Paraguay has two official languages - Spanish and Guarani, both of which are enshrined in the country's constitution. This made Guarani the first Amerindian language to attain the status of a country's official language. Today other indigenous languages are recognised and named as official in South American by co

Is that Language Official or National?

If you look at the constitution of Vietnam (as one is want to do), you'll see that it names Vietnamese of the country's national language  in no uncertain terms . So, what would we say is Vietnam's official language? While it's tempting to assume that it's the same, Vietnam doesn't technically have an official language. Conversely, Myanmar and Laos both have official languages but no national ones. So what exactly is going? Moreover, what exactly is the difference between a  nation language  and an  official language ? Let's start with official languages. The majority of country's that have name some language as being important normally refer to it as their official language or state language.  Countries like Laos, Myanmar, Jamaica, New Zealand and Poland have one official language. Other countries, like Haiti, Morocco and Belarus have two. So what is an official language? Putting it plainly, the entire notion of an 'official language&#