[KS] Languages in China

Mark Arlen Peterson mark_peterson at byu.edu
Fri May 27 03:09:32 EDT 2005

On the subject of "dialects" in China and "languages" as they are defined elsewhere, I've heard an anecdote that might apply.  The anecdote comes in the form of a riddle:

Q:  What is the difference between a language and a dialect?

A:  A language has an army!

	When one sees the Scandinavian "languages," Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, as distinct languages when in reality Scandinavians communicate across the language barrier without much difficulty -- these are not what one calls mutually unintelligible languages -- on the one hand, and the so-called "dialects" of Chinese that are mutually unitelligible, on the other hand, the anecdote seems apropos.

with best regards,
Mark Peterson

-----Original Message-----
From: Charles Mark Mueller <bul2mun at yahoo.com>
To: Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
Date: Thu, 26 May 2005 08:27:56 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: [KS] Languages in China

Regarding language families in China, beyond the numerous dialects
(which are technically "languages" since they are mutually
unintelligible), there were clearly some languages from different
families in what is now the Chinese cultural area. Taiwan in particular
was home to several native languages that weren't in the same family as
Chinese. These are not to be confused with a commonly spoken Taiwanese
language/dialect in the same language family as Chinese. (Few people in
Taiwan can now speak the native languages.)

These native languages, classified as Austronesian, have been of
interest to linguists. The languages are related but distant from one
another. Austronesian has ten primary subgroups, nine of them found in
Taiwan (the Formosan languages, unrelated to Chinese) and one ancestral
to all other members of the family (Malayo-Polynesian languages)--a
list that includes Madagascar! Some claim that this preponderance of
Austronesian language families provides support for the theory that
early sea-faring (Malayo-Polynesian aborigines) originally came out of Taiwan.

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