What Is a Die-Elect?

Written by Dyami Millarson

A dialect is, in a certain sense, a language that is elected to die. In other words, languages branded as dialects have been singled out for disappearance from the face of the earth. Many who call such languages dialects, which are often useless in their eyes anyway and merely outdated relics from the past, ascribe to the idea that the death of dialects is inevitable, and it is even a sign of progress.

People see dialects as obstacles that must either be eradicated actively or passively be allowed to die off. A negative connotation is inherently linked with the modern concept of dialect, and this cannot be removed from it. In fact, dialect is, I would argue, inherently linguicidal. People insisting that they use this term in a neutral sense are perpetuating this negative connotation.

A dialect is often defined within a geographic framework as a particular regional form or variety of a language, it may also be defined within a sociological framework as a particular social form or variety of a language. A dialect may or may not have its own grammar and vocabulary, and so this vagueness means that a dialect may or may not be a language of its own.

In other words, (1) a dialect could indeed be a manner of speech that is different, akin to the concept of accent, or (2) it could be a full-fledged language of its own. This ambiguity could simply be solved by simply subsuming all dialects in sense 1 under accent, and subsuming all dialects in sense 2 under language.

A dialect is often perceived as a horrible aberration from a language’s true form. The term ‘dialect’ invokes in people’s minds an abomination much like Frankenstein’s monster. Truly, people seen dialects as deformed and therefore wrong.

A dialect does, in other words, purportedly not possess equal legitimacy with any language (i.e., a dialect means inferior language) and is automatically delegitimised by virtue of receiving the stigma of being called a dialect, which has about the same negative effect as a human being called a retard or lunatic.

The stigmatisation of languages will continue indefinitely unless measures are taken to do away with the concept of dialect and everything that has been employed as a euphemism for this highly stigmatising concept.

25 comments

    • I agree with your abandonment of the term ‘dialect’. I do not want to perpetuate the habit of demoting languages to something else, so I classify languages as languages unless this cannot be justified on the basis of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation that is discernibly different. Studying the historical development of a local language usually gives a good idea about how it came to be different. For instance, Hindeloopen Frisian and Clay Frisian can claim a common source, but they have both diverged from the source to different degrees and in their own unique ways such that they are two different entities now. What was historically one language often splits off into various languages such that a new language family is created. I think it is more productive, from both a scientific and civic perspective, to rely on the language family-language dichotomy in order to replace the old dialect-language dichotomy that predates our modern insights about language and language development. Generally thinking about languages in terms of language and language family is more in line with scientific and humanitarian reasoning, which would definitely encourage a way of thinking that would help people to treat languages with equal dignity, rather than the situation that is being perpetuated with ‘dialect’ or ‘language variety’ which appears just as a new term for the same old concept that is loaded with negativity. The concept of language is truly neutral, and it is universally treated with respect because a language is an “equal among equals” whereas the language-dialect situation really promotes an idea that “some are more equal than others”.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hello and welcome on this blog where we discuss endangered languages. The aim of this blog is definitely to help these languages survive for much longer as we make it our explicit mission to save them through our intensive studies.

      As for the notion that all languages die, linguistic death is definitely not limited to dialects, but includes languages.

      However, the point of this article is to make people aware that what people call dialects are often just full-fledged languages which do not necessarily need to die and that the concept of dialect is inherently associated with linguicide in one way or another, i.e., a conscious or unconscious effort to eradicate a certain language which has been labelled a dialect. These are two important premises for the language vs. dialect discussion on our blog.

      Many of the languages that we feature on this blog are called ‘dialects’ elsewhere, but we call them languages, because they have ostensibly had their own historical development that led to a different grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation and on top of that, the speakers of these languages themselves have a different identity that is linked to a unique culture.

      Liked by 3 people

  1. Thank you for this post. My paternal grandmother came from a small fishing village in Wakayama, Japan. She spoke (I was told later, I had no idea as a child) a kind of southeastern rural dialect, where the long o in mainstream Japanese was often pronounced as “ooh” or like the French “ou.” Consequently I pronounced certain Japanese words in her Wakayama dialect, and was constantly being corrected in Japanese classes and by mainstream Japanese speakers who thought I was just the American with the horrendous pronunciation. It was embarrassing and funny, and on occasion offensive: a sushi chef from Japan ridiculed my speech in front of a group of non-Japanese customers, who laughed and treated me like a yokel, as did the chef. I’ve taken enough formal Japanese courses to have had the dialect beaten out of me now, but I think about my wonderful o-bachan often and her distinctive form of speech. If she was here today and someone made fun of her pronunciation, I would slap them hard! Especially since I taught English for many years and have heard many forms of “American dialect” in my classrooms, and I would never have ridiculed my students.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for sharing this moving story with us, we really appreciate it.

      Possessing either another accent or language should be considered a sign of wealth and we are losing the regional flairs that once existed due to the fact ‘dialects’ are ridiculed. This is also to be expected when we teach and perpetuate the concept of dialect as its inherently disrespectful and oppressive nature incites people, whether adult or child, to bully others whom they perceive as unequal to themselves or weaker than themselves, which is enough reason why we should really seek to abolish the concept of dialect in all languages and seek to replace it by using respectful terms such as language family, language and accent, which are far more enlightening. For instance, Frisian is not really a single language but a language family, Hindeloopen Frisian is not an accent but a language and Scharrel Frisian is an accent. Of course, all accents have all the features of a complete language because everyone who has a particular accent of a language possesses generally the same complexity in vocabulary and grammar and can therefore generally express himself just as well as any speaker with another accent of the same language. Languages are different from accents in that they actually quite noticeably differ in grammar and vocabulary and pronunciation such that one really has to study it carefully to be able to reproduce the same grammatical features, words and sounds. An accent will be easier to imitate than a language because the latter is more different, but an accent is not any less of a language since it contains all the same features. So people who have a different accent from others are definitely not dumb and while they share the same language with people who have another accent from theirs, it cannot be argued their use of the language in terms of vocabulary and grammar is less sophisticated, it is simply the same and equally worthy.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. “Dialect” is indeed a language that has been selectively killed. If local languages ​​are to be called dialects, then those general languages ​​should also be called dialects. The difference between them is the widespread use. The universal language is the official language used by the general public, while the dialect is the language restricted to a specific area. Therefore, if the dialect becomes extinct, it is because the definition of the word “dialect” made it extinct. This definition puts dialects in a narrow box. As people increasingly pursue “popularization”, dialects will become endangered languages…so I also think that if we want to protect languages, dialects It is necessary for the concept to be abolished.

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    • Thank you for posting here and sharing your experience. Yes, it is quite an eye-opener for many that the concept of dialect is a fiction designed to denigrate others and put them at a social disadvantage so it is painstakingly hard for them to perpetuate their own group on a linguistic and cultural level. The concept of dialect is offensive and indeed a grave injustice to those wonderful people who deserve a fair chance to perpetuate their own language and culture.

      After a lifetime of being told one’s language is a dialect, many have grown to hate their own language and culture. It takes time to heal from such self-hatred. I do experience what emotions people go through when they are healing, but it is always for the better because they learn to love themselves and their own background more, they often start opening up about how they were bullied as children for speaking a “dialect” and as these individuals are healing, I can usually witness the growth of a healthy sense of self and this is what was robbed from these people by calling them speakers of a dialect, which I know is totally unfair and unjust, as it surely takes considerable effort to learn to speak and write their languages.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Very true! I personally refused to learn my parent’s mother tongues specifically because they were dialects. Obviously it was a kid being dumb, and I regret it now. But back then I was trying to be cool… it all makes sense now!

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    • Thanks for the input!

      If it weren’t for the English language, I would not have known the concepts of linguicide and linguicidal, we do not have such concepts in Dutch or Frisian. We are generally confined to describing the phenomenon in a verbose way. However, I could easily and intuitively coin a term such as taalmoord (Dut.)/taalmoard (Fris.) meaning ‘language murder’, which would be the equivalent of linguicide. Dutch and Frisian are languages that generously allow for the spontaneous creation of new nouns/concepts by combining existing ones. They work like German in this regard.

      Although the terms linguicide and linguicidal may not be familiar to many English speakers, these terms have gained general acceptance in the English language and so the defintion of linguicidal is readily available online on websites such as these:
      https://www.definitions.net/definition/linguicidal

      I wish you a fortuitous 2021 and hope to see you around here more often!

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  3. Hello,
    Your article is very interesting.
    I allow myself to slip this post that I had made on a tradition which takes flight, that of the “Chaffres”. Nicknames that you had for life that could skip a generation. The poetry of this kind of uses and customs vanishes in the night of words.
    Languages, I hope, regenerate themselves as soon as they are alive. With us in France there is a lot of dialect and indeed there is also the contempt of the dialect that goes with it …
    Basque, Breton, Occitan, Provençal hardly survive thanks to the commitment and the obstinacy of a few enthusiasts and a few schools “tolerated” by the government, such as “Calendreta” for Occitan.
    good day and bravo for this article
    Corinne
    http://paquerite.com/2020/09/chaffre/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Corinne,

      Thank you so much for sharing all this interesting information with us. We would love to see you around here more often and hear more from you about the local or indigenous languages of France.

      We wish you a Happy New Year!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I only know dialect as the accent on languages – to tell where approximately someone is from.

    I hope we keep record of these ancient languages – that is history

    I would just be curious how the language was read or spoken.

    But I don’t know this other use for the word dialect as being bad??

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your comment. Welcome here!

      For instance, many speakers of Hindeloopen Frisian consider it gravely offensive when you call their language a dialect.

      Dialect is experienced by many so-called ‘dialect speakers’ as offensive and oppressive. Dialects are experienced as unequal to languages while they aren’t treated as equals when compared to languages such as English, German and French. In fact, dialects are usually historical languages.

      Accents are forms of a language where the differences in grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation are perhaps noticeable, but negligible. However, in the case of “dialects” which are not accents (the term dialect itself is actually totally ambiguous in an unscientific way since it makes no difference between language and accent as explained in my article), the differences in grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation are very real and will take as much effort to learn as any language because they are indeed languages.

      Moreover, before we had the concept of dialect, we just had the concept of language and we started calling languages dialects suddenly as nation-states began to form. The concept of dialect has more to do with the codification of hierarchy felt towards indigenous minority groups and the legitimation of oppression of said groups than anything else. So, it is not a term I would endorse.

      When I study Frisian languages, I do distinguish between whether I am dealing with a language family, a language or an accent. I think this three-way distinction is sufficient, there is no need for the concept of dialect. Let me demonstrate how that works: Frisian is a language family, Sagelterland Frisian is a language spoken near the Northwestern border with the Netherlands and Scharrel Frisian is a Sagelterland Frisian accent. All of this sounds objective and it is a respectful way of describing things, as it does not perpetuate oppressive hierarchies and does not delegitimise any of these language forms as unequal. Yes, language family, language and accent are classifications, but they are respectful unlike dialect which delegitimises people’s claim to having their own language and culture that is equal to that of other bigger or mightier groups.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “Dialect” is indeed a language that is being selectively killed. If local languages are to be called dialects, then those general languages should also be called dialects. The difference between them is the widespread use. The universal language is the official language used by the general public, while the dialect is the language restricted to a specific area. Therefore, if the dialect becomes extinct, it is because the definition of the word “dialect” made it extinct. This definition puts dialects in a narrow box. As people increasingly pursue “popularization”, dialects will become endangered languages…so I also think that if we want to protect languages called dialects, it is necessary for the concept to be abolished.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the thoughtful input!

      Yes, indeed it is conventional in some countries such as the Netherlands to call the national language a dialect as well, to the effect this amounts to an effort of trying to legitimise the use of the term ‘dialect’ for local languages. However, two wrongs do not make a right, and so I do not think we should continue using this pejorative term. Some may argue when everything is called a dialect, it is all equal, but it doesn’t work like that. Likewise, when everyone is called an idiot, the term idiot doesn’t suddenly become positive. We should aspire not to drag everybody down but rather to treat them with equal respect, and this is also how we ought to go about treating languages that are being labelled as dialects.

      Liked by 1 person

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