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THEORY: Languages divided by politics and religion

From:Danny Wier <dawier@...>
Date:Wednesday, May 24, 2000, 23:05
Some years ago, I was chatting with a Croatian.  I was telling him I didn't
speak Serbo-Croatian but I know a little Russian.  (His name is Dmitri and
he lives in Moscow.  No really.)

I used the term Serbo-Croatian, and he was offended.  He emphatically stated
that his language is Croatian -- not Serbo-Croatian, Yugoslavian or anything

Well nowadays, countries are splitting and ethnic minorities are becoming
more prominent.  But I still hear and read terms like:

Danish-Norwegian (and two kinds of Norwegian at that)
Serbo-Croatian (and why not Serbo-Croatio-Bosnian?)
Hindi-Urdu (or Hindustani)
Chinese (but there isn't one unified "Chinese language"!  You might as well
say in Switzerland they speak "Swiss"...)
Malay-Indonesian (or just plain ol' Bahasa)
Algonquian (huh?  Aren't there several dozen Algonquian languages?)
Thai-Lao (but there are a lot of "Tai" or "Dai" langauges, what about them?)

And yet, English is English whether it's Scots, Southern US or Australian.
Punjabi is Punjabi on either side of the India-Pakistan border, but it's
written in both Arabic and Gurmukhi).  I mentioned Norwegian, but you got
Bokmål and Nynorsk.  Azeri is Azeri whether it's written in Latin (formerlly
Cyrillic) in the independent nation of Azerbaijan, or in Arabic when it's in
northwestern Iran.  Likewise, Uzbek in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan (probably
two scripts too -- by the way, is (Northern) Uzbek now written in Latin, or
still Cyrillic?).  Persian is Farsi, Dari/Afghani and Tajiki (the latter
written in Cyrillic).  Pashto is Pashto in Afghanistan and Pakistan (it
could be called Pakhto in the latter though, but both languages are written
in slightly different versions of Arabic script).  And how many flavours of
Tibetan and Mongolian are there?  (And I almost forgot about the three
Gaelics: Irish, Scottish and Manx.)

Now I'll cut to the chase.  Should languages be split according to
political/ethnic and religious/sectarian divisions, even though the
languages on each side of the boundary are highly mutually intellegible?
(In other words, being a "splitter"; SIL is like that.)  Or should languages
be "lumped" together even if co-comprehension is very low -- even to the
extreme of saying Chinese is one langauge divided into five major dialects
(Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese etc.)

Or more likely, we could just take the middle road on this one.

The floor is now open to all opinions.


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