A language is a dialect with an army and navy

A language is a dialect with an army and navy

Overview
"A language is a dialect with an army and navy" is a description of the distinction between dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

 and language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

. It points out the influence that political conditions can have over a community's perception of the status of a language or dialect. The description was popularized by the Yiddish linguist Max Weinreich
Max Weinreich
Max Weinreich was a linguist, specializing in the Yiddish language, and the father of the linguist Uriel Weinreich, who edited the Modern Yiddish-English English-Yiddish Dictionary.- Biography :Max Weinreich began his studies in a German school in Kuldiga,...

, who heard it from a member of the audience at one of his lectures.

This statement is commonly attributed to one of the leading figures in modern Yiddish linguistics, Max Weinreich, who expressed it in Yiddish:


(a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot).
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Encyclopedia
"A language is a dialect with an army and navy" is a description of the distinction between dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

 and language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

. It points out the influence that political conditions can have over a community's perception of the status of a language or dialect. The description was popularized by the Yiddish linguist Max Weinreich
Max Weinreich
Max Weinreich was a linguist, specializing in the Yiddish language, and the father of the linguist Uriel Weinreich, who edited the Modern Yiddish-English English-Yiddish Dictionary.- Biography :Max Weinreich began his studies in a German school in Kuldiga,...

, who heard it from a member of the audience at one of his lectures.

Weinreich


This statement is commonly attributed to one of the leading figures in modern Yiddish linguistics, Max Weinreich, who expressed it in Yiddish:


(a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot). The earliest known published source is Weinreich's article Der YIVO un di problemen fun undzer tsayt ( "The YIVO Faces the Post-War World" literally: "The YIVO and the problems of our time."), originally presented as a speech at the Annual YIVO
YIVO
YIVO, , established in 1925 in Wilno, Poland as the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut , or Yiddish Scientific Institute, is a source for orthography, lexicography, and other studies related to the Yiddish language...

 (then known as the Yiddish Scientific Institute) Conference on 5 January 1945. Weinreich did not give an English version.

Weinreich presents this statement as a remark of an auditor at a lecture series given between 13 December 1943 and 12 June 1944:
...A teacher at a Bronx high school once appeared among the auditors. He had come to America as a child and the entire time had never heard that Yiddish had a history and could also serve for higher matters.... Once after a lecture he approached me and asked, 'What is the difference between a dialect and language?' I thought that the maskil
Maskil
Maskil :* A Hebrew literary musical term occurring in the heading of some psalms.* Title of honor, meaning "scholar" or "enlightened man," used by Isaac Israeli ben Joseph in the 14th century to refer to his Italian Jewish colleagues....

ic contempt had affected him, and tried to lead him to the right path, but he interrupted me: 'I know that, but I will give you a better definition. A language is a dialect with an army and navy.' From that very time I made sure to remember that I must convey this wonderful formulation of the social plight of Yiddish to a large audience.

Other possible originators


The sociolinguist
Sociolinguistics
Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and the effects of language use on society...

 and Yiddish scholar Joshua Fishman
Joshua Fishman
Joshua Aaron Fishman, is an American linguist who specializes in the sociology of language, language planning, bilingual education, and language and ethnicity.-Life:...

 suggested that he might have been the auditor at the Weinreich lecture, and has subsequently been cited as the originator of the army-navy statement in several references. However, Fishman was assuming that the exchange took place at a conference in 1967, more than twenty years later than the YIVO lecture (1945) and in any case does not fit Weinreich's description.

Some scholars believe that Antoine Meillet
Antoine Meillet
Paul Jules Antoine Meillet was one of the most important French linguists of the early 20th century. Meillet began his studies at the Sorbonne, where he was influenced by Michel Bréal, Ferdinand de Saussure, and the members of the Année Sociologique. In 1890 he was part of a research trip to the...

 had earlier said that a language is a dialect with an army, but there is no contemporary documentation of this.

Jean Laponce has suggested that Hubert Lyautey
Hubert Lyautey
Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey was a French Army general, the first Resident-General in Morocco from 1912 to 1925 and from 1921 Marshal of France.-Early life:...

 (1854–1934) may be the originator of the phrase at a meeting of the Académie française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

. But again there is no good evidence for this.

Other suggested sources post-date the Weinreich publication.

Relevance to Yiddish


Weinreich observed that the phrase is "wonderful expression of the social plight of Yiddish". In his lecture, he discusses not just linguistic, but also broader notions of "yidishkeyt
Yiddishkeit
Yiddishkeit literally means "Jewishness", i.e. "a Jewish way of life", in the Yiddish language. It can refer to Judaism or forms of Orthodox Judaism when used by religious or Orthodox Jews...

" (ייִדישקייט – lit. Jewishness).

Variants


Randolph Quirk adapted the definition to "A language is a dialect with an army and a flag" (adding a defense policy and a national airline).

Weinreich's Yiddish-language text


Here is the passage from the 1945 text in the original Yiddish, followed by a romanized transliteration:




Far a yorn hobn mir in der d[okto]r Tsemakh Shabad-aspirantur gehat a kurs fun tsvantsik lektsyes oyf der teme, "problemen in der geshikhte fun der yidisher shprakh". Tsvishn di tsuherers iz eyn mol oykh arayngefaln a lerer fun a bronkser hayskul. Er iz gekumen keyn amerike vi a kind un hot far der gantser tsayt keyn mol nit gehert, az yidish hot a geshikhte un ken dinen far hekhere inyonem oykh. Vi azoy er iz fun der aspirantur fun YIVO gevoyr gevorn veys ikh nit, nor fun yemolt on hot er shoyn genumen kumen. Eyn mol nokh a lektsye geyt er tsu tsu mir un fregt, "Vos iz der khilek fun a dialekt biz a shprakh?" Ikh hob gemeynt, az es ruft zikh im der maskilisher bitl, un ikh hob im gepruvt aroyffirn afn rikhtikn veg, nor er hot mikh ibergerisn "Dos veys ikh, ober ikh vel aykh gebn a besere definitsye. A shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot." Ikh hob zikh yemolt bald fargedenkt, az di dozike vunderlekhe formulirung fun der sotsyaler marokhe fun yidish muz ikh brengen tsu a groysn oylem.

See also

  • Ausbausprache, Abstandsprache and Dachsprache for discussion of analysing and categorising language varieties as languages, dialects on the other, or something between the two
  • Dialect continuum
    Dialect continuum
    A dialect continuum, or dialect area, was defined by Leonard Bloomfield as a range of dialects spoken across some geographical area that differ only slightly between neighboring areas, but as one travels in any direction, these differences accumulate such that speakers from opposite ends of the...

  • Diglossia
    Diglossia
    In linguistics, diglossia refers to a situation in which two dialects or languages are used by a single language community. In addition to the community's everyday or vernacular language variety , a second, highly codified variety is used in certain situations such as literature, formal...

  • Varieties of Chinese
    Varieties of Chinese
    Chinese comprises many regional language varieties sometimes grouped together as the Chinese dialects, the primary ones being Mandarin, Wu, Cantonese, and Min. These are not mutually intelligible, and even many of the regional varieties are themselves composed of a number of...


Further reading