Mexico language experts say 64 of country’s Indian dialects at ‘high risk’ of dying out

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Joel Pina Diaz  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 00:54
English to Spanish
+ ...
NO Indian dialects in México Jul 18, 2012

First, dialect is a variant of a language, second, Mexico recognizes 68 distinct indigenous Amerindian languages as national languages in addition to Spanish. "Spanish is the de facto national language spoken by the vast majority of Mexicans, though it is not defined as an official language in legislation." The 364 the article copied refers, are languages since all of them had or have: a) Phonology (sounds), b) Morphology (words), c) syntax (grammar itself), d) semantics (meanings) and e) Pragmatics (cultural meanings etc.). It is understandable Spanish language spreads faster as social need and other languages unfortunately are relegated.

 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 04:54
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Dialects? Jul 18, 2012

Joel Pina Diaz wrote:
First, dialect is a variant of a language ... The 364 the article copied refers [to] are languages.


Well, the press release on the Institute's own web site says this:
http://tinyurl.com/7ny27af
So what does it say in the Spanish... "dialect" or "language"?


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:54
Hebrew to English
It says neither....but they must mean "dialects". Jul 18, 2012

Samuel Murray wrote:

Joel Pina Diaz wrote:
First, dialect is a variant of a language ... The 364 the article copied refers [to] are languages.


Well, the press release on the Institute's own web site says this:
http://tinyurl.com/7ny27af
So what does it say in the Spanish... "dialect" or "language"?


The expression they use is "variantes lingüísticas" - literally "linguistic variants", which seems rather ambiguous in itself as it could mean both dialect or language. They talk about these disappearing, but then....

However, in the same paragraph they switch to using "lenguas indígenas" (indigenous languages). And they then talk about these disappearing.

Ok......

1. The article says that there are 64 "linguistic variants" in danger of disappearing.
2. The article says that there are 364 "linguistic variants" in total in Mexico.

According to Wikipedia, there are only 68 recognized Amerindian languages in Mexico (in addition to Spanish)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Mexico

So, if there are only 68 languages, the "364" must be dialects of these 68 languages.
So, I suspect that out of 364 dialects in Mexico, 64 are in danger of disappearing (some of which probably account for entire languages i.e. several dialects are probably in danger which constitute the totality of dialects for an entire language - this explains the switching of terms I guess).



[Edited at 2012-07-19 07:07 GMT]


 

Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:54
French to English
+ ...
Problem of "dialect" vs "language"... not that it really buys you much... Jul 18, 2012

Joel Pina Diaz wrote:
The 364 the article copied refers, are languages since all of them had or have: a) Phonology (sounds), b) Morphology (words), c) syntax (grammar itself), d) semantics (meanings) and e) Pragmatics (cultural meanings etc.).


These aren't defining features specifically of a "language". All speech varieties, however categorised in a hierarchy of "language" vs "dialect", have these features.

Remember that to some extent, "language" is a political term rather than a linguistic term. In some canonical cases you can use mutual intelligibility as the main criterion. But among the world's "major" languages this doesn't work terribly well in many cases (whether you think you speak "Dutch" or "Flemish" probably isn't based on a criterion of mutual intelligibility, for example).

Again with many of the world's "major" languages, you can sometimes improve matters by adding a criterion of "what speech variety does a speaker tend towards (or perceive that they tend towards) when they try to speak the 'standard version' of whatever they speak?". But that still doesn't solve all cases by any stretch of the imagination.

When you get to cases where speakers don't particularly perceive there to be a 'standard' version of whatever they speak and whatever they speak isn't associated with an army, navy or major political boundary, the distinction starts to much more arbitrary.

As INALI do here, it is common to refer to "speech varieties" when a 'language'-'dialect' hierarchy isn't particularly useful, well-defined or relevant. You could surely go through each of the 364 "varieties" identified and discuss at length the relevant merits of grouping some of them together or separating some of them into subgroups on the basis of some feature or other.

For what it's worth, Ethnologue list 291 (living) "languages" being spoken in Mexico. But you'll also see that they report various of these "languages" as having quite high intelligibility rates with other "languages".

Overall, I would say... so what? The point is that there are some linguistic features that are about to die out. I'm not sure that nit-picking about which of these you want to categorise as "languages" and which as "dialects" according to whatever critria you decide to invent particularly matters.


 

Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:54
French to English
+ ...
@Ty Jul 18, 2012

Ty Kendall wrote:
The expression they use is "variantes lingüísticas" - literally "linguistic variants"


Yes. FWIW, the linguistic term in English is "speech varieties".

Ty Kendall wrote:
So, if there are only 68 languages, the "364" must be dialects of these 68 languages.


Again for the reasons I mention in my other post, it depends a little on what criteria the Wikipedia authors use to count "languages". For example, whether you say that "Chopan Zapotec" and "Coatlán Zapotec" are different "languages" (as the Ethnologue compilers seem to do) or are "variants of Zapotec" (as perhaps the Wikipedia authors are doing) is really an arbitrary classification problem...


 

Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:54
French to English
+ ...
P.S. sorry forgot to say... Jul 18, 2012

I forgot to mention that there is also a slight cultural factor at work in some of the terminology.

In Spanish (at least in Mexico), the term "dialecto" can have negative connotations for many people (even if not among linguists). So that may have influenced the use of the term "variante lingüística", though as I say, in linguistics it is common enough as a general term for 'speech varieties that I don't care about categorising into language/dialect'.

Conversely, the use of the term "Indian" may seem a bit odd to Spanish speakers because "indio" can have negative connotations in Spanish. I probably wouldn't use the term myself-- if anything, it's simply a bit vague-- but if you did decide to use the term "Indian languages/dialects" as the journalist here has done, you would be in good company among at least *some* linguists.


 

564354352 (X)  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 04:54
Danish to English
+ ...
Natural development Jul 19, 2012

Does everybody feel that it is a disaster that some dialects or minor languages die out?

I'm not totally convinced that it is always a terrible thing. I understand, of course, that some cultural understanding may be lost along the lines, which is always sad, but on the other hand, every language in the world has undergone changes over time, due to outside influences. Is it such a bad thing, or is it just the way cultures, including languages, develop?


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:54
Hebrew to English
A-Level Spanish was a loooong time ago :-) Jul 19, 2012

Neil Coffey wrote:

Ty Kendall wrote:
The expression they use is "variantes lingüísticas" - literally "linguistic variants"


Yes. FWIW, the linguistic term in English is "speech varieties".


I was being ultra-literal as my Spanish is so unbelievably rusty I didn't want to take a chance!


 


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Mexico language experts say 64 of country’s Indian dialects at ‘high risk’ of dying out

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