Who speaks American here?

News & Politics

There's an old phrase in linguistics that says, "A language is just a dialect with an army and a navy." Meaning, what we think of as a distinct language might not be at all, depending on the political lines that get drawn around who speaks what, and the social implications of speaking the way you do. For example: the two main dialects of Chinese, Mandarin and Cantonese, are not mutually intelligible (speakers of one can't understand the other), but are considered the same language because of politics. On the other hand, speakers of Dutch and some speakers of Northern German dialects can completely understand and communicate with each other, yet their languages are considered different.

This week the Senate voted that English should be the "unifiying and common" language for the United States. It's downright silly, and the LA Times has an excellent satire on the subject asking the question, "But whose English shall we use?"

Let us have the national, common language of Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather. Let us proudly speak a pure American English undefiled by Spanglish, Ebonics, Valley Girl lilts or any dialect spoken south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Let it be an English spoken inside the Beltway, an English of our leaders, an English to unify the red states, the blue states and, above all, the white states.
(Thanks to Jill for the link.)

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