Article in Society / Languages
Many people assume that a "standard" national language is superior to dialects but linguistically this is not the case. Moreover, "standard" languages are sometimes used to shape the direction of a country for better or for worse.

During one of my Master’s degree program courses at the University of Phoenix several students, our professor, and I got into a discussion about the difference in meaning between the words Hispanic and Latino. My Spanish-speaking ability is extremely limited but I told them that I thought that the word Latino has a much warmer and friendlier ring to it than does the word Hispanic which sounds rather stiff and overly formal.

Hispanic may be a term that is used primarily in demographic studies and other scholarly research. And, the word Hispanic, I believe, has a nuance of having come from the Iberian Peninsula rather than from Latin America.

Like English and French, and other languages, Castilian Spanish (Iberian- Peninsula Spanish) is considered to be the "King's" or "Queen's" language whereas Latin-American Spanish is deemed to be "inferior" just as Parisian French is considered to be the "pure standard" and the "Queen's English" is regarded as "superior" to American English. Moreover, languages and dialects are often charged with political and geopolitical ramifications.

Mandarin Chinese is deemed to be the “standard” of China, Taiwan, and Singapore with all other forms of Chinese categorized as dialects or “substandard” even though from a linguistic standpoint Cantonese, Szechuanese, and Fujianese, among many other “dialects,” are truly distinctive languages within the Han-Chinese family of languages. Those who do not speak and write a high standard of Mandarin are considered to be “uneducated” or “undereducated.” There are positive implications to standard national languages, however.

In spite of Mao Zedong’s and his cadre’s cruelty in imposing communism on China from 1949, in imposing Mandarin as the national language of the country, Mao was able to unify the many people groups of the country under one banner which enabled a much more rapid modernization of the nation than if it had remained linguistically divided. China’s economic advances would have been far slower had the imposition of a national language not occurred. Assignment of a “higher reputation” to “standard” or “national” languages does have negative consequences, though.

One of the chief consequences is that a heavy emphasis on a national language tends to simplify the linguistic culture and heritage of a nation in that lingual and cultural diversity is reduced with a number of the old “dialects” dying out. In northern Japan, for example, the Ainu language is, very unfortunately, dying out a steady rate as the number of young people who can speak the language is decreasing in that they are not able to study it in school.

The Ainu were the first people to settle the Japanese archipelago thousands of years ago and until the Meiji Period (1867-1912) were able to maintain their unique culture, language, and heritage. But with the increasing encroachment of the Japanese linguistically and culturally, over the past 140 years, or so, the Ainu have declined in numbers and cultural uniqueness, which is sad indeed. Worldwide this phenomenon has been quite common over the past 100 years, or so. Over espousal of national languages can also lead to ridiculous extremes at times.

One example of this is the French government’s attempts to maintain the “purity” of Parisian French which is France’s national language. As the University of Oregon cultural geographer and polyglot Dr. Ronald Wixman has pointed out, Parisian French is the only form of French that retains a guttural “huh” sound which entered the language from German many years ago. The French government has stubbornly attempted to resist changes to Parisian French by denouncing such borrowings as “le weekend” which French young people use very commonly.

Language changes constantly and efforts to retain its “purity” are ludicrous. Everyone should be trained to speak and write clearly in their respective national languages and beyond, but linguistically all languages, dialects, and idiolects (an individual’s unique manner of speaking) are equal with none being “inferior.”

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About the Author 

Dave S Morse
I've completed a Masters of Management in Public Administration at the University of Phoenix and am seeking to enter the field of social and

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