Standard Languages Versus Their Parents

In my older post, I characterized the Beijing dialect of Mandarin as a separate language. This has come under criticism as it has been pointed out that Putonghua (Standard Mandarin) was based on Beijinghua, so how could Beijinghua be a separate language?
When I started that project, I certainly thought that Beijinghua would be intelligible with Putonghua, until I did a lot of reading and found out otherwise. In my research, I determined that many people find the Beijing dialect to be unintelligible. Stories about unintelligible taxi drivers in Beijing are legendary.
So what happened? Obviously, Putonghua and Beijinghua diverged at some point.
Others say that Putonghua was based on the speech of the Beijing suburbs, and not on Beijing city itself. Yes, lects do differ that much in China. I am told that even inside large cities, people from different parts of town speak dialects that have diverged so far that they are not mutually intelligible. I have even heard that there are villages where the people in the north of the village cannot understand the people in the south of the village.
Certainly there are plenty of folks claiming that they understand Beijinghua at less than 90% intelligibility. In this work, I am setting 90% as the point at which I split language from dialect. Over 90% intelligible, dialect. Below 90% intelligible, language.
Interestingly, a similar thing has occurred in Italy, where Standard Italian was based on Tuscan in the 1860’s, yet has diverged so much from Tuscan that now if you see old men from Tuscany on TV, you need subtitles to understand them.
Something similar has happened to German and French. There are actually multiple lects spoken in Germany that appear to be separate languages from Standard German. Standard German is an East Middle German or East Central German dialect that was simply chosen as standard. It’s the lect from around the state of Saxony in the 1500’s and 1600’s.It was mostly a written language until about 1800.
Nevertheless, the Saxon dialect has now diverged from Standard German to where it is a distinct  language – Upper Saxon, spoken around Dresden, Chemnitz and Leipzig – that may or may not be intelligible with Standard German.
In France, there is not one form of French spoken. Although everyone speaks Standard French, there are various French languages spoken in France that are not intelligible with Standard French.
These include the languages of the Channel Islands – Dgèrnésiais (spoken in Guernsey), Jèrriais (spoken in Jersey) and Sercquiais, (spoken on Sark) – Cotentinais, spoken in parts of Normandy, Gallo spoken in Brittany, Picard spoken in the far north of France around Dunkerque and Calais, Walloon spoken in Belgium, Champenois spoken in Champagne, Burgundian spoken in Burgundy on the border of Switzerland and Italy, Franc-Comtois, spoken in Franche-Compté over by Switzerland, Lorrain spoken in Lorraine, part of Alsace-Lorraine on the border of Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, Portvetin, spoken in Poitou, where the city of Poitiers is in west-central France and Saintongeais and spoken on the central West coast of France in Saintonges, Aunis and Angoumois.
None of these languages is intelligible with Standard French. Standard French was based on the Parisien dialect of Paris a while back, but since then Parisien and Standard French have taken dual trajectories, such that Parisien is now a distinctive dialect, as in the other cases we looked at.

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8 thoughts on “Standard Languages Versus Their Parents”

  1. Can be the spam filter. How many links do you allow in comments? Haloscan was no problem but wordpress as an option to how many links you allow in comments.

  2. I don’t remember. Should be under Set comment or something. WordPress is so god damn sloooooow it’s a pain you know where to use.

  3. Dear Robert
    You are wrong in your claim that standard German originated in Berlin. Don’t forget that Berlin became the principal German city only after 1870. Standard German is a form of Hochdeutsch, which are the Southern dialects. The vernacular in Berlin is a form of Plattdeutsch. The reason why they are called respectively Hochdeutsch = High German and Plattdeutsch = Flat German is that the South of Germany is muntainous while the North is flat.
    The main difference between Hochdeutsch and Plattdeutsch is that Hochdeutsch has undergone some consonant shifts. They are the following:
    1 – d becomes t, deer = tier, draw = tragen, drink = trinken
    2 – k becomes ch, book = Buch, weak = weich, week = Woche
    3 – p becomes f or pf, pepper = Pfeffer, pipe = Pfeife, ripe = reif
    4 – t becomes s or ts, water = Wasser, out = aus, two = zwei, tongue = Zunge. Z is pronounced ts in German
    5 – v becomes b, seven = sieben, live = leben, dove = Taube, give = geben
    Have a good day. James

  4. Ok James, actually Standard German is said to be a form of Middle German, East Middle German at that. The actual High German (Oberdeutsch) forms are things like Swiss German, Bavarian, Tyrolian, Cimbrian, Molise, etc. They are spoken all the way down to Switzerland, Austria and Italy. However, Central or Middle German is a type of High German. See here. It appears to have been derived from a Written Language spoken in Saxony, a bit to the south of Berlin around Dresden and Leipzig. Berlinisch has Central German roots but with a Low German substratum.

  5. Dear Robert
    Oberdeutsch and Mittteldeutsch are the two branches of Hochdeutsch. Oberdeutsch has carried the consonant shifts further than Mitteldeutsch, from which standard German is derived. You are right, Berlin is actually at the border between Plattdeutsch and Mitteldeutsch. According to an article in the German Wikipedia, the Berlin dialect is actually a metrolect, that is, a lect spoken in a large city and that is made up of a mixture of various dialects. This metrolect, according to the article, has displaced the traditional Brandenburg variation of Plattdeutsch.
    Also, lieber Freund, jetzt wissen wir es. James

  6. Dear Mr Lindsay,
    I’m afraid you are wrong saying standard French originated from Paris. Bernard Cerquiglini, in Une langue orpheline (http://livre.fnac.com/a1932931/Bernard-Cerquiglini-Une-langue-orpheline) shows standard French was in fact elaborated by the “British” administration in today’s western France (Normandy, Anjou) and mixed with other local scripta (the Picard and Champenois ones). Its adoption by French kings came later. The “Parisian origin” was a construction of French republican ideologists of the XIXth century.
    As a government lingua franca, it has become more and more distant from local, non-written, dialects of French – note your list is quite incorrect as you are including the Francoprovençal area under the “Burgundian” and “Franc-Comtois” names.
    Thanks for your very interesting postings, by the way.
    Regards,
    Jean-François / Joan Francés Blanc

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