Language and Dialect: Matter of Life and Death?

Source: AFP

I am currently undergoing a course on linguistics and our discussions on what constitutes a language or dialect particularly interested me. It seems they differ in two main aspects. Accordingly to socio-political contexts, languages are basically backed up by institution while dialects aren’t. This is the differentiation most people are familiar with. However in a linguistic sense, languages are not mutually intelligible while dialects/varieties are (i.e. under this differentiation, Cantonese and Hokkien would be languages and not dialects because speakers of each would not understand each other).

When we talk about language and power, looking at context is extremely important to get a real sense of how people go about defining what is a language and what is a dialect. Take Cantonese for example. In Singapore most of us know it as a dialect but if you were to ask someone in Hong Kong or Guangzhou the same question, you can expect a very different response. Whatever relegated Cantonese in Singapore to mere dialect status then? Well, to put it bluntly:  language policy.

If we then take a look at China now, we can see a somewhat similar trend taking place but with very different reactions. According to this AFP report, more than a 1000 protesters have gathered in Hong Kong and Guangzhou to rally against the Chinese government’s attempts at promoting the national Putonghua (i.e. Mandarin) over the local Cantonese language (or ‘dialect’, according to the Chinese government). It seems highly unlikely the Chinese authorities will go very far at suppressing Cantonese the way Singapore managed to do in the past. The reasons are manifold but I think a key difference is this: the Cantonese speakers up north firmly see it as their regional language and will do anything to see that it remains as so.

What do you understand to be a language or dialect?
Is Singlish a dialect?

What do you think is the future of dialects in Singapore? What is the future of Singlish?

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8 thoughts on “Language and Dialect: Matter of Life and Death?

  1. i feel that the future of dialects in singapore is bleak. with the number of foreigners coming as it is, we can even hardly protect our own culture let alone our dialects. As seen in today’s context, the state at which dialects is being used, is eroding.

  2. -What do you understand to be a language or dialect?
    Language is a form of communication of people between races, while a dialect is a variation of the same language but of people from different cultures and backgrounds. (e.g. Hokkien and Cantonese)

    -Is Singlish a dialect?
    No. Unrefined English. Product of multi-racial society.

    -What do you think is the future of dialects in Singapore?
    Dying out in Singapore. Most families in Singapore use English/Mother Tongue/Singlish rather than their dialects.

    -What is the future of Singlish?
    Thrive! Refer above.

  3. What do you think is the future of dialects in Singapore? What is the future of Singlish?

    no there wont be a future for dialects

  4. Language is something that we use to express what is in our mind.

    Singlish is not an entirely different language; it is a mixed up language where English is used wrongly with other languages.

    Dialects in Singapore is still here but the usage is getting lower and lower.

    Singlish will still be in Singapore as long as Singaporeans do not try to speak more proper English

  5. What do you understand to be a language or dialect?
    Languages are officially recognised and are more widely used while dialects are not.
    Is Singlish a dialect?
    No……….
    What do you think is the future of dialects in Singapore?
    They are dying out due to government policies and surrounding influences.
    What is the future of Singlish?
    It will die.

  6. I feel that in the future, dialects would be totally gone. This is because dialects are part of the tradition that is not passed on to our generations nor our future generation. This is due to the youths not being interested in leaning the dialects. Also, many a times, youths only use the dialects for profanities instead of conversing in it properly.

    Singlish started out as a dialect, however, because it is being used so often, it is starting to become more of language.

    Singlish is becoming more prevalent in Singapore.

  7. Singlish is a result of improper use of languages.

    Most people use singlish namely because they want to substitute a word which they don’t know how to express in english in another language or perhaps they feel that it is cooler to replace the word of the same meaning with a word in another language.

    In my opinion, the usage of singlish is undesirable but is likely to persist.

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