Language News: What is a language?: When Easy Questions Demand Tough Answers : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR

NPR’s Alva Noe discusses the criteria for determining when variation becomes another language and concludes, rightly, that mutual intelligibility isn’t a very effective measure.  The most accurate description of how lay-people actually determine whether or not something is a language or a dialect:  “a language has an army and navy.”  Do you want to know how linguists determine the difference? We generally dodge the question.  We prefer the more neutral term “language variety,” which has the remarkable ability to cover either.

What is a language?: When Easy Questions Demand Tough Answers : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR.


About LingEducator

Dr. Jaclyn Ocumpaugh received a PhD for her dissertation on regional variation in the acoustics of Mexican American English (Michigan State University, East Lansing). Before that, she received an MA in English/Linguistics from North Carolina State University for her work on the acoustics of /r/--a sound which is highly variable in the English language. Her passion, however, has always been to understand the social implications of language variation. In addition to her work in acoustic sociophonetics, she has worked with rape trial analysis, developed cognitive methods for understanding discourse level variation between men and women, and created sophisticated tools for teaching future educators about the kinds of dialect variation they will find in the classroom. She has taught classes in English, Linguistics, and Education at Old Dominion University, William & Mary, the University of Mary Washington, and Virginia Wesleyan College. She is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she is helping to develop models of student engagement in the classroom. She also consults in the private sector.
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