From Dialect to Language


Este texto se ha escrito con el propósito de esclarecer ciertas dudas que surgen a partir de la comparación entre un dialecto y un idioma, dando por hecho que tales términos no poseen la misma definición. De igual manera se describe el Proceso de Estandarización, que a su vez plantea una manera de vincular dichos conceptos y permite establecer la diferencia entre ambos mediante sus características.

Palabras clave: Dialecto, idioma, idioma estándar, estandarización, variación


This text has been written with the purpose of clarifying certain doubts that emerge from the comparison between a dialect and a language, taking for granted that such terms differ in definition. In the same way, the Standardization Process is described, which propose a way to associate the aforesaid concepts, stablishing the difference between both of them through their characteristics.

Keywords: Dialect, language, standard language, standardization, variety

Desarrollo del tema: “Development”

After toilsome research, it is known that a dialect is different from a language; nevertheless, what is not clear enough, is the fact that makes a dialect to be considered as a language, not only by the sociolinguistics or any people who is in charge of the study of the language, but also by the speakers and anyone who appeals that way of communication. This text has the purpose of clarifying some aspects concerning to this transition.

First of all, it is necessary to point out the definition of dialect and language: in terms of Sociolinguistics, Fromkin et. al. (2003), states that a dialect is a systematic different way in which different groups speak, then a language is a collection of dialects. Also, it is said that a dialect is a variation of a language; in that way, the difference between these concepts has to do with size since ‘a language is larger than a dialect’ (Hudson, R.,1996).

According to Fromkin et. al. (2003), many years ago, there was no distinction between these terms. However, now it is known that a language is integrated by different dialects, which are variations of the language it self. But what happen when one of these dialects starts to be predominant in relation to the others? As a matter of fact, when a dialect gets more speakers and its characteristics start to be found in speakers of other dialects, it is when that variation goes to a process of transition from dialect to language.

The process that perfectly attend to the changes that a dialect suffers to become a language is the Standardisation Process.  According to Hudson, R. (1996), this process is integrated by the following four stages, that makes the dialect-to-language transition possible. Selection is appealed as the first stage in which the choice of which dialect is going to be regarded or ‘turned’ into a language is made. Then the codification comes, in this stage academies write dictionaries and grammar books in order to spread the ‘language’ in a correct way, for the correct use of it. The following stage is the elaboration of function, this means the use of the language in literature and some governmental asociations, mainly, in order to make the ‘language’ works. The last stage is the acceptance, when the population is eventually used to the language.

This process lasts several years, actually, it is not that some schooled citizens who speak different dialects decide to make of their own dialect a language through a ballot. This process involves more than just a few people and more than a few characteristics.  There is not such an officee to which people can approach to suggest their dialect as candidate for being turned into a language. Then a dialect does not become a language from one day to another nor because some people whant it to occur.

Regarding this process, the last stage is the one that determins if the three previous stages were worthy for the purpose. Fromkin, et. al. (2003)  and Hudson, R. (1996), both of them suggest that a factor that influences the decition of which dialect is going to become a language depends on prestige and power. In that way, the population is who decides whether or not to use the ‘new language’ Thus, when a dialect which speakers are likely to affect  other dialects, the predominant dialect starts to gain speakers and territory.

Also, this process envolves a huge amount of features, such as cultural background, historical facts, social stratus and so many others changes that could even come from the idiolect, which are the unic characterristics of the language of an individual speaker (Fromkin,et. al., 2003). Therefore, these features start to be more common among the speakers of certain region or social group. Then these characteristics give a sence of identity to the speakers of the dialect.
Accordingly, when all the people from certain region feel identified with the aforsaid feratures is because they are already  in the last stage of the Stanrdadisation Process; the dialect is accepted and used by the whole population, then the speakers of the language feel unified and belonging to a culture and a territory  (Hudson, R. 1996).

Moreover, Hudson, R. (1996) refers to the Standard Language as the ‘only correct variety’; however, the language itself is not a variety, a dialect is a variety of a language, and regarding the previous definition of language as a collection of dialects, the Standard Language is a collection of dialects, which are its own variaties; then the language is not a variety anymore.
In this way, Standaridzation is a sequence of facts in which a variaty of a language goes trough a process which makes that variaty to be recognized as a language. 

As a matter of fact, it is very important to claryfy something that Hudson. R. (1996) rightly highlights in his work: it is not said that a language is better or more important than others, but that a language is larger than a dialect. Then when a dialect turnes into a lanuguage, it means that it is being more used and broadcasted; consequently, the now called language has to be a more well constructed system of comunication (Fromkin,et. al., 2003).

To conclude, the fact that a dialect becomes a language implies a long process that could be ‘Standardisation’. Due to the fact, the last decition about whether a dialect becomes or not a language is made by the population, shown in the last stage of a language standardisation,  and determined  by some important features, being the most relevant the prestige and the power of the predominant dialect over the other ones. Then once the dialect is turned into a language, it is not a variaty but a collection of variaties.

Referencias Bibliográficas:  “References”

Fromkin, et. al. (2003). An Introduction to Language. Boston: Thomson.

Hudson, R. (1996). Sociolinguistics. Cambridge.

[a] Profesor Investigador de la Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo -Preparatoria N°2.