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Sunday, June 19, 2011


Dictators with dialects, finger spelling and universal Inuit




Dialects are beautiful, ugly, inevitable, unhelpful, and of course, languages without armies. Dialects are widespread– they exist in most languages. Millions, perhaps billions of people speak them. Some, like many Chinese, speak a regional dialect at home, and a standard form of the language in public settings. And then there all those dictators who grew up speaking dialects. As a boy, Napoleon spoke Italian and Corsu— the home language/Italian dialect of the island of Corsica. The future Emperor of the French didn’t learn French until later. Hitler spoke an Austrian-inflected German. For his part, Gaddafi speaks a version of Arabic that isn’t widely understood, even within Libya. He comes from a Bedouin minority, which is reflected in his language. This may amplify his otherworldlyness. More on all of that here. Many languages began life as a series of dialects, which over time– and with the encouragement of a nation state– morphed in something with standardized vocabulary and grammar (Robert Lane Greene writes about this in his new book, You Are What You Speak).

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