Official State Languages query

David Magier magier at
Mon Aug 19 14:43:03 UTC 1996

> It would seem quite impossible to make linguists and politicians agree upon
> what is a language. Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are mutually intelligible
> (we often listen to each other's television with few difficulties), but
> still count as three different languages and not as dialects.

And the reverse is also sometimes found: what is frequently referred
to as a language (e.g. "Chinese") can actually be a set of mutually
UNintelligible "dialects", again for political/cultural/literary reasons.

> We might be
> pragmatic and simply say that what is defined - politically - as a language
> is a language, no matter what the linguistic facts are.

I have no objection to such a procedure is applied explicitly with
such explanations. But note: the tiny set of "Official Languages" of
India were never intended to be a set of all the spoken varieties that
are politically, culturally, literarily, or historically treated as
"languages". That is, "Official Languages" are a specialized subset of
"languages" given a special recognition in the constitution, but never
claiming that the other varieties are not languages.
(Historians: please elucidate if I am mistaken).

David Magier

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