Principles of Operation

John Cowan cowan at
Thu Jan 24 17:33:23 CET 2008

Kent Karlsson scripsit:

> "Two Flemish languages"? (Yes, I see that Ethnologue strangely hints
> at that.) Hardly. Flemish isn't even one language. Flemish is a
> (set of) dialect(s) of Dutch (see, esp.
> first bullet point re.
> stanardised orthography).

Rather, "Flemish" (and "Vlaams") have been used as the name of two
distinctly different language varieties:  Standard Dutch as spoken in
Flanders, and the local dialect group of Flanders, which is related
to but not identical with Standard Dutch.  The distinction is closely
analogous to Scottish (Standard) English vs. Scots, or Italian as spoken
in Naples vs. Neapolitan; indeed, the pattern is common throughout Europe
and elsewhere.

> I don't think Flemish should have a *language* code of its own.

Ethnologue is notoriously a splitter (as opposed to a lumper) as language
taxonomies go: that is, it sees languages where others see only dialects.
That's something the international community (via ISO) has chosen to live
with.  Fortunately, it is always easier to blur or ignore distinctions
than to make them.

> Just looking at some languages I'm familiar with, it lists Scanian,
> Dalecarlian, and Jamtska as "languages". Actually they are just
> three of the many dialects of Swedish (a few more are listed in
>; 100+ dialects; depending
> on your level of granularity, it is far from complete, alternatively
> the major ones all have a few subdialect samples each). 

Such national authorities are, unfortunately, not to be trusted in such
matters: they have a hidden (or sometimes not-so-hidden) agenda, namely
to claim that only the imposed standard language is a real language, and
the other surviving varieties spoken in the country are "just" dialects.
"A sprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot."  Or, as we say in our
funky dialect of Westernest Frisian, they have an axe to grind.

I don't know the facts on the ground for the last two, but the facts
of history for Scanian are clear: if not for a battle or two, it would
be Eastern Danish, not Southern Swedish, and even today its links to
undoubted varieties of Danish are probably closer than to the rest
of Swedish.  (Again, there is presumably a Scanian accent of Standard
Swedish; I am *not* referring to this.)

John Cowan  cowan at
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