Difference between Language and Dialect

Key Difference: A language can be spoken, written and/or signed, like the American Sign Language. There are some languages that can be whistled. A typical language will have words, phrases, idioms and a grammar structure. A dialect is a variation in the language itself. It is derived from a single language.

Languages are one of the intricate forms of communication out there. It allows us to converse with each other and share thoughts and ideas. There are thousands of languages out there; in fact some estimates state that there are between 5,000 and 7,000 languages.

A language can be spoken, written and/or signed, like the American Sign Language. There are some languages that can be whistled. A typical language will have words, phrases, idioms and a grammar structure.

The usage of languages varies geographically, politically and culturally. An entire country may speak the same language; two cultures residing in the same area may speak different languages due to cultural differences; while two groups of people residing in the same country may speak different languages due to political differences.

There are many times when two different languages have evolved from the root language. These languages are together called a language family. An example of a language family is the Indo-European language family, which includes Spanish, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, German, Sindhi, Punjabi, Marathi, French, Urdu, and Italian.

Two languages belonging to the same language family may no longer be similar, except very few traces of similarity, which will probably only be visible to linguists and not the layman; this where dialects differ from languages. Dialects are the same language that have undergone some changes due to regional or cultural differences.

The main difference between two languages and two dialects is that the languages are very different from each other and cannot be said to be similar. Two dialects, on the other hand, are quite similar to each other as they have been derived from the same language. If two people who do not speak the same language are able to have a conversation, then what they are speaking are dialects of the same language. However, if they cannot understand each other at all, then they are speaking two distinct languages. This is the general rule of thumb that linguists follow.

Nonetheless, like all rules there are exceptions. There are many instances where all linguists do not agree. One of these instances is Chinese. Many consider Chinese as one language, and Mandarin and Cantonese as two different dialects of Chinese. However, as Mandarin and Cantonese are completely different and one cannot hold a conversation across the two, many claim that Mandarin and Cantonese should be treated as two distinct languages.

Comparison between Language and Dialect:

 

Language

Dialect

Function

Communication

Communication

Types

Spoken, written, signed and/or whistled.

Spoken, written, signed and/or whistled.

Criteria

Should have words, phrases, idioms and a grammar structure.

Speakers of two different dialects must be able to converse with each other. 

Description

May have the same root language but are now no longer similar.

Evolved from the same language

Examples

English and Chinese

American English and UK English

Image Courtesy: ccjk.com, expatwithkids.blogspot.com

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