Public talk online: The “Political” and the Language-Dialect Dichotomy, or Fact-Checking Noam Chomsky

Monday 21 June 2021, 11:00am CEST

The “Political” and the Language-Dialect Dichotomy, or Fact-Checking Noam Chomsky

Alexander Maxwell (Victoria University of Wellington)

In this talk, Alexander Maxwell suggests that linguists pondering the language-dialect dichotomy fall into two schools: apolitical agnostics who view the dichotomy as something political and therefore not linguistic, and objective assertionists, who declare the dichotomy ought to be analyzed on linguistic grounds to the exclusion of political factors. Since Noam Chomsky seems to straddle both schools, the paper then examines his comments on the dichotomy at length, fact-checking assertions concerning the linguistic diversity of Romance and Chinese and the putative scholarly consensus about Dutch and German. The extraordinary role of “the political” as a bugbear in linguistic thought also informs how scholars invoke the Weinreich witticism, and why it generates so much cognitive dissonance.

Please register using this form to receive the Zoom link to the talk: https://forms.gle/Dfc9w93rk8UuFzs77

This talk is organized by Raf Van Rooy (University of Oslo & KU Leuven Center for the Historiography of Linguistics), and partly frames the course “The history of western linguistics: A survey in myths”, taught at the University of Graz this spring.

Posted in Announcements, Conferences and workshops
One comment on “Public talk online: The “Political” and the Language-Dialect Dichotomy, or Fact-Checking Noam Chomsky
  1. David L. Gold says:

    To set the record straight about the alleged “Weinreich witticism” (‘a language is a dialect with an army and a navy’):

    After Max Weinreich gave a talk (in English) at the City College of New York at some time between 13 December 1943 and 12 June 1944, a male teacher of history in a high school in The Bronx, whose name has been lost to history, came up to him and said, “I’ll give you a better definition: a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.”

    The man’s witticism has been mischaracterized as a Yidish proverb and the witticism has been misattributed to Max Weinreich, Uriel Weinreich, William Labov, Hubert Lyautey, and Antoine Meillet.

    Max Weinreich’s ipsissima verba are here:

     3 ייִװאָ-בלעטער, באַנד 23 , נומער

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