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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2009

5 - Between language and dialect: orthography in unstandardised and standardising vernaculars



So far in this book we have looked mainly at two kinds of languages: languages which already had established orthographies, and languages where new orthographies were being developed as part of a planned, or partially planned, process of standardisation.

There is certainly an important link between writing and language standardisation (see e.g. Milroy and Milroy 1991 and Joseph 1987), but a language does not have to be standardised before it can be written. There are many contemporary examples of writing in unstandardised language varieties, and many historical examples of writing vernaculars and ‘dialects’, some of which have later become standard languages.

However, the writing of language varieties which do not have, or do not yet have, a standard presents particular orthographic problems. In this chapter we will look at some of these problems from a social and cultural perspective. For our purposes, such varieties will be taken to include the following:

vernaculars, in the conventional sense of ‘dialects’ of an identified standard language;

contact varieties and intermediate varieties which are characteristic of situations where creole languages are in contact with their (standard) lexifier languages, for example Jamaican Creole (Patois) in Jamaica and in Britain;

other situations where closely related language varieties exist with a continuum between them, for example in Galicia (Spain) where Galician can potentially be viewed as a variety of Portuguese or as a separate language, and is also close to Spanish.