Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Identity vs Power: dialects

The Hague is the Dutch seat of power while Amsterdam is its capitol. The further you move away from The Hague, the more dialect you will hear. First quantity, then intensity. I suppose geographical distance from Power increases the need for Identity. Dialects must be the earliest example of Identity vs Power.

Last Thursday evening, I did not understand a local response. She is raised in the south-west, while I’m raised in the north-west. With a big smile on her face, she said: why don’t you write about our dialect? Initially, I dismissed her joke and/or suggestion. Slowly, the context of this topic dawned upon me.

The Netherlands is a small country (c.17.7m. people) with many dialects and 2 languages (ie, Dutch, Frisian). Belgium is far smaller (c.11.6m people) with far more dialects and even 3 languages (ie, Dutch, French, German). There seems to be an inverse correlation between geographical size and # of dialects.

USA is immense regarding size and population. Nevertheless, it does not have an official language at federal level (Wiki), and several spoken languages (e,g., English, Spanish). However, dialects appear to be on state level (eg, Texas) rather than county (Dutch) or even town (Belgium).

Why is the relationship between country size and dialects negative rather than positive?

The answer must relate to Identity vs Power. Large countries are often powerful (eg, economic, military). Small countries often lack such power. Technology can, however, create a (temporary) difference for small countries, like the Netherlands from c.1600 to c.1700; see my 2015 blog. Also see very recent GPF article.

I suppose that small countries may need to compensate their lack of power by focusing on identity. Probably, this also reduces the threat level as perceived by large countries. A macro focus on identity may well result in a micro focus on dialects in order to “separate” us from perceived power.

Medium-sized countries are worst-off and likely to experience the so-called valley of death: too small to compete with large countries (eg, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and UK versus China, Russia & USA), and too big to stop dreaming about their glorious past.

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”

A 1953 quote by Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

The Big Bang Theory on languages, dialects and accents (video)

Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless in quotes or stated otherwise.


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