A Finch’s Mandible and the Intimate Life–What Makes a Dialect?
The map at left has gotten RT to thinking. How is it that an island like Manx, which is maybe 25 miles long, 10 miles wide, not only produced its own language, but two dialects as well? How large does a population have to be before it produces its own language or dialect? Evidently, not very large.
As is the case with speciation, isolation may be more important to the formation of a new language than the absolute number of people. Darwin’s finches developed beaks suitable to the various niches they inhabited; in the same way, people’s words adapt themselves to their surroundings and lifestyle, develop stronger or more refined beaks, curved or straight mandibles, so to say. The nitty-gritty is paramount here, the shared facts and routine push our talk and thinking in directions that are appropriate and beautiful.
But this only happens when the gene pool remains mostly unmixed–new arrivals speaking a more widespread tongue can drown out a localized language. But not necessarily. If the newcomers adopt the ways and habits of old-timers, then the two groups will grow together and become a single community speaking the local tongue. Unfortunately, the latter process seems to be the exception in our time: global economies, powered by distant energy sources, establish themselves in places that would never be able to sustain the wealth and population growth created by modern economics. In the long run, this cannot be a sound development, as it tends to degrade the environment and the sustainable industries rooted in it. The evolution of economies is abrogated–and so are the language(s) and dialect(s) created by it.
We hunger for the intimate. This is the root of dialect, to share the self even down to the words we invent, the songs we whisper to ourselves. To make each other parts of the world we live and imagine. We are captivated by the city, the anonymous and grand, the opera–but we must retreat to the enclosed courtyard, back to those who share our memories. These are imperfect, of course, but all the more poignant for being less than ideal, and they encode the experience of the land, the body, the dream. Every art is based in this. RT
Map: Dialects of Manx; WikiCmns, Public Domain, Author: Angr.