Monday, 1 November 2010

Dialects and Tribalism -Time for a Re-Think?

Let me put my cards on the table: I dislike dialects. They are ugly, incomprehensible, and yokellish. In the past year, I've lived in two areas of two different countries which both specialise in local lingos that are pretty incomprehensible to outsiders (and in my view both slightly unattractive) - Scotland and Bavaria. Actually, that very incomprehensibility is much more of a problem to the natives themselves than to an outsider. They are victims of their own presumed exclusivity. Imagine a Bavarian teacher applying for a job in Hamburg - and the unnecessary misery they'd be creating for themselves.

Obviously I am aware of the decade-long discussion about the beauty, fairness and real-ness of local dialects, as opposed to the soullessness, dirigism, and enforced standardization lurking behind a universally comprehensible language. But there is nothing liberating or particularly individualistic in speaking a heavily accented language not shared by other people. It is a sure-fire way to marginalise yourself. Not because of any class-stigma attached, simply because other speakers find it a) difficult to comprehend b) possibly ugly c)possibly culturally offensive.

In Germany, this is merely cause for good-natured, if tedious banter; in Britain however, where tribalism and a dangerous "pride" in one's (arbitrary)
locale is so often a cause for aggression and prejudice this is a different and dangerous matter. Especially in the UK I would therefore be totally in favour of a re-introduction of a standardized language. This need not be one associated with dominatory forcces like public schools. When Italy first established itself as a unified state, Florentine dialect was consensually adopted as the nation's language. Something similar could be done in Britain. What I certainly consider a totally wrong move is the encouraging of dialectical aberrations by state institutions, such as conducting lessons in Scottish dialect ( not: Gaelic).

Dialects have ceased to be comedy material. In an increasingly tribal society (which in itself is a worrying development) they are a potential - and unnecessary -powder keg.

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