Professor: You know, Wednesday after class, a student came up to me and said, “Professor, you’re constantly using the terms language and dialect in class, but you’ve never really defined these words.” Fair enough; I guess I haven’t. And there’s a good reason why not—I’m afraid to. Because, in my opinion, there’s no good way to distinguish between these two terms. The standard definition of dialect is this . . . they’re forms of one language that are mutually intelli- gible to speakers of other forms of the same language. If you have someone from Jamaica, say, and uh, someone from India, and they’re seated next to each other on an air- plane, they’ll be able to have a conversation, they’ll more or less understand each other, even though those are two very different dialects of English. But consider the various forms of Chinese. A person from southern China can’t understand a person from Beijing. Yet these forms of Chinese are usu- ally considered dialects, not separate languages. Now, peo- ple who speak different languages are not supposed to be intelligible to those who cannot speak that language. But what about Danish and Norwegian? Danish speakers and Norwegian speakers can understand each other perfectly well, but Danish and Norwegian are considered separate languages, not dialects of the same language. Why? Who knows. I suppose part of it is national pride—countries are proud of “owning” a language. In fact, there’s an old joke among linguists that a language is a dialect with an army and a navy. Anyway, these questions—What is a language? What is a dialect?—they’re difficult to answer, and, uh, I guess that’s why I’ve avoided them up until now.