Trying to differentiate between language and dialect is definitely not an easy task. While brainstorming in groups on the matter, criteria such as the proportion of a population that uses a language variety over another, the region where a language variety is most frequently used and the context of language use came to mind. The more our group tried to come up with examples of language use to determine whether these fell into the category of a language or a dialect, the more we started discussing issues related to power and the institutionalization of certain language varieties.
Our definition, by the end of the exercise was that the dominant language variety becomes widely recognized as such through its institutionalization, and is referred to as a so-called standard language or an official language, whereas other varieties deviating from it are labelled as the so-called dialects. Interestingly, a language does not necessarily become predominant for being used by the majority of a population. On the contrary, a language variety often becomes salient because it is associated with high education and social prestige. This association is the outcome of this variety’s extensive use in the media, in educational institutions, in formal settings, among politicians, policy makers, businesswomen and businessmen, scholars and people in general who are widely respected in their fields.
Throughout their learning experience, language learners seem to identify the so-called standard languages as ‘correct’ and ‘pure’, and undervalue other varieties for not adhering to their norms. One cannot help but question the reasons why certain varieties are given such power, while others are marginalized. The effects of empowering a language variety over all others are not solely linguistic; they are also social, economic and political. Indeed, language and politics always go hand in hand and while it is beneficial to seek for intelligibility between language users and a common ground is indispensable, the fact that several languages are undervalued or even on the verge of extinction, and scholars discuss about the need of their revitalization, is disheartening as well as alarming. In view of these inequalities, one needs to consider whether there should be a shift in the educational practice so as to familiarize learners with different linguistic varieties and validate them in their eyes, as opposed to solely focusing on the standard language and the ways in which an idealized native speaker would allegedly express herself or himself. Is it high time for change?
Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language. New models, new norms, new goals. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
 Kachru, Y. (2005), Teaching and learning of World Englishes. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of research in second language learning and teaching (pp. 155–173). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.