Getting tongues tied about Chinese dialects

Despite nostalgia and the availability of clan association classes, it appears hard for Chinese dialects to hold their ground in modern Singapore.

Chinese opera performers at the official opening of the upgraded Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre in July 2019. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
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There is a joke among linguists that a language is a dialect with an army. This still raises chuckles when people hear it for the first time but it has a more serious point, highlighting the fuzzy lines between the two concepts and the inescapable truth that hierarchies, based on prestige or political backing, exist in the linguistic world.

In layman understanding, certainly here in Singapore, dialects are usually seen as spoken forms of communication, subordinate to languages which have an official status.

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