A pluricentric language or polycentric language is a language with several interacting codified standard versions, often corresponding to different countries. Examples include English, French, Portuguese, German, Korean, Spanish, Swedish, Armenian and Chinese. A language that has only one formally standardised version is monocentric. Examples include Russian and Japanese.
In some cases the different standards of a pluricentric language may be elaborated until they become autonomous languages, as happened with Malaysian and Indonesian or Hindi and Urdu. The same process is underway in Serbo-Croatian.
Examples of varying degrees of pluricentrism
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Pre-Islamic Arabic can be considered a polycentric language. In Arabic-speaking countries different levels of polycentricity can be detected. Modern Arabic is a pluricentric language with varying branches correlating with different regions where Arabic is spoken and the type of communities speaking it. The vernacular varieties of Arabic include Gulf Arabic (spoken in the Persian Gulf kingdoms of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait), Iraqi Arabic, Levantine Arabic (spoken in Levantine countries of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine), Egyptian Arabic, Sudanese Arabic, Maghrebi Arabic (spoken in Northwestern Africa) and Judeo-Arabic (spoken by Arab Jewish communities), among many others. In addition, many speakers use Modern Standard Arabic in education and formal settings. Therefore, in Arabic-speaking communities, diglossia is frequent.
The Aramaic language is a pluricentric language, having many different literary standards, including Syriac language, Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Samaritan Aramaic language, and Mandaic language, and vernacular varieties of Neo-Aramaic languages like Northeastern Neo-Aramaic (Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Bohtan Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, Hértevin language, Koy Sanjaq Syriac language, Senaya language), Western Neo-Aramaic, Northeastern Neo-Aramaic, Central Neo-Aramaic (Mlahsô language, Turoyo language), Neo-Mandaic, Hulaulá language, Lishana Deni, Lishanid Noshan, Lishán Didán, Betanure Jewish Neo-Aramaic, and Barzani Jewish Neo-Aramaic.
Bulgarian is pluricentric language having two or three official standards. Aside from Standard Bulgarian there is also the Banat Bulgarian dialect (written in the Latin script). Macedonian is considered a separate language in the Republic of Macedonia, and as a variant of Bulgarian by the Bulgarian government.
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The term "Catalan–Valencian–Balearic" is seldom used (for example, in a dictionary by Antoni Maria Alcover i Sureda).
This language is internationally known as Catalan, as in Ethnologue. This is also the most commonly used name in Catalonia, but also in Andorra and the Balearic Islands, probably due to the prestige of the Central Catalan dialect spoken in and around Barcelona. However, in the Valencian Community, the official name of this language is Valencian. One reason for this is political (see Serbo-Croatian for a similar situation), but this variant does have its own literary tradition that dates back to the Reconquista.
Although mutually intelligible with other varieties of Catalan, Valencian has lexical peculiarities and its own spelling rules, which are set out by the Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua, created in 1998. However, this institution recognises that Catalan and Valencian are varieties of the same language. For their part, there are specific varieties in the two major Balearic islands, Mallorcan (mallorquí) in Mallorca, Menorcan (menorquí) in Menorca. The University of the Balearic Islands is the language regulator for these varieties.
Until the mid-20th century, most Chinese people spoke only their local varieties of Chinese. These varieties had diverged widely from the written form used by scholars, Literary Chinese, which was modelled on the language of the Chinese classics. As a practical measure, officials of the Ming and Qing dynasties carried out the administration of the empire using a common language based on northern varieties, known as Guānhuà (官話, literally "speech of officials"), known as Mandarin in English after the officials. Knowledge of this language was thus essential for an official career, but it was never formally defined.
In the early years of the 20th century, Literary Chinese was replaced as the written standard by written vernacular Chinese, which was based on northern dialects. In the 1930s a standard national language Guóyǔ (國語, literally "national language") was adopted, with its pronunciation based on the Beijing dialect, but with vocabulary also drawn from other northern varieties. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the standard was known as Pǔtōnghuà (普通话/普通話, literally "common speech"), but was defined in the same way as Guóyǔ in the Republic of China now governing Taiwan. It also became one of the official languages of Singapore, under the name Huáyǔ (华语/華語, literally "Chinese language").
Although the three standards remain close, they have diverged to some extent. Most Chinese in Taiwan and Singapore came from the southeast coast of China, where the local dialects lack the retroflex initials /tʂ tʂʰ ʂ/ found in northern dialects, so that most speakers in those places do not distinguish them from the apical sibilants /ts tsʰ s/. Similarly, retroflex codas (erhua) are typically avoided in Taiwan and Singapore. There are also differences in vocabulary, with Taiwanese Mandarin including loanwords from Min Chinese and Japanese, and Singaporean Mandarin borrowing words from English, Malay, Min and other southern Chinese varieties.
The Coptic language was pluricentric with different written dialects like Sahidic and Bohairic.
There are three national standards of the Dutch language: Netherlandic Dutch, Belgian Dutch and Surinamese Dutch. Afrikaans could arguably be considered a fourth standard, but is more usually considered a daughter language that is mutually intelligible with Dutch.
English is a pluricentric language, with differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, spelling, etc., between the United Kingdom, North America, English-speaking African countries, Singapore, India, and Oceania. Educated native English speakers using their version of one of the standard forms of English are almost completely mutually intelligible, but non-standard forms present significant dialectal variations, and are marked by reduced intelligibility. English is usually considered a symmetric case of a pluricentric language, because there is no clear cultural dominance of one variety over others.
Statistically, however, American English speakers constitute more than 66% of native English speakers, with British English in second place at 18% and other varieties such as Australian English and Canadian English having up to 7% each. Due to globalisation in recent decades, English is becoming increasingly decentralised, with daily use and statewide study of the language in schools growing in most regions of the world.
British English and American English are the two most commonly taught varieties in the education systems where English is taught as a second language. British English tends to predominate in former colonies where English is not the first language of the majority of the population, such as Malaysia, India, Pakistan, and Singapore. British English is also the primary form taught in the European Union and the rest of Europe. American English, in contrast, tends to dominate instruction in Latin America, Korea, Taiwan, China and Japan.
Philippine English (which is predominantly spoken as a second language) has been primarily influenced by American English. The rise of the call center industry in the Philippines has encouraged some Filipinos to "polish" or neutralize their accents to make them more closely resemble the accents of their client countries. Many Australian companies use Philippines call centers; the Philippines and Western Australia share a common time zone.
Countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have their own well-established varieties of English which are the standard within those countries but are far more rarely taught overseas to second language learners.
English was historically pluricentric when it was used across the independent kingdoms of England and Scotland prior to the Acts of Union in 1707. English English and Scottish English are now subsections of British English.
In the modern era, there are four major loci of the French language: Parisian French (also known as Standard French), North American French, International French (mainly used in media and teaching), and African French.
Until the early 20th century, the French language was highly variable in pronunciation and vocabulary within France, with varying dialects and degrees of intelligibilty, the langues d'oïl. However, government policy made it so that the dialect of Paris would be the method of instruction in schools, and other dialects, like Norman, which has influence from Scandinavian languages, were neglected. Controversy still remains in France over the fact that the government recognizes them as languages of France, but provides no monetary support for them nor has the Constitutional Council of France ratified the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
North American French is the result of French colonization of the New World between the 17th and 18th centuries. In many cases, it contains vocabulary and dialectal quirks not found in Standard Parisian French owing to history: most of the original settlers of Quebec, Acadia, and later what would become Louisiana and northern New England came from Northern and Northwest France, and would have spoken dialects like Norman, Poitevin, and Angevin with far fewer speaking the dialect of Paris. This plus isolation from developments in France, most notably the drive for standardization by L'Academie Française, make North American dialects of the language quite distinct. Acadian French, that which is spoken in New Brunswick, Canada, contains many vocabulary words that are much older than anything found in modern France, much of it having roots in the 17th century, and a distinct intonation. Québécois, the largest of the dialects, has a distinct pronunciation that is not found in Europe in any measure and a greater difference in vowel pronunciation, and syntax tends to vary greatly. Cajun French has some distinctions not found in Canada in that there is more vocabulary derived from both local Native American and African dialects and a pronunciation of the letter r that has disappeared in France entirely. It is rolled, and with heavier contact with the English language than any of the above the pronunciation has shifted to harder sounding consonants in the 20th century. Cajun French equally has been an oral language for generations and it is only recently that its syntax and features been adapted to French orthography.
Minor standards can also be found in Belgium and Switzerland, with a particular influence of Germanic languages on grammar and vocabulary, sometimes through the influence of local dialects. In Belgium, for example, various Germanic influences in spoken French are evident in Wallonia (for example, to blink in English, and blinken in German and Dutch, blinquer in Walloon and local French, cligner in standard French). Ring (rocade or périphérique in standard French) is a common word in the three national languages for beltway or ring road. Also, in Belgium and Switzerland, there are noted differences in the number system when compared to standard Parisian or Canadian French, notably in the use of septante, octante/huitante and nonante for the numbers seventy, eighty, and ninety. In other standards of French, these numbers are usually denoted soixante-dix (sixty-ten), quatre-vingts (four-twenties) and quatre-vingt-dix (four-twenties-and-ten). French varieties spoken in Oceania are also influenced by local languages. New Caledonian French is influenced by Kanak languages in its vocabulary and grammatical structure. African French is another variety.
Standard German is often considered an asymmetric pluricentric language; the standard used in Germany is often considered dominant, mostly because of the sheer number of its speakers and their frequent lack of awareness of the Austrian Standard German and Swiss Standard German varieties. Although there is a uniform stage pronunciation based on a manual by Theodor Siebs that is used in theatres, and, nowadays to a lesser extent, in radio and television news all across German-speaking countries, this is not true for the standards applied at public occasions in Austria, South Tyrol and Switzerland, which differ in pronunciation, vocabulary, and sometimes even grammar. In Switzerland, the letter ß has been removed from the alphabet, with ss as its replacement. Sometimes this even applies to news broadcasts in Bavaria, a German state with a strong separate cultural identity. The varieties of Standard German used in those regions are to some degree influenced by the respective dialects (but by no means identical to them), by specific cultural traditions (e.g. in culinary vocabulary, which differs markedly across the German-speaking area of Europe), and by different terminology employed in law and administration. A list of Austrian terms for certain food items has even been incorporated into EU law, even though it is clearly incomplete.
Hindi, Urdu, and Hindustani languages
Broad Hindi is a large dialect continuum defined as a unit culturally. Standard Hindustani is based on a Persianized register of the Khariboli dialect and has two modern standard forms, Standard Hindi and Standard Urdu. Additionally, there are historical literary standards, such as the closely related Braj Bhasha and the more distant Awadhi, as well as recently established standard languages based on what were once considered Hindi dialects: Maithili and Dogri. Other varieties, such as Rajasthani, are often considered distinct languages but have no standard form.
The Malayalam language is a pluricentric language with historically more than one written form. Although modern Malayalam script, also known as Aryanezhuthu is officially recognized, there are other standardized varieties such as Arabi Malayalam of Mappila muslims, Karshoni of Saint Thomas Christians and Judeo-Malayalam of Cochin Jews.
The Persian language has three standardised varieties with official status in Iran, Afghanistan (officially named Dari) and Tajikistan (officially named Tajik). The standard dialect of Iran is based on Tehrani dialect, the standard dialect of Dari based on Kabuli dialect, and the standard dialect of Tajik based on Dushanbe dialect. Iranian Persian and Afghan Persian equally utilize the Perso-Arabic script in writing. Tajik Persian as used in Tajikistan utilizes a modified form of the Cyrillic alphabet, although attempts at re-introducing Perso-Arabic script are being made.
Apart from the Galician question, Portuguese varies mainly between Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese. Both varieties have undergone significant and divergent developments in phonology and the grammar of their pronominal systems. Brazilian Portuguese is considerably much less conservative in its grammar. The result is that communication between the two varieties of the language without previous exposure can be occasionally difficult, especially for a Brazilian attempting to understand a European. Because of the extensive and long-term influence of the Brazilian telenovelas, a Portuguese national has little problem in understanding the Brazilian accent and specific words.
Brazilian and European Portuguese currently have two distinct, albeit similar, spelling standards. A unified orthography for the two varieties (including a limited number of words with dual spelling) has been approved by the national legislatures of Brazil and Portugal and is now official; see Spelling reforms of Portuguese for additional details. Formal written standards remain grammatically close to each other, despite some minor syntactic differences.
African Portuguese and Asian Portuguese are based on the standard European dialect, but have undergone their own phonetic and grammatical developments, sometimes reminiscent of the spoken Brazilian variant.
Serbo-Croatian is a pluricentric language, with four standard variants (Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin and Serbian) spoken in Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. These variants do differ slightly, as is the case with other pluricentric languages (English, Spanish, German and Portuguese, among others), but not to a degree that would justify considering them as different languages. The differences between the variants do not undermine the integrity of the system as a whole and do not hinder mutual intelligibility.
Spanish has both national and regional linguistic norms, but all varieties are mutually intelligible (outside of minor vocabulary differences) and the same orthographic rules are shared throughout. In Spain, Standard Spanish is based upon the speech of educated speakers from Madrid. In Argentina and Uruguay the Spanish standard is based on the local dialects of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. This is known as Rioplatense Spanish, distinguishable from other standard Spanish dialects by the greater use of the voseo; Standard Canarian Spanish and all Standard American Spanish dialects (both Latin America and United States) are closely related to Andalusian Spanish. In Colombia, the dialect of Bogotá ("Rolo") is valued for its clear pronunciation. The two countries with the largest number of Spanish speakers are Mexico and the United States, making Mexican Spanish the Spanish variety with most speakers. The Spanish of US Latinos is having a widespread influence on Spanish across the globe through music, culture and television produced using the language of the largely bilingual speech community of US latinos.
Two varieties exist, though only one written standard remains (regulated by the Swedish Academy of Sweden): Rikssvenska (literally "Realm Swedish"), the official language of Sweden, and Finlandssvenska (in Finland known as "Högsvenska"), which, alongside Finnish, is the other official language of Finland. There are differences in vocabulary and grammar, with the variety used in Finland remaining a little more conservative. The most marked differences are in pronunciation and intonation: Whereas Swedish speakers usually pronounce /k/ before front vowels as [ɕ], this sound is usually pronounced by a Swedo-Finn as [t͡ʃ]; in addition, the two tones that are characteristic of Swedish (and Norwegian) are absent from most Finnish dialects of Swedish, which have an intonation reminiscent of Finnish and thus sound more monotonous when compared to Rikssvenska.
There are dialects that could be considered different languages due to long periods of isolation and geographical separation from the central dialects of Svealand and Götaland that came to constitute the base for the standard Rikssvenska. Dialects such as Elfdalian, Jamtlandic, Westrobothnian and Gutnish all differ as much, or more, from standard Swedish than the standard varieties of Norwegian and Danish. Some of them have a standardised orthography, but the Swedish government has not granted any of them official recognition as regional languages and continues to look upon them as dialects of Swedish. Most of them are severely endangered and spoken by elderly people in the countryside. In the case of Westrobothnian the pejorative "bondska" is widespread, derived from the word for peasant, thus leading people to believe that it has something to do with peasantry or farming although the dialects have been spoken in all parts of society for over 1000 years.
Some Swedish dialects spoken along the coast of Finnish Ostrobothnia could be considered languages different from standard Swedish because they are developments of Old Norse that historically have had very little influence from standard Swedish.
- Standard Irish, Scottish Gaelic and possibly Manx can be viewed as three standards arisen through divergence from the Classical Gaelic norm via orthographic reforms.
- Komi, a Uralic language spoken in northeastern European Russia, has official standards for its Komi-Zyrian and Komi-Permyak dialects.
- Korean: North and South (to some extent—differences are growing; see North–South differences in the Korean language)
- Kurdish language has two main literary norms: Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish) and Sorani (Central Kurdish). The Zaza–Gorani languages, spoken by some Kurds, are occasionally considered to be Kurdish as well.
- Malaysian and Indonesian used to be two variants of the same language (Malay). They are nowadays generally considered separate languages due to the growing divergence between the two and for political reasons. Nevertheless, they retain some degree of mutual intelligibility despite a number of differences in vocabulary and grammar. The Malay language itself has many local varieties and dialects, whereas the Indonesian language, acting as lingua franca of the nation, has received a great number of international and local influences. (See: Differences between Malaysian and Indonesian.)
- Modern Hebrew is grammatically and lexically uniform, but Israelis from different cultural backgrounds have different ways of pronunciation, all of which are considered standard and correct by language authorities. Among the ways of pronunciation are Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Temani (which is considered the closest to the original pronunciation of Hebrew in biblical times). Hebrew is therefore probably the only pluricentric language where differences in pronunciation do not depend on the speaker's place of birth but on their cultural background.
- Norwegian consists of a multitude of spoken dialects displaying a great deal of variation in pronunciation and (to a somewhat lesser extent) vocabulary, with no officially recognized "standard spoken Norwegian" (but see Urban East Norwegian). All Norwegian dialects are mutually intelligible. There are two written standards: Bokmål, "book language", based on Danish (Danish and Norwegian are mutually intelligible languages with significant differences primarily in pronunciation rather than vocabulary or grammar) and modern Western Norwegian dialects (the Bergen dialect was a major contributor), and Nynorsk, "New Norwegian", based primarily on rural Western and rural inland Norwegian dialects.
- Pashto has 3 official standard dialects: Central Pashto, which is the most prestigious standard dialect (also used in Kabul), Northern Pashto, and Southern Pashto.
- Romance languages
- Ukrainian and Rusyn are either considered to be two standards of the same language or two languages.
- Abstand and ausbau languages
- Binary distribution
- Dialect continuum
- Language secessionism
- Mutual intelligibility
- Standard language
- World language
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