Standards, Dialects and
Matt Mac Cárthaigh
Fios Feasa
Standards, Dialects and Technology
Standardisation: What is it? Why should
we want it?
Conflict: Standardisers vs Native
Speaker Communities
Role of Technology
Multimedia for Adult Learners
Standardisation: What is it?
Standardising spelling
Standardising grammar
Standardising lexicon (corpus
 Public vernacular
What do we want it for?
Facilitates language use in the following
Nationwide communication
Education and development of literacy
Second language learning
High-domain usage
Increases prestige of Xish, for both Xish and
Yish speakers
Maintains integrity of Xish as its own
language, with its own grammar and its own
orthographic system
What do we want it for?
“Bíonn brú ar na ar na húdaráis chuí an teanga a
chaighdeánú ionas go mbeidh cainteoirí sa phobal
nua aontaithe i n-ann labhairt lena chéile agus
scríbhinní éagsúla sa teanga a léamh.”
“Appropriate authorities are under pressure to
standardise the language so that speakers in the new
unified community will be able to speak with each
other and to read various writings in the language.”
Michael Cronin
What do we want it for?
“Questionnaire item number two specifically
requested input regarding dialectal use. The
item read, ‘What dialect or mix of dialects
would you like to see an Irish language
textbook have?’ Eighteen instructors, 67% of
the respondents, referred to some type of
standard or compromise dialect. Sixteen of
these specifically mentioned Standard,
caighdeán, or lárchanúint.”
Thomas Ihde
Standardisation of major languages tied to
prestige dialects
If not to prestige dialects, at least to
language use by prestige groups
Xish languages tend not to have such dialects
or groups: the prestige group speaks Yish
Various dialects of Xish have equal prestige,
and equal practical claim to recognition
Standardisation work in Xish languages tends
to be done by language activists, who are
primarily second language learners
This has linguistic implications:
Learner language errors
Stealth linguistic influence of Yish
Suitability for learners prioritised
Learners prioritised as a community
Conflict: Quotes
“Murach na foghlaimeoirí, is beag atá i ndán don teanga. Níl aon
mhaitheas teanga náisiúnta a bheith ann mura bhfuil teacht ag
saoránaigh an náisúin ar an teanga de bharr constaicí gramadaí.
Is follas go bhfuil géarghá le leasú radacach ar an teanga féin.”
“If it weren’t for learners, the language would have no
prospects. It’s no use having a national language if the nation’s
citizens can’t access the language because of grammatical
impediments. It is clear that there is a dire need for radical
reform of the language itself.”
Michael Cronin
Conflict: Quotes
“By the end of the 19th Century, this
drive for linguistic purification and
isolation had probably gone too far;
native Basque speakers couldn’t
understand the language that the
Basque purists were advocating.”
R. Marie Thatcher (Basque)
Conflict: Quotes
“In addition to difficult orthography,
unfamiliar words are another obstacle to
popular acceptance of the new standard
varieties. In standardised Quechua and
Aymara, Spanish borrowings are purged.
Lexical gaps are filled by archaic terms,
metaphorical extension, or neologisms.”
Aurolyn Luykx (Quechua)
Conflict: Quotes
“The Commission has brought a Trojan horse into the semantic
citadel, and in the name of protecting the purity of the language
in effect hastened its colonisation:”
“I still tend to use words like Hanuere for January rather than
Kohitatea when I write letters, because it’s more familiar to
me... I’m not denying the place of these new words, but it’s a
form of Māori that I’m not comfortable with. I suppose I’ll get
used to it and start saying them. When we lose our old people
who are native speakers, this form of Māori language will
eventually be used more widely. This is the Māori langauge of
the days ahead. ”
The fact that second language learners
do most standardisation work also has
sociolinguistic implications.
Who owns the language?
 Who has the authority to say what’s “right”
and “wrong”, “better” or “worse”?
 Who has control over the process?
 Who is the prestige group?
Conflict: Quotes
“Since the establishment of a standard
automatically defines other varieties as nonstandard, these varieties (and their speakers)
become doubly stigmatized, first in relation to
Spanish and then in relation to the standard
variety of their own language … Native
indigenous language speakers are no longer
considered the experts on how their language
should be used, or on what constitutes
beautiful, powerful, or correct speech.”
Aurolyn Luykx (Quechua)
Conflict: Quotes
“When a five year old has his language
system treated as inferior from his first day of
school, the resulting psychological damage is
inevitable. Once this barrier is raised by
school officials, the child begins to withdraw
and his learning performance suffers.”
Plaintiff lawyer in a Detroit
court case about AAVE
This conflict can even have negative
implications for the language revival
movement itself.
Sitgmatised native speakers aren’t going to switch
to standard language, but they may well switch to
Native speakers may be excluded from higher
The value of diversity which underlies efforts to
preserve the language is belied by such
developments within the language community
Conflict: Quote
“Movements to save minority languages ironically
are often structured around the same received
notions of language that have led to their
oppression. Minority language activists often find
themselves imposing standards, elevating literate
forms and uses, and negatively sanctioning
variability in order to demonstrate the reality,
validity and integrity of their languages.”
Kathryn Woolard
Language Ideology as a Field of Inquiry
Technology has the capacity to
ameliorate many of these problems
Technology can and should be
developed with the aim of empowering
the end user
In order to do this, information and
choice need to be at the heart of the
Technology: Examples
Spelling checkers
Grammar checkers
Language locales
Localisation (of software, websites, ATM
machines) at a more local level than
Technology: Other Views
To bind together virtual networks of speakers
(Michael Cronin quote)
“An endangered language will progress if its
speakers can make use of electronic
technology.” David Crystal
Will o’ the Wisp, if not tied in to intimate
Stage 6 domains of home, family,
neighbourhood (Joshua Fishman)
The Digital Divide
Technology: Other Views
“There is lots of information on Anishinaabemowin on the
internet. Some of it is all right, but I think that a lot of it
can be misleading at times. You can’t swing a stick
without hitting some new ager asking you to translate
“Moon Eagle Spirit Walker”. As a result, the “genuine”
Indian type of thinking tends to be obscured by new age
clichés, manufactured ideas, and strange ways of talking.
If you are learning a native language, ask a real native
speaker. This is a good thing to keep in mind for anything,
but it especially applies to native information posted on
the internet. After all, the digital divide ensures that the
most knowledgeable of our people (fluent elders) have the
least access.”
Paul Dearhouse
Multimedia and Adult Learners
What is multimedia, and why is it useful?
Same info presented simultaneously in
different media (text, image, sound)
 More effective learning
 Information occurs naturally in multimedia
 Information is being repeated three times at
the same time, and is thus reinforced
Multimedia and Adult Learners
Word lists on a web page vs.
 Multimedia CD-ROM
Multimedia and Adult Learners
Best practice internationally: native
speakers are the exemplars
(slide show)
Not always so in Xish
There are practical difficulties
 Ideological reasons (learner prestige)
 Not in learners’ best interests, either
Multimedia and Adult Learners
In multimedia, it’s problematic to use native
speakers and standard text:
If the native speaker is made to use “standard”,
the speech will be artificial, with text-based
phonology, and you’ve lost the benefits of using a
native speaker
If the native speaker speaks naturally, text and
sound do not reinforce each other, they distract
from each other, and you’ve lost the benefits of
Multimedia and Adult Learners
Other approaches:
Standard text and non-native speakers
Choose one dialect as a prestige dialect
Use native speakers, but mix dialects (Séideán Sí)
Make dialectical versions (Fios Feasa)
With books they have to be alternative versions
With technology, they can be offered on the same CD or
website, with user choice at the click of a mouse button
What happens with technology in
minority languages, therefore, and
whether it is successful in making a
positive impact on Xish revitalisation,
depends not on the technology itself,
but rather on the mindset of the people
who develop it.

Standards, Dialects and Technology