DIALECT

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DIALECT; a variety of a language. This definition is certainly vague, but is necessarily so from the nature of the subject, as it is impossible to determine nicely the line where dialects begin to become distinct languages. For instance, in some respects, German, Danish, Swedish, Icelandish,may be called dialects of the common Teutonic stock; yet a German is no more able to understand Swedish than Hebrew, if he has not studied it. It would not be correct, however, to lay it down as a rule, that dialects are such forms of the common language, as may be understood, if not entirely, yet in general, by all who speak one of the varieties of the common language, because a person who never heard or spoke any thing but HighGerman cannot understand the people of Lower Germany, speaking to each other in their dialect: a Portuguese, indeed, is generally able to understand Spanish, without having learned the language systematically. The common meaning of the term dialect, in modern times, is the language of apart of a country or a distant colony, deviating, either in its grammar, words or pronunciation, from the language of that part of the common country whose idiom has been adopted as the literary language, and the medium of intercourse between welleducated people. Iu ancient tiihes, when the great difficulties in the way of intercourse and communication between different parts of a country prevented, or at least impeded, the formation of a general language, each dialect was developed independently of the others, until some event gave to one the ascendency. In Greece, we find four distinct dialects ; the Ionic, Attic, Doric and jEolie ; each of which gave birth to literary productions still extant, until at last the greater refinement, and the cultivation of arts and s<\i ences in Athens, gave the Attic dialect the superiority. It is a great mistake to consider dialects as something to be rooted out like noxious weeds; for, if they are independent varieties of a common language, not mere corruptions of a language already settled, they always retain many beauties, which would not exist without them; many peculiarities, which often afford a great insight into the language, to a judicious philologist. No one, who lias studied the peculiarities of the Provencal, the,LowGerman, or the Allemannic dialects, or the Neapolitan, with its many remnants of the Greek, would wish to put an end to their existence. Dialects resemble rebels against lawful authority, until the stamp of legitimacy is impressed upon them by a great man or great event. Italian was once the vulgar dialect; and, even now, to translate into Italian is called volgarizzare. It was corrupt Latin mixed with barbarous words derived from the idioms of the conquerors of the country, and was used at first only by the lower classes; it then became the general dialect of common life; and, at last, the giant mind of Dante dared to sing in the " vulgar dialect," and to stamp it as a legitimate language.* Portuguese was a corrupted dialect of Spanish, until Portugal separated from Spain, and dared to uphold its dialect as an independent language. In Germany, no o dialect has ever obtained entire ascendency. Much was once written in LowGerman, and the activity of the Hanseatie league, and the wide extent to which it was spoken, gave it much influence. Charles V, born at Ghent, spoke LowGerman ; but Luther's translation of the Bible, like Dante's Divina Commcdia, made HighGerman the literary language. Since that time, it has changed very much, and has acquired, in many respects, a developement of its own. It is a great mistake, common among foreigners, to consider Saxon as the Castilian or Tuscan dialect of Germany, because Luther was born in Saxony. On tfye contrary, the Saxon dialect is one of the most disagreeable to a German ear, and deviates much from the modern HighGerman. Only the fundamental characteristics of the language of UpperGermany have remained in HighGerman. In other respects, it has developed itself independently of any provincial dialect. In England, there are but two great dialects, English* It must be observed, that Neapolitan was written even before Tuscan; but Dante's greatness made the Tuscan at once the standard dialect.19* and Scotch: yet it has often been observtd that no country has more variations from the common literary language. Every county has its peculiarities, which are sometimes striking and difficult to be understood. On the other hand, there never has existed a country so vast, and a population so large as that of the U. States, with so little variety of dialect, which is owing to the quick and constant communication between the different parts of the country, and the roving spirit of the people, the great mass of whom, besides, derive their descent from the same stock.