I’m trying to understand World War One at the moment, and I just got to this, on page 484 of Sidney B. Fay’s (excellent) The Origins of the World War; the speaker is Nikola Pašić (then usually spelled Pashitch), prime minister of Serbia, reporting on a meeting with Nicholas II in February 1914 in which the tsar asked him about the ethnographic situation in the Balkans: “I also told him of the Slovenes, that they, too, were gravitating to the Serbo-Croats, and would adopt the Serbo-Croatian language, owing to the fact that their dialect is bad and that they have long lost their national independence.” (Emphasis added.) Nothing like an objective analysis!


  1. What would the third conjugation be? ‘They have a jargon’???

  2. Conversely, “a language is a dialect with an army and a fleet” – (c) Max Weinreich, apparently.

  3. Compare English and Scots, say I.
    ‘They have a jargon’???
    Hmmm. More likely a patois. Jargon is now more often understood in SOED’s sense 6 than in its sense 5:
    5 A barbarous or debased language or variety of speech; esp. a hybrid speech arising from a mixture of languages. Also (contempt.), a language one does not understand. M17.
    6 (A form of) speech or writing having many unfamiliar terms or restricted to a particular category of people or occupation. M17.

  4. Jacqueline Peters says

    Early this evening, I just had my Italian born neighbour, who is leaving on vacation to Italy, say how her and her husband speak Italian much better after they’ve been in Italy for a days, “we only speak a dialect usually, not the real language”.
    “A language is made up of dialects and dialects are what people really speak”
    Carol Myers-Scotton
    who also says that “we use dialect to refer to linguistic varities whose speakers can understand each other” sometimes and even then, only if they want to.
    Linguists rarely use *patois* anymore as it has such negative connotations, except in the case of Jamaican “Patwa”, but it is just a dialect really.
    The a “dialect is not a language” is my linguistic pet peeve.

  5. Linguists rarely use *patois* anymore as it has such negative connotations,…
    And that negativity is precisely why it serves well as the pejorative third term! That’s the way with these things.

  6. Oonu piipl cyaa seh dat Patwa nat wan real language. I

  7. Naa waa Maori-ba polinesia-ka, rikaa Patwa nat wan real language !!

  8. Ingeborg S. Nordén says

    “I speak a language; you speak a dialect; he speaks gibberish” would be my chosen conjugation: that sounds even more negative than “patois”, “pidgin”, or “jargon”.

  9. I just love the phrase “their dialect is bad”: it’s so laconic – so very Pašić-like. Speaking of what, the anecdote goes that Pašić didn’t like to talk much because his Serbian was rather poor (he was born just near the border with Bulgaria). Anyway, in the first draft of the Yugoslav Constitution of 1921 (the country was still named “Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes” then)- which was Pašić’s own “masterpiece” – stated that “the official language of the Kingdom shall be Serbo-Croatian, together with the Slovenian dialect in Slovenia”. Understandably, Slovenian MP’s protested vividly against such a provision and finally the majority of the Constitutional Assembly (that is, Pašić’s majority) accepted their protests by changing the article into “The official language of the Kingdom shall be Serbo-Croatian-Slovenian”. Now that’s called Serbian humour! Anyway, thanks God that in the Yugoslav Kingdom there wasn’t much of a respect towards laws (yet alone the Constitution!), so the hybrid language named in the provision was never actually inforced: de facto, Slovenian remained the official language in Slovenia throughout the unfortunate Yugoslav Monarchy.
    By the way: great blog!

  10. There has been much progress in Slavic philology since the days of Pašić. Compare the “Historical View of the Languages and Literature of the Slavic Nations” (from Project Gutenberg) which reflects a very 19th century approach, to a recent study (see http://www2.uni-klu.ac.at/eeo/index.php/Sprachenlexikon).

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