Why are there "different languages" of the same language in certain countries?

I guess the most common example is UK English and US English. Only thing I can think of off the top of my head is they spell color like “colour”.

But UK English and US English is pretty much the same exact English in my experience besides a handful of words being spelled slightly differently. When it comes to languages like portugeese, is the difference more significant?

Can a regular portugeese speaking person read/write and speak Brazilian portugeese? OR are they a lot more different, and why is there a difference to begin with?

I’m not sure if this would apply to Chinese too, like mandorian and cantoneese.

“A language is a dialect with an army and navy.”

Mandarin and Cantonese are non-intelligible languages that happen to be in the same country. The differences are huge.

There isn’t a single answer for every language. Many of these are due to drift after geographical separation. Long distance communication via Internet and other media is relatively recent, and could potentially eliminate most variations, but that would take time.

Other languages (French) take pains to standardize the language, so that Walloons and Swiss French speakers can understand French people almost completely, beyond some minor differences in counting systems and such. Other languages like German and Italian have huge variation even in one country, and their classification as a single language is a modern interpretation based on a dominant dialect (e.g. Tuscan). The differences between Serbian, Croation, Bosnian, and Montenegrin are political, though two Croatian speakers from different parts of the same country may have more trouble understanding each other than one of them understands a Serbian. In other cases, like the Scandinavian countries, some people suggest that they’re variations of the same language (one theory, though it isn’t the dominant one).

US and UK English isn’t just different spellings of some words. Sometimes, like “petrol” vs. “gasoline”, or “lorry” vs. “truck”, the words are different, too. Sometimes there are even words that look familiar, like “pants”, which in British English means “underpants”: Some of those can be embarrassing, if you’re not careful. There are also grammatical differences, like the distinction in British English between someone being “in the hospital” and “in hospital”.

Chinese is a bit of a complicated example: There are 20-something different languages spoken in China, all mutually unintelligible (you might be able to make some guesses, like an English speaker will recognize some words of German or French, but they’re different languages). In writing, though, they’re all the same. And even written Japanese (or at least, one form of written Japanese-- There are three or four different systems used for Japanese writing) is fairly similar to written Chinese.

While true, there are some (relatively minor) differences in terms of vocabulary (like kruh being the term for “bread” in Croatian and hleb being the Serbian term). Also, Croatian likes to add a softening/eliding “j” in some words, like lijepa vs Serbian lepa “beautiful.” Months of the year are completely different in both languages, with Croatian using descriptive names, and Serbian using Latinate names. But I’d consider that a dialectical difference more than a language difference, but where does one draw the line, I suppose. Also, Serbian is often written in Cyrillic.

So it is somewhat like the difference between UK English and US English, but with the complicating factor that a completely different alphabet might be used.

It’s interesting even to see how different one person’s language can be, depending on who they’re talking to (or writing to) and why.

But to answer the question in the title basically takes just one word: Transportation.

Speed and ease of travel between countries - or should we say slowness and difficulty - is I think the difference you’re really after.

OK, two words: transportation and politics. There, that’s better. :slight_smile:

The written Chinese used in most of China is simplified, but not always in the same way that Kanji is simplified. And then Kanji has a “Chinese” reading (onyomi), which sounds often nothing like the Chinese reading.

Croatian months sure are poetic, aren’t they? They must’ve been over here to name March, I think I’ll start using “Lying Month.”

This map is cool: South Slavic dialects in the 16th century.

Polish does the same thing. Czech as well. (Also, Belarussian, Sorbian, and Ukrainian.) All the Slavic languages (I think) have descriptive names historically, but those languages above are the ones that still currently use them. I mentioned this in another thread, as it can be somewhat confusing, as the same name or root may correspond to different months in different languages (for example, listopad is November in Polish and Czech (and lystopad in Ukrainian), but October in Croatian.

FWIW, an old version of Ethnolog lists 101 languages spoken in China (not including 22 Austronesian languages spoken in Taiwan). Broken down by family, they are
36 Tibeto-Burman
22 Daic
11 Miao-Yao
8 Mon-Khmer
8 Chinese
7 Eastern Mongolian
3 Tungus
3 Turkic
1 Malayo-Polynesian (Hainan Cham)
1 Iranian (Sarikoli “Tajik”)
1 Deaf sign language

In contrast, 10 languages are shown for Spain:
6 Ibero-Romance (Asturian, Catalan, Galician, Mozarabic Spanish, Valencian)
2 Deaf sign language
1 Indo-Aryan (Romani)
1 Basque

And 10 for United Kingdom:
4 Celtic (Welsh, Cornish, Scots Gaelic, Manx)
3 West Germanic (English, Scots, Anglo-Romani)
2 Deaf sign language
1 Indo-Aryan (Welsh Romani)

And of course, both of those major types each have their own dialects, some of which may be nearly unintelligible to speakers of others. Then there are variants in other countries like Jamaican Creole, which is probably as distinct from standard English as Haitian Kreyol is from French. Kreyol is often regarded as a distinct language.

Is there a legitimate reason to argue that Kreyol isn’t a distinct language? I mean, I can imagine a person saying it’s just French with a lot of mistakes, but I can’t quite imagine that point of view being taken seriously. Maybe I’m just not very good at imagining. :slight_smile:

British and American English aren’t counted as separate languages, though. You seem to be under the impression that they are, but even though it’s not always easy to draw a line between a dialect and a language, with British and American English it’s pretty easy. There are far more differences than just a few spelling words but the degree of mutual intelligibility is extremely high.

Mutual intelligibility is one linguistic way of determining whether two ways of speaking are dialects or languages. Sometimes it’s pretty much in between, and if a language has been declared a separate language for political reasons then it will usually be treated as a separate language in at least some ways.

How come they missed out Irish? If they included two types of sign language then they must be including Irish Sign Language as well as British, so it seems odd to miss out the spoken Irish language.

I’ve always wondered how different languages in China can be all written the same way. Aren’t there grammar differences?

Ireland isn’t UK, that’s all.

One reason is that it’s normal in at least some Chinese languages to see the same written character and have it represent a different sound and meaning. But my knowledge is very limited and this is probably not the only reason.

Northern Ireland might have some Irish speakers, but the traditional Gaeltacht doesn’t include NI. Nearby Donegal is included, in the Republic.

Irish sign language is more intelligible with ASL than it is BSL.

I am aware of that. Northern Ireland, however, is part of the UK and Irish is included as an official minority language in the UK as a consequence. It doesn’t matter that there won’t be many Irish speakers in NI (though there are more than you think - there are Irish medium schools and it’s common to study Irish as a subject too); there will be even fewer speakers of Irish Sign Language there, and that was included. And Irish isn’t mutually intelligible with English, so it’s not that either. Weird.

Also, Chinese grammar is very streamlined and fluid compared to English - there’s proportionally more accomplished by contextual clues in Chinese grammar, and less dependence on written-in grammar features like suffixes and changing verb forms.

I don’t think that the same meaning would be written with the exact same characters in each of the different Chinese languages, but that it would not be particularly difficult for each kind of native speaker to understand what was trying to be “said” in a written passage. They’d have no way of knowing the other person’s way of pronouncing the characters, and would probably write the same thing in a slightly different way, but in terms of written languages they are pretty much dialects, whereas the spoken languages are definitely completely different languages.

Because Japanese leans heavily on kana to implement its grammar, and as all Chinese languages are entirely unrelated to Japanese, I doubt Chinese speakers are able to get the same sort of meaning out of written Japanese as they are out of other written Chinese dialects.

I don’t know how intelligible it is to someone who only speaks standard French. And I wouldn’t regard the differences as “mistakes,” but just grammatical differences from the parent language.

I think the main reason that Kreyol is generally accepted as a separate language, while Jamaican (and other Caribbean English) Creoles are not is that Kreyol has a standard written form. Jamaican Creole is simply regarded as a substandard form of English, and attempts to spell it phonetically (as Kreyol is) are sometimes considered to be mocking it.