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A dialect continuum or dialect area was defined by Leonard Bloomfield as a range of dialects spoken across some geographical area that differ only slightly between neighboring areas, but as one travels in any direction, these differences accumulate in such a way that speakers from opposite ends of the continuum are no longer mutually intelligible. (This is analogous to a ring species in evolutionary biology.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref>) The lines that can be drawn between areas that differ with respect to any feature of language are called isoglosses.<ref>Bloomfield, Leonard (1935). Language, George Allen & Unwin: London, p. 51.</ref> According to the abstand and ausbau languages paradigm, these dialects can be considered abstand languages (i.e., as stand-alone languages by linguistic distance). However, they can be seen as dialects of a single language, provided that a common standard language exists through which communication is possible (a Dachsprache).

In sociolinguistics, a language continuum is said to exist when two or more different languages or dialects merge into each other without a definable boundary. This happens, for example, across large parts of India or the Maghreb. Historically, it also happened in various parts of Europe, for example in a line stretching from Portuguese to Walloon (in Belgium); from Portuguese to the southern Italian dialects; and between German and Dutch. Within the last 100 years or so, however, the increasing dominance of nation-states and their standard languages has been steadily eliminating the non-standard dialects of which these language continua were formed, making the boundaries ever more abrupt and well-defined.

In some cases, controversy often arises regarding the question of which particular dialect an individual is using – or even to which language a particular dialect belongs. To varying degrees, such cases involve sociolects and/or the distinctions are subjective rather than having any discernible basis in objective linguistics. They are generally found when two or more distinct ethnicities have long histories of shared linguistic development and geographic residence, but nevertheless regard themselves, and/or each other, as speaking different dialects or languages. This occurs as a result of divisions related to religion, political ideology, nationalism or regionalism, and/or other dimensions of historical identity. In such cases, the dialects concerned may have emerged, or re-emerged, as a result of splits in extinct or declining standard languages.

Examples of controversies include regions such as Kashmir, in which local Muslims usually regard their language as Urdu, while Hindus regard the same speech as Hindi. Similar complications arise across much of the former Yugoslavia, in which Bosniaks, Croats, Montenegrins and Serbs may appear to speak the very same dialect. Perhaps the prime example is the Shtokavian dialect,<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref> which is officially regarded by Croats as Croatian, Bosniaks as Bosnian, Montenegrins as Montenegrin, and Serbs as Serbian.


Dialect continuum sections
Intro  Middle East   Chinese    Germanic languages    Indic dialect continuum    Romance languages    Slavic languages    Cree and Ojibwa    See also    References   

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