and, although slightly different from one another, as one crosses them all, from the westernmost to the easternmost of them (or vice-versa) , one will observe that they differ from one region to the next in such a way that neighboring dialects are mutually intelligible, but the farther apart the two regions, the more difficult the communication, to the point where speakers from opposite ends of the spectrum may no longer understand one another. Is there a word or phrase for this linguistic phenomenon?

  • There is a perfect biological analogy that maybe you could use as a metaphor or adapt somehow. Have a look at the Wiki on "ring species". I hope this helps. Jul 12, 2015 at 21:07
  • @chaslyfromUK Yes, looks like a biological counterpart. Thanks.
    – Centaurus
    Jul 12, 2015 at 21:30
  • Actually, this is the normal condition of human speech communities, though without the requirement that all be dialects of the same language, which is in practice impossible to determine precisely -- is Catalan a dialect of Spanish or not? Is Swiss German a dialect of German, or a separate language? And we won't even mention Bantu languages, which fade into one another. Jul 12, 2015 at 22:05

1 Answer 1



  • Within a language, there is usually a dialect continuum: speakers of Dialect A can understand and be understood by speakers of Dialect B, and C by B, and so on, but at the extremes of the continuum speakers of A and Z may be mutually unintelligible The A and Z communities may therefore feel justified in supposing or arguing that A and Z are different languages. If politics intervenes and the speakers of A and Z come to be citizens of different countries, the dialects may well be socially revalued as languages. The Oxford Companion to the English Language

A good example, covering an extensive area and ignoring political boundaries, would be:

  • A - Portuguese
  • B - Galego
  • C - Asturian
  • D - Castilian Spanish
  • E - Catalan
  • F - Provençal
  • G - Piedmontese
  • H - Italian

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In a smaller area comprising Sweden and Denmark, which in their standard form are mutually intelligible, there are several dialects:

  • A - Norrland
  • B - Finland Swedish
  • C - Svealand dialects
  • D - Gotland dialects
  • E - South Swedish dialects
  • F - Insular Danish
  • G - Jutlandic

A to E in Sweden and F/G in Denmark.

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  • Is Korean a dialect of Chinese, intercepted by political and historical boundaries? Jul 12, 2015 at 21:01
  • 1
    @BlessedGeek No, it's considered a "Language Isolate" with no relation to any other language, just like Basque and maybe Hungarian.
    – Centaurus
    Jul 12, 2015 at 21:06
  • 1
    Korean sinmun, Japanese Shimbun, Mandarin sinwen, Cantonese sunmun. English news. What isolate? Jul 12, 2015 at 21:15
  • @BlessedGeek en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_language
    – Centaurus
    Jul 12, 2015 at 21:24
  • @Centaurus: Hungarian is not an isolate; it's a Uralic language, meaning that it's related to Finnish, Estonian, and various others.
    – ruakh
    Jul 12, 2015 at 21:39

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