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Dialect continuum

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A dialect continuum is a range of dialects spoken across a large geographical area, differing only slightly between areas that are geographically close, and gradually decreasing in mutual intelligibility as the distances become greater. Dialects separated by great geographical distances may not be mutually comprehensible. According to the Ausbausprache - Abstandsprache - Dachsprache paradigm, these dialects can be considered Abstandsprachen (i.e., as stand-alone languages). However, they can be seen as dialects of a single language, provided that a common standard language, through which communication is possible, exists. Such a situation is called Diglossia.

The Romance languages of Portugal, Spain, France and Italy are often cited as the canonical example of this, although in recent times the intermediate dialects have been moving toward extinction.

The many dialects making up German, Dutch, and Afrikaans are another example. They form a single dialect continuum, with three recognized literary standards. Although Dutch and German are not readily mutually intelligible, there are numerous transitional dialects that are.

The case of Chinese is an interesting one. The spoken variants of Chinese are highly divergent, forming a continuum comparable to that of the Romance languages. However, all the variants share a common written language.

A similar situation takes place between a creole language which lacks prestige, and its more prestigious relative. The relationship between Gullah and African American Vernacular English on the one hand, and standard American English on the other, is a good example of this. Some speakers can glide throughout the continuum depending on the subject and the context.

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