NYSSB in Languages with Multiple Varieties
The New York State Seal of Biliteracy (NYSSB) is an award given by a high school, school district, or county office of education that formally recognizes students who have attained a high level of proficiency in two or more world languages (one of which must be English) by high school graduation. The NYSSB is awarded by the Commissioner to students who meet the criteria established by the Board of Regents and who attend schools that voluntarily agree to participate in the program. The NYSSB is affixed to the student’s high school diploma and transcript and must be made available to students at no cost. Students can earn the NYSSB in multiple world languages, by earning three points in each language from the approved criteria. In 2020-21, more than 80 students earned the NYSSB in English and two additional world languages and a handful of students earned the NYSSB in English and three additional world languages. This communication explains that students can also earn the NYSSB in multiple varieties of a language or language family.
From the perspective of linguistics, a language refers to a mutually intelligible cluster of expressive forms. A language may have different varieties, some of which may be intelligible, and others which may be intelligible in some modalities and unintelligible in other modalities. When a language variety is no longer intelligible to speaker of another variety, the language variety becomes associated with an alternative language (e.g., Latin evolved to contribute to the Romance languages, such as Italian, French, Spanish, Catalan, etc.). From a political perspective, in order to provide a sense of unity, mutually unintelligible expressive forms are sometimes placed under a single umbrella (e.g., Mandarin and Cantonese under the umbrella of Chinese).
The Chinese language varieties are generally classified into the following groups: Mandarin, Wu, Min, Xiang, Gan, and Yue. While the written form of these languages may be very intelligible to most speakers of any of the varieties, the spoken forms are not mutually intelligible. That is, a speaker of Mandarin may reasonably be expected to understand the writing of a speaker of another variety of Chinese, but it would not be reasonable to expect such speakers to be able to have a mutually intelligible oral conversation because of the differences in the spoken forms of the two varieties. Because of this mutual unintelligibility in at least one mode of communication among such language varieties, it is possible for students to earn the NYSSB in English and multiple language varieties. In this example, a student may earn the NYSSB in English and one or more varieties of Chinese by earning three points in each from the approved criteria.