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DIALECT A general and technical term for a form of a LANGUAGE: a southern French dialect; the Yorkshire dialect; the dialects of the United States; Their teacher didn't let them speak dialect at school, but they spoke it at home; It's a dialect word—only the older people use it. Although the term usually refers to regional speech, it can be extended to cover differences according to class and occupation; such terms as regional dialect, social dialect, class dialect, occupational dialect, urban dialect, and rural dialect are all used by linguists. In addition, the extracted element LECT has become a term for any kind of distinct language variety spoken by an individual or group, with such derivatives as ACROLECT (a high or prestigious VARIETY), BASILECT (a low or socially stigmatized variety), MESOLECT (a lect in a socially intermediate position between these two). [see also EYE DIALECT.]

Dialect, language, standard

Most languages have dialects, each with a distinctive ACCENT, GRAMMAR, VOCABULARY, and IDIOM. Traditionally, however, dialects have been regarded as socially lower than a ‘proper’ form of the language (often represented as the language itself), such as the King's or Queen's English in Britain, and le bon français in France, or in general terms the standard language. Such a variety also has regional roots, but because it developed into the official and educated usage of a capital like London or Paris, it tends to be seen as non-regional, often as supra-regional, and therefore not a dialect as such. Certain processes create a social and linguistic distance between this variety and the dialects of a language: degrees of standardization in accent, grammar, orthography, and typography; its aggrandizement through the development of a literary canon and use as the medium of education and literacy; and social empowerment through its use by the governing, cultural, and scholarly élite. Many users of a STANDARD variety have tended to look down on dialect speakers as more or less ‘illiterate’ and teachers have often sought to impose the standard throughout a country and eliminate or greatly reduce all other ‘deviant’, ‘low’, or ‘vulgar’ forms, with the occasional exception of some limited ‘good’ dialect. Such dialect is usually rural, seen as part of a romantic folk tradition or the vehicle of a favoured but unconventional writer (usually a poet, such as Robert Burns in Scotland). As a result of such factors, there is a long-standing tension among such words as dialect, standard, and language.

A dialect continuum

During the 19–20c there has been considerable study of dialects in their own right and in relation to the standard variety of a language. As a result of this study, philologists and dialectologists generally regard a dialect as a historical subtype of a language and a language as the aggregate of the features of its dialects. 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 (as with Spanish and Portuguese, or Swedish and Danish), the dialects may well be socially revalued as ‘languages’ (in due course with their own dialects and standard variety). Despite their differences, dialects have more shared than differing features, and those in which they agree (phonological, syntactic, lexical, idiomatic, etc.) serve as the defining core of a language, while the clusters of differences serve as the defining cores of the various dialects. Thus, a language X that has dialects A, B, C, D, E, may have 15 features, 12 of which are shared by A, B, C, 10 by B, C, D, 11 by B, D, E, and so forth. Perhaps only 8 features are common to all five. If they are, they form the core or common features of X, to which may be added additional features acquired through the conventions necessary for a standard language.

The evolution of dialects

Using a biological analogy, dialects can be described as the result of evolutionary speciation. The tendency of all languages to change in one detail or another and so develop dialects is restrained only by the need of communication between speakers, and so preserve a common core. Written forms, accompanied by the inculcation of a standard by the social and educational élites of a nation or group of nations, slow the process of change but cannot prevent it. Dialects are in fact often less changeable than the standard; their speakers tend to live in stable communities and to conserve forms of the language which are ‘older’ in terms of the development of the standard. Such a standard, however, is in origin also a dialect, and in the view of some linguists can and should be called the standard dialect (although for many this phrase is a contradiction in terms). Dialects prevail regionally while the standard is the usage of the nation at large, or at least of its most prominent and dominant representatives. As a consequence, many native speakers of a dialect may learn the standard as a secondary variety of their own language.

The distribution of dialects

Geographically, dialects are the result of settlement history. Dialect development can be understood to some extent in relation to topography: where populations can communicate easily, dialectal differences develop more slowly than where they lose immediate (or all) contact. An effective method of studying such matters is the science of LINGUISTIC GEOGRAPHY. Individual features (sounds, words, grammatical forms, etc.) can be displayed on maps showing where one or another feature prevails in use and where competing forms are found. Lines on a dialect map outline the area within which any form is regularly used. Alternatively, the differing features may be shown on maps with dots or other symbols, giving a visual dimension to the data. Certain features of dialect can also be seen in relation to social factors not necessarily connected with geography. The type of language one speaks (a social dialect or SOCIOLECT) depends on community, family background, occupation, degree of education, and the like. Where a standard form has become established, the tendency is to consider it ‘right’ and to denigrate other varieties, whose only fault may be that they are out of style in the mainstream of a language. Distinctive dialects are most fully preserved in isolated areas (along sea coasts, on islands, in mountain areas) where they are little influenced by outsiders and the population is relatively self-sustaining. The dialects of large cities, however, run the social gamut of the language, with outside features being brought in and new features being created more or less continuously. In terms of the distribution of the English Language worldwide, the traditional use of the term dialect works well with regard to the British Isles and North America, but not nearly so well for Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and not at all well in the Caribbean, West and East Africa, and Asia. The following dialect entries are restricted therefore to England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the United States, and Canada.

Dialect in England

In its primordial form on the European mainland and in its early stages in Britain (5–7c), English was a continuum of dialects whose traces survive only in texts. Present-day terms do not serve well in discussing the period: ‘English’ and ‘German’ now have different meanings and ‘language’ and ‘dialect’ inadequately describe the condition of Germanic speech when the Roman Empire was in decline. Until c.600, apparently all the tribes could understand each other: for example, on their way to convert the English in 597, the missionary Augustine and his companions engaged Frankish interpreters to help them. However, polarization was already taking place between the continental and insular Germans. The settlers in Britain developed their own usages and those on the mainland were absorbed into other spheres of linguistic growth: the Angles into Danish, the Saxons into Low German.

The Angelcynn

Around 730, the historian Bede called the invaders Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, but other evidence indicates that they also included Frisians and probably Franks. Once established, they called themselves the Angelcynn (‘Anglekin’), with Englisc as their common speech. The Angles settled in the MIDLANDS and along the east coast, from somewhere north of the Thames to the Forth. The Anglian or Anglic dialects were Mercian, associated with the kingdom of Mercia and spoken from the Thames to the Humber, and Northumbrian, associated with the kingdom of Northumbria, and spoken from the Humber to the Forth. The Jutes settled in and near Kent, but the dialect for the region is known as Kentish, not Jutish. The Saxons settled around the Thames, the south, and the south-west: East Saxons in Essex, Middle Saxons in Middlesex, South Saxons in Sussex, and West Saxons in Wessex. Each group had its own usages, but West Saxon, the dialect of Wessex, became dominant and for a time served as the literary language. The early dialects continued into the period of Middle English, many having undergone considerable change under the impact of the Danish settlements of the 8–9c.

Middle English dialects

By the 11c, the division of the island into the three domains of England, Scotland, and Wales had taken place and from that time forward the language developed with a border between the dialects of England and Scotland. The dialects of Middle English are generally classified as: Northern, both south and north of the border, the northern branch developing into Scots; West Midland, extending to the Welsh marches; East Midland, including EAST ANGLIA and the LONDON area; Southern, extending west to Celtic Cornwall; Kentish, stopping short of the Isle of Wight. The social and literary standard form of English which slowly emerged after the Norman Conquest in 1066 was based not on the Southern but the East Midland dialect, with an increasing Scandinavian overlay.

Dialects and standard

With the introduction by Caxton of the printing press in London in 1476 a great boost was given to the speech of the capital. As the standard language evolved, writing in the other dialects of England rapidly came to an end. Regional speech, increasingly commented on as harsh and difficult to understand, came to be seen as the language of the lower classes; the 16c diarist John Aubrey, for example, pointed out that Sir Walter Raleigh rather surprisingly remained all his life a speaker of Devon dialect. Despite the powerful influence of print and the prestige of London, however, letters, manuscripts, public comment, and representations of dialect in novels all show that local speech continued among the lesser gentry and the upper middle classes until well into the 18c, and among industrialists, politicians, and other public figures from lower middle-class and working-class backgrounds until the present day.

Literary dialect and dialectology

Dialect was used by Shakespeare and others to depict various provincial and rustic characters, and a distinctive form of south-western speech began to develop as a stage country-bumpkin dialect: see MUMMERSET. From the 18c onward, novelists have sought to represent dialect, especially in conversation; exponents of dialect writing in England include George Eliot in Adam Bede (1859) and Thomas Hardy in the Wessex novels. See DIALOG(UE). Interest by scholars in the varieties of English grew at the beginning of the 17c and an early mention by Alexander Gil in his Polychronicon (1619) began a tradition of examining and comparing dialect forms against standard English. Although scholars realized that there was a historical development behind the forms of their speech, dialect speakers became increasingly identified as lower class. Throughout the 17–18c, interest in both standard and dialect varieties of English continued to grow. Many clergymen recorded the grammar and vocabulary of their parishioners, and a number of word lists and monographs of various kinds, often linked to descriptions of local industrial processes, began to appear. The English Dialect Society often published these as part of its work towards an English dialect dictionary.

The present day

Currently, there is a widespread belief that local dialect is dying out and to a certain extent this is true of vocabulary, but strong local pronunciation continues to be heard, in London as well as in the regions, and from the 1970s began to be used increasingly widely on radio and television: for example, in such dramatic series as Coronation Street (Manchester), Crossroads (BIRMINGHAM), Auf Wiedersehen Pet (Newcastle), Bread (Liverpool), and EastEnders (London). In such large cities robust local forms of pronunciation and grammar, with their own social varieties within an area, show little sign of diminishment. These forms continue to change and develop over generations; pronunciations show the sporadic influence of RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION (a southern middle- and upper-class accent often described as the standard accent of England) but with considerable modification: for example, in Newcastle the traditionally developed /stiən/ and /stjen/ for stone, from a Middle English unrounded form /staɪn/, can be heard alongside a loaned /støːn/ and /stʊn/, developed from the more southerly Middle English /stoːn/.


Dialect in Scotland

The dialects of SCOTS fall into four main regional groups: (1) Those of the Northern Isles: see ORKNEY AND SHETLAND DIALECTS. (2) Northern Scots, from Caithness to Aberdeenshire and Angus. (3) Southern Scots, the Border districts of Roxburgh and Annandale, and Eskdale. (4) Central Scots, much of the rest of the Scots-speaking area, including the working-class dialects of EDINBURGH, GLASGOW, and other urban areas of Central Scotland. The working-class urban dialects are identified by both socially and regionally delimited features: see GUTTER SCOTS. The regional markers of the mainland dialects include:


(1) The Northern use since the 15c of f- where other dialects have wh-, as in Fa fuppit the fyte fulpie? Who whipped the white whelp? (2) The different outcomes of the old front, rounded vowel ui /øɪ/ in such words as guid (good), scuil (school), muin (moon), uise (use: noun and verb), puir (poor), shui (shoe). In Angus and the Mearns in Northern Scots and in Southern Scots this pronunciation persists. In the rest of Northern, however, the original vowel has since the 16c been unrounded to ee /i/: meen moon, eese use (noun), eeze use (verb), shee shoe. In the Grampian Region, however, after g- and k- the outcome is -wee-, with gweed good, and skweel school, but geed and skeel further north. In much of the Central dialect, the results of a different and more recent unrounding are conditioned by the Scottish Vowel-Length Rule. In these dialects. SVLR long environments yield ai /e/: pair poor, shae shoe, yaize use (verb), but in SVLR short environments the outcome is an i-like vowel /I/: min moon, bit boot, gid good, yis use (noun). (3) South-Eastern and Southern dialects have twae, whae, away, whare, waken, waiter for Western and Northern twaw/twaa, whaw/whaa/faa, awa/awaa, whaur/whaar/faar, wauken/waaken, wauter/waater (two, who, away, where, waken, water) on either side of a swathe of country from Musselburgh on the Firth of Forth to Gatehouse-of-Fleet on the Solway Firth.


The grammar of the dialects of the far north and far south is more archaic, in retaining the old opposition between the present participle and the verbal noun in He's aye gutteran aboot (participle, with -an) and He's fond o gutterin aboot (verbal noun, with -in or -een) and, though now almost obsolete, except in Orkney and Shetland, traces of the pronoun system with thou/thee/thy as well as ye/you/your. The use of on-, ohn- /on/ as a negative with participles is now confined to the North-East (Grampian Region): to haud her ohn kent at she had tint it (to keep her ‘not known’/ignorant that she had lost it); Fa could be on lauch'n at that? (Who could keep from laughing at that?).


Of the innumerable local items of vocabulary in the mainland dialects, some result from the influence of Scandinavian in Caithness, such as aikle a molar tooth, gilt a large haystack, roog a peat store, scorrie a young seagull, scroo a stack. For the much larger number surviving in the dialects of the Northern Isles, see ORKNEY AND SHETLAND DIALECTS. Caithness also displays local Gaelic influence with ask a chain for tethering cattle, brotag a caterpillar, buckie-faulie a rose-hip, primrose, cairie a breed of sheep, coachie soft, spongy, cown to weep, crellag a bluebottle, cyowtach smart in appearance, and many others. Similar, but individually different, lists of Gaelic-derived words can be cited for other parts of the North, for the North-East, for Kintyre, and for the South-West, especially Galloway. Other variations result from the locally patchy effects of obsolescence and innovation, as with the words for ‘soapy lather’, for which the older graith is widely distributed in mainland Scotland, except the West (around Glasgow) and the South-West, where since the 18c it has been superseded by the newer sapples. The dialects also display numerous, seemingly random or inexplicable, variations in words for everyday notions, like such synonyms for mud around the country as dubs, gutters, glabber, clabber, glaur.

Dialect literature

Written representations of local forms of Scots began appearing in the late 17c in distinctive adaptations of the traditional ‘mainstream’ orthography of Scots. The North-East in particular established its own regional standard in the 18c, and this has provided many works of note, such as William Alexander's novel Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk (1871), the dialogue of which is in a subtly modulated rendering of Aberdeenshire Scots, and today in the poetry of Flora Garry and the descriptive prose of David Ogston. See DORIC HIGHLAND ENGLISH, SCOTTISH ENGLISH, ULSTER SCOTS.

Dialect in Wales

Dialect differences in the WELSH language are to a large extent limited to variation in accents, the vocabulary having been standardized by literature, education, and the media. Dialects of English in Wales are as diverse as elsewhere in Britain. They vary in terms of pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary, but can be broadly categorized as: (1) The English of people who are bilingual, Welsh/English, and whose English is strongly influenced by Welsh. (2) Dialects of English similar to those in neighbouring countries of England, and often sharing features, especially at the syntactic level, with other working-class BrE dialects. (3) Standard English with a Welsh accent. (4) Standard English with an RP accent. See WELSH ENGLISH.

Dialect in Ireland

Because of the spread of education and the influence of the media, it is becoming increasingly difficult to subdivide the continuum of English found in Ireland. However, three main regional and several urban dialects can be distinguished. They are all rhotic, with a retroflex r, and share phonological features with AmE. The regional dialects are: (1) Anglo-Irish, used by the descendants of English settlers and found throughout the country with the exception of the most northerly counties. (2) ULSTER SCOTS, in the northernmost counties, the speech of the descendants of 17c Protestant Scots settlers. (3) Hiberno-Irish, spoken by usually Catholic people whose ancestral tongue was Gaelic. In any region, HIBERNO-ENGLISH approximates to the dominant dialect, whether ANGLO-IRISH or Ulster Scots but, in the Gaeltacht and in less educated, rural usage, it displays a strong Gaelic substrate. Ireland has fewer urban dwellers than most Western European countries, but each city, including Armagh, BELFAST, Cork, Derry, Donegal, DUBLIN, Galway, and Limerick, has its own forms and sphere of linguistic influence.

Dialect in the United States

Americans tend to think that varieties of English are more determined by region than by any other factor that shapes usage, such as age, ethnicity, gender, and social class. Scholars who have investigated the matter have been influenced by the theory of dialect geography formulated in the 19c by A. J. Ellis for England, by Jules Gilliéron and Edmond Edmont for France, and by Georg Wenker for Germany. As a result, investigations have presumed the idea of long-settled and stable regions, an idea appropriate for Europe but less apt to the more recent and fluid settlement patterns of the US. Even so, AmE dialects are conventionally treated under four broad geographical headings: North, Coastal South, Midland, and West.

The North

The Northern dialect, stretching from NEW ENGLAND and NEW YORK westward to Oregon and Washington, was shaped by migration from the 17c colonial settlements in Boston and New York. While the population of the region was greatly enlarged by waves of migration (in the 1850s from northern Europe, especially Scandinavia and Germany, in the 1890s from eastern and southern Europe, and in the 1930s from the American South), the northern metropolitan areas are relatively uniform (Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Minneapolis). Both BOSTON and New York English have changed in ways not followed in their daughter cities to the west; despite their internal diversity, however, both Boston and New York remain distinctly Northern.

Northern pronunciation.

(1) The most noticeable difference within the region is that New York and New England east of the Connecticut River are non-rhotic areas, while the western portion of the North is rhotic. Linking r, common in many non-rhotic dialects of English, occurs in New England in expressions like the idea/r of it. (2) The Northern dialect lags behind Midland and Western varieties in the vowel merger that makes homophones of cot and caught: in New England, where the merger is beginning to occur, speakers select the first vowel; in the Midland and West, the second vowel is used for both. (3) Grease tends to rhyme with lease in the North and West, rhyming with freeze elsewhere. (4) In Northern speech, matter and madder are often near-homophones.

Northern grammar.

(1) A distinctive syntactic feature is all the + an adjective in the comparative degree: That's all the farther I could go (That's as far as I could go). (2) Dove as the past tense of dive is apparently a North American invention by analogy with drive/drove and weave/wove. Widely attested in Northern and in CanE, dove is holding its own in its historic territory and spreading in AmE. (3) Had ought and hadn't ought, while more common in less formal contexts, are Northernisms for ought and ought not, though the usage has spread elsewhere: ‘If you don't like people, you hadn't ought to be in politics at all’ ( Harry S. Truman). (4) The Northern term cellar (basement) appears in a characteristic prepositional phrase down cellar: Won't you go down cellar and get some potatoes?

Northern vocabulary

Lexical usage provides the clearest evidence of the unity of the Northern region. In comparison to other varieties of AmE, Northern does not show many survivals of words or senses that have become archaic in BrE. The following terms are known elsewhere in the US and some are used for nationally distributed products, but they form a cluster that defines the Northern region: American fries boiled potatoes sliced and then fried in a pan, bismark/danish sweet pastry, bitch to complain, bloodsucker a leech, cabbage salad coleslaw, comforter a heavy quilt, cowboy a reckless driver, grackle a kind of blackbird, ice-cream social a gathering of people for refreshments, often to raise money for a worthy cause, nightcrawler a large earthworm, pitch the resin of coniferous trees, sub(marine) a sandwich prepared on a long roll, containing meat, cheese, and other ingredients, sweet corn maize grown for human consumption, teeter-totter a see-saw. Other languages have contributed to the Northern wordstock: babushka a head scarf (Polish and Russian), cruller a small fried sweet cake (Dutch), frankfurter/forter, frankfurt/fort, frank a cooked sausage, hot dog (German), quahog a thick-shelled edible clam (Narraganset), schnozzle nose (from Yiddish).

The Coastal South

Historically, the Coastal Southern dialect centres on the Atlantic port cities of the states of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, blending westward along the Gulf Coast into TEXAS. These areas are distinct both from the North and from their own hinterlands, whose dialect has conventionally been labelled South Midland. Coastal Southern was formed in a time of plantation and ranch agriculture, an economy that required large-scale operations, while the generally hillier interior regions were typified by villages and farms often close to the subsistence level. Plantation agriculture required an extensive labour force to grow rice, tobacco, and cotton, three early cash crops in America, and large numbers of Africans were enslaved to tend them. While the extent of African influence on Southern AmE remains a subject for debate, it is generally agreed that African influences remain in Gullah, a creole spoken on the offshore islands of South Carolina and Georgia. See AFRICAN-AMERICAN VERNACULAR ENGLISH, APPALACHIAN ENGLISH, CAJUN, GULLAH, NEW ORLEANS, SOUTHERN ENGLISH, SPANISH.

Southern pronunciation.

(1) Coastal Southern is non-rhotic. While non-rhotic Northerners employ a vowel in place of historic r (in New England, seaboard New York, and New Jersey north of Philadelphia), many Southerners use the previous vowel alone, making door rhyme with doe and torn with tone. Linking r is rare. (2) The same tendency for diphthongs to become monophthongs is a related Southern feature, so that hide is a near rhyme of both hod and non-rhotic hard. On the other hand, Southern and Midland AmE add a vowel not used elsewhere in words like loft which results in a near rhyme with lout. (3) Some word-internal consonant clusters can be captured by such spellings as bidness (business) and Babtist (Baptist). (4) Merger of vowels in pin and pen, since and cents (to the vowel of the first in each pair) is a Southern feature that is spreading elsewhere.

Southern grammar.

(1) A feature of the region is all the + adjective in the positive degree: That's all the fast I can run (That's as fast as I can run). (2) Though more common in Black than White speech (and more common among men and the young), the use of invariant be is especially Southern: She be here tomorrow; I be pretty busy; That land don't be sandy. (3) Coastal Southern and Upper South are typified by double modals: She might can do it; Could you may go? (4) These areas also share a tolerance for ain't in informal contexts, though ain't is the universal shibboleth in AmE and especially stigmatized in the North. In the Coastal and Upper South, degrees of stigma attach to ain't increasingly from the set phrase ain't I?, to its use for are not (They ain't here), to its use for have not (You ain't told us yet).

Southern vocabulary.

The complex settlement history of the South is evident in cultural and linguistic differences between the coastal plains and the hill country. Much of the distinctive coastal vocabulary consists of expressions that have become archaic in other varieties of English: all-overs feelings of uneasiness, antigoglin askew, slantwise, (ap)preciate it thank you, bank a storage heap of potatoes, other vegetables, or coal, branch a brook, stream, carry escort, firedogs andirons, gullywasher a violent rainstorm, hand a farm worker, hull the shell of a nut, kinfolk relatives, lick a sharp blow, Scat! Gesundheit! Bless you!, slouch a lazy or incompetent person, squinch to squint. Other languages have contributed to Southern: hominy hulled kernels of corn/maize, terrapin a turtle (the Amerindian languages of Virginia and used more in the South than elsewhere); cooter a turtle, gumbo soup thickened with okra pods (the languages of West African slaves); armoire wardrobe, bayou small creek or river, jambalaya a stew made with rice and various meats, lagniappe a small gift given by a merchant to a customer (the French of Louisiana). Farther west, there is Spanish influence: arroyo a brook or creek, llano an open, grassy plain, riata lariat, lasso, vaquero cowboy.

The Midland

Between Northern and Coastal Southern is a region that has been subject to much dispute. Some scholars have treated it as a unified area divided into North and South Midland; others emphasize its affiliation with its neighbours and describe it as Lower North and Upper South. The term Midland emphasizes the settlement pattern that flowed from Philadelphia in two directions: one, westward through Pennsylvania into Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois; the other, south-west into the hill country of Kentucky, Tennessee, the interior of the Southern coastal states, Missouri, and Arkansas. The south-western direction of migration brought settlers into contact with the transportation routes northward from New Orleans along the Mississippi, Arkansas, and Ohio rivers, and these contacts left enduring traces on the dialect.

Midland pronunciation.

(1) In common with other AmE dialects west of the Atlantic coast, Midland is rhotic. (2) Philadelphia, the only rhotic city on the Atlantic seaboard, is the focal area for Midland, and its dialect has traditionally influenced the hinterland, including Pittsburgh, Columbus, Indianapolis, Springfield, and St Louis. Thus, the boundary between the now obsolescent Northern pronunciation of creek (rhyming with trick) meets the Midland creek (rhyming with seek) along an east-west line running parallel to the Pennsylvania migration routes. (3) The merger of vowels in tot and taught begins in a narrow band in central Pennsylvania and spreads north and south to influence the West, where the merger is universal. (4) In the Ohio River valley westward to Missouri, the vowel of itch makes a near rhyme with each, so that fish and television have the sound of the vowel in meek. (5) Another Midland vowel is found in bit and hill, with a diphthong resembling the non-rhotic pronunciation of beer. That pronunciation is beginning to spread among younger speakers in the inland North.

Midland grammar.

(1) Though increasingly archaic, a- prefixation to verbs ending in -ing is a well-known Midland feature: She went a-visiting yesterday; They were a-coming across the bridge. (2) The use of anymore in the sense of ‘nowadays’ (and without the requirement of a prior negative) is spreading to other regions from a Midland base: My aunt makes hats all the time anymore; We use a gas stove anymore. (3) Regions of the Midland influenced by the German settlements of east-central Pennsylvania employ all to refer to a supply of food or drink that has run out: The pot roast is all (elsewhere all gone).

Midland vocabulary.

(1) Distinctive terms for this region include: blinds roller window shade, fishing worm earthworm, mango sweet or bell pepper, woolly worm a caterpillar. (2) As with the other regions, some formerly limited usages have come into more general use: bucket pail, hull to remove the outer covering of a bean, off as in I want off at the next bus stop. (3) The isolation of the southern part of the Midland area, its poor soil and chronic poverty, made it inhospitable to further migrants after initial settlement by Scots-Irish and Germans. Hence, few influences from other languages are apparent in the vocabulary, which is typified by relic forms and archaisms no longer found elsewhere in AmE: for example, brickle brittle, donsie sickly, poke sack, bag, redd to tidy up (all from Scots).

The West

The West was first settled by English speakers after the gold rush of the 1850s. Southern migration along the Butterfield Stage Route brought settlers from Missouri and Arkansas through central Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, to California; the Santa Fe trail also originated in Missouri and reached southern California by a somewhat more northerly route. Northern trails and subsequently the railroad took settlers into the central valley of California and San Francisco through Nebraska, Wyoming, and Utah. The Oregon Trail and its successor railroad connected the northern tier of states to the Pacific Northwest. For historically minded dialectologists, initial investigations of the Western dialect region dwelt on the continuity of migration westward on the presumption that Northerners preferred the northern Pacific coast while Southerners were mainly attracted to the more salubrious climate in southern California. Thus, it was no surprise that such studies emphasized continuity: for example, curtains (roller window shades), a Northern term, appears more commonly from San Francisco northward; arroyo can be traced from Texas westward to Los Angeles, but does not extend north to San Francisco. What is missed by this approach is the fact that the West became a source of linguistic innovation spreading back to the longer-settled dialect regions. While it may have been a ‘mixed’ region in the past, California and the Pacific Northwest are now coming to be seen as a coherent dialect region in their own right.

Western pronunciation.

In some respects, the West brings to completion processes begun elsewhere. The merger of the vowels of Don and Dawn, noted above, is virtually universal in the West, and its influence is spreading eastward. The vowel in such words as measure and fresh (which has the value of bet in much of the East) is increasingly given the sound of bait, so that edge and age have come to resemble each other. Though Westerners distinguish seal from sill, Easterners hear these as nearly identical (with the vowel of sill in both); as a result, outsiders regard the Western pronunciation of really as identical to their own pronunciation of rilly.

Western grammar.

The fact that Western is the least intensively studied of AmE dialects may contribute to the lack of evidence for a distinctive grammar of the region. Subgroups within the region employ marked syntax: We all the time used to go outside (Hispanic-influenced English, East Los Angeles); I been tripping for three weeks (1960s San Francisco drug usage); Moray eel you can spear it (HAWAIIAN ENGLISH); Do you have any bets on? (Las Vegas gambling talk); Pete's wooding those trucks down (logger usage, Pacific Northwest); Here we shopping and went through the town to see things and places (Apachean English of the Great Plains); Like, no biggie (San Fernando Valley teenage talk). All these examples suggest that grammatical variation in Western (as in other varieties of AmE) would profit from further study.

Western vocabulary.

Some common Western terms are uncommon elsewhere except in reference to Western language or culture: bar pit a ditch by the side of an ungraded road, bush pilot a daring pilot of light aircraft used to reach remote Alaskan areas, canyon a steep-sided, narrow valley, gunny sack a burlap bag, lug a field crate for fruit and vegetables, parking (strip) a band of grass between sidewalk and curb on a city street, sourdough bread bread started with a piece of fermented dough.

The most important foreign-language influence on Western is Mexican Spanish. Many borrowings are used mainly in southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico, but some are more widely known: adios goodbye, adobe sun-dried brick, bronco wild, mean, rough (from a wild or partly broken horse), embarcadero wharf, hombre guy, fellow, Santa Ana a seasonal hot, dry wind in southern California. Various terms for Mexican cookery were introduced into English elsewhere but are regarded as typical of the region and have widespread currency there: carne seco chipped beef, frijoles beans, langosta crayfish or spiny lobster, tortilla thin, round, unleavened bread. Other languages have contributed words to Western that have come to be known outside the region: aloha a greeting or farewell, lei a garland of flowers (Hawaiian); chinook a warm winter wind, Sasquatch (also called ‘Bigfoot’) a legendary hominid animal (Amerindian languages of the Pacific Northwest); dim sum meat-filled dumpling, kung fu a martial art (Chinese); honcho a strong leader, boss, Nisei a person of Japanese descent born or educated in the US (Japanese). See CHICANO ENGLISH.

Influences on US dialects

The usage of all Americans, regardless of dialect, is influenced by social networks that include gender, age and peer group, social class, ethnic background, occupations, and recreations. Some distinctive varieties have gained national prominence, such as JEWISH ENGLISH through its use by entertainers and others. People who are not Jewish are likely to have at least a passive knowledge of it and a sprinkling of such loanwords as chutzpah, schmaltzy, schmooze. Other varieties present stereotypes, such as Country-Western, originating in the Appalachian and Ozark regions of the Upper South, which has become well known in the 20c through country-and-western music, associated movies, and radio communication among airline pilots, truck drivers, and others who imitate them. Hispanic English has been increasingly disseminated through popular culture and the media, though outsiders may not appreciate that many who speak it have little or no competence in Spanish. Refined Southern speech has been made internationally familiar in the models presented by films and plays, and a Texas style has become popular through Western films and the TV soap opera Dallas. AFRICAN-AMERICAN VERNACULAR ENGLISH has long created social solidarity among African-Americans and has been rendered (sometimes abusively) in popular entertainment. Such varieties, having national prominence, are available for imitation in dialect and ethnic jokes with enough shibboleths to identify the target group.

Other communities, though less widely known, exert similarly powerful constraints on their members and neighbours, for example the Finnish-flavoured English of northern Michigan; the German-influenced English spoken by the Amish and Mennonite communities of central Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana; Native American or INDIAN ENGLISH, especially in Arizona and New Mexico; the Polish English of north-eastern industrial cities like Buffalo and Detroit; the Cajun English of Louisiana, with its French and Caribbean-creole traces. Even a single community can develop a distinctive linguistic identity: between 1880 and 1920, Boonville, a small town in northern California, developed a thoroughgoing transformation of English known as Boontling, a lingo that made members of the community at once unintelligible to outsiders when they so wished and conscious of the importance of being Boonters.

Dialect in Canada

In the traditional view, the English of Canada has four major regional dialects: Atlantic covering the MARITIME PROVINCES (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) and the island of NEWFOUNDLAND as a distinctive sub-area; QUEBEC, with Montreal and the Eastern Townships as focal areas: the OTTAWA VALLEY, adjacent to the federal capital, Ottawa; and General Canadian, from Toronto westward to the Pacific. More recent scholarship, however, regards ‘General Canadian’ as a class-based urban dialect of broadcasting and educated speech, and closer scrutiny invites a description of regional differences that mark the West (British Columbia), the Arctic North (the Yukon, Northwest Territories, northern Quebec, and Labrador), the Prairies (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba), and SOUTHERN ONTARIO. Variations from region to region include distinctive local words, many of which relate to local conditions and occupations: for example, in the West boomsticks 66-feet-long logs connected by boom chains to contain floating logs to be towed to a mill; in the Prairies Calgary redeye beer with tomato juice added, stampede a rodeo, oil borer (in contrast to oil driller in eastern CANADIAN ENGLISH and in AmE); in southern Ontario, reeve the principal officer of a township; Ottawa Valley snye a side channel, especially one bypassing rapids (from French chenail); Quebec whisky blanc a colourless alcoholic drink (compare AmE white lightning); and Newfoundland, outport a coastal settlement other than the capital St John's. Many distinctive words have been borrowed from indigenous regional languages, such as: (1) The West. Loans from local Amerindian languages in the Lower Mainland area of British Columbia (the city of Vancouver and its hinterlands) are virtually unknown elsewhere in Canada or in the US: for example, cowichan a vividly patterned sweater, kokanee land-locked salmon, saltchuck ocean, skookum big, strong, tyee chief, boss. (2) The Arctic North. Loanwords from Inuktitut: for example, angakok a shaman, chimo a greeting, toast before drinking, kabloona a non-Inuit, a White, ouk a command to a sleddog to turn right, tupik a tent of animal skins. (3) The Prairies. Loanwords from Cree, known only in the region: for example, kinnikinik a smoking mixture including sumac leaves and tobacco, saskatoon an edible berry and the shrub on which it grows, wachee a greeting (from Cree wacheya, from English what cheer).

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"Dialect" is a loaded word that presupposes a correct language against which to posit the cultural deficiency of the deviant speaker. Yet throughout the nineteenth century, American discussion of the nation's vernacular language varieties returned again and again to the notion that any border between standard and nonstandard discourse was fundamentally unstable. The post-Revolutionary period had established a strong emphasis on language as an organ of civic order and national unity, which helps to account for a continuing paradox in discussions of American speech—the simultaneous opinions that the United States had no dialects, at least compared to the British model, and that the regional features which were detectable threatened wholesale national fragmentation and cultural collapse. An explanation for this paradox is offered by Charles A. Bristed in his groundbreaking essay "The English Language in America" (1855): "The English provincialisms keep their place; they are confined to their own localities, and do not encroach on the metropolitan model. The American provincialisms are more equally distributed through all classes and localities, and though some of them may not rise above a certain level of society, others are heard everywhere" (pp. 61–62).

Discussion of dialect often moved in this way toward broader analysis of the sociopolitical consequences of American independence and democracy: the restlessness of social mobility that made Alexis de Tocqueville warn of instability, abstraction, and ambiguity in American speech; the postcolonial anxiety that American English was itself merely a dialect, and a deteriorating one according to Henry Alford in A Plea for the Queen's English (1863); and the effects of ethnic intermixture and of the racial oppression that led to the Civil War.

The 1820–1870 period was a major one in the formation and dominance of English in America, a period when regional distinctions within American English became readily identifiable and were used by writers and public speakers alike. The earlier fear that dialects would diverge into mutually unintelligible varieties and the lexicographical efforts of Noah Webster to impose a single national language based on an idealized version of New England speech gave way to a new acceptance of regional folk dialects by politicians in the 1820s and 1830s, when the rise of democracy as a political ideology directed attention to lower-class speech varieties. American writers focused as never before on what they perceived to be the grammatical peculiarities and, most obviously, the pronunciation of the nation's many regional, ethnic, and social dialects, which they attempted to represent in purportedly phonetic spelling. Novelists began to include dialect-speaking characters in their novels, though it was the literary sketch, the short story, and to a lesser extent the poem in which dialect tended to thrive. The uses of dialect ranged from those of protest, in which writers divorced from centers of power found political voice, to much more conservative efforts to burlesque dialect, thus making outlandish speech imply the educational, social, and even biological inferiority of the imagined speaker. The tone of dialect writing may have been predominantly humorous, but behind it lay pronounced anxieties over class hierarchies, over racial and ethnic identity, and over regional relations. Speaking generally, dialect writing can be thought of as a literature of internal conflict between different cultures and political causes.


The literary emphasis on differences within English undoubtedly diverted attention from the continuing presence—and disappearance—of non-English languages in the United States, thus helping to establish English as the national language without official recognition at the federal level. Rather than simply masking non-English languages, however, the literary appearance of dialect could also register the influence of "foreign" discourse, thus suggesting that the regional characteristics of American English may have emerged from contact with speakers of other languages, not just from British settlement patterns. In his introduction to the Dictionary of Americanisms (1848), John Bartlett believed that German would "leave behind it an almost imperishable dialect as a memento of its existence" (p. xvi), as would Norwegian, Welsh, French, Spanish, and Native American languages. Traces of this ethnic variation, and the cultural contact it implies, can be found in the attempted transcriptions of Irish and Scots English in Hugh Henry Brackenridge's novel Modern Chivalry (1792–1815); in representations of Native American, black, and Irish English in William Gilmore Simms's novel The Yemassee (1835); in the "German-English" dialect poetry of Charles G. Leland (which announces the interest in ethnic dialect writing later in the century); and in the pidgin English of The Chainbearer (1845) by James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851).

What we regard as distortions of our mother-tongue are more offensive to us than the widest diversities between it and unallied languages; and we regard a fellow-citizen who speaks a marked provincial English with a contempt and aversion, which we do not bestow upon the foreigner who speaks no English at all.

Marsh, Lectures on the English Language, p. 677.

Cooper's novels are excellent places to see the politics of dialect at work, as David Simpson argues in his noteworthy critical study The Politics of American English. Pitting Cooper against Noah Webster's linguistic homogenizing and against the transcendentalists' tendency to stress the spiritual unity of all language, Simpson argues that novels such as The Pioneers (1823) and The Deerslayer (1841) place their thematic weight on representations of American English as a collection of competing dialects—vocational, racial, and regional—which reflect the multiple social and cultural conflicts within the nation. Cooper thus refuses simply to target dialect as inferior language that represents cultural and moral debasement. The figure of Natty Bumppo emerges from the cacophony of the Leatherstocking Tales to become an important example of the traditionally "ungrammatical" character whose language obeys natural laws that encode higher moral values. Cooper's focus on the varieties of vernacular discourse is found in a less-developed form in Robert Montgomery Bird's Nick of the Woods (1837)—which features various southern dialects and Quaker English as well as some black and Native American speech—and in more sophisticated ways in the works of northeastern and southwestern humor that attracted international attention in the 1830s. Like Cooper's novel Satanstoe (1845), which detects in the distinction between New England and New York speech profound racial, educational, and moral differences (all to the detriment of New England), these humorous works juxtaposed different social registers of speech while simultaneously contemplating the politics of regional difference, especially as the Civil War approached.


Rustic Yankee speech had been employed for political commentary as early as the 1760s and was common on the stage in humorous portrayals of the stock Yankee figure. George W. Arnold is commonly credited with bringing the political and the humorous together in the mid-1820s in his "Joe Strickland" letters, published in numerous eastern newspapers and written in an alleged Yankee speech (one replete with comic misspellings as well as attempts at regional grammar and phonology) as the lighthearted medium of social satire. The mildly colloquial Maine vernacular of Seba Smith's "Jack Downing" letters became popular in the 1830s as a marker of plain talk that employed self-mocking humor to launch political critiques of the Maine legislature and later of Jacksonian national politics. This northeastern literary tradition was accessed by women writers too, with Frances M. Whitcher's "Widow Bedott" sketches using rustic Yankee ironically to satirize gender relations and to promote feminist causes. Perhaps the best-known example of a politicized use of New England speech was the Biglow Papers by James Russell Lowell (1819–1891), which in two series (collected in 1848 and 1867) opposed the expansionism of the Mexican-American War and supported the Union cause in the Civil War. Hosea Biglow is a Massachusetts farmer whose rustic dialect poetry is imagined by Lowell as a "divinely illiterate" language of the heart with a moral power that outstrips the effete standard language of Biglow's fictional editor (the pedantic parson Homer Wilbur) and that opposes a range of corrupt political discourses advocating belligerent nationalism, slavery, and secession. In his introduction to the second series of the Papers, Lowell aligns his ideas with a Romantic tradition of valuing a certain variety of lowly speech that embodies the virtues of an Anglo-Saxon past rather than valuing nonstandard language per se. Hence Lowell ironically uses a dialect-speaking soldier as the wrongheaded spokesman for Manifest Destiny and exhibits a distaste for the encroaching slang of popular culture.

Humorously political dialect writing may have emerged in the North but it became most self-conscious and sophisticated in writings from the South. The tradition of southwestern humor, much of which appeared in William T. Porter's magazine the Spirit of the Times between 1831 and 1861, was produced quite often by gentlemanly professionals, though its class values were far from stable. Augustus Baldwin Longstreet's collection of sketches Georgia Scenes (1835) helped pioneer a device prevalent in subsequent dialect writing, whereby the standard, implicitly educated language of the narrator "frames" the dialect speech. If the intent of linguistic polarization in works such as Georgia Scenes and Johnson Jones Hooper's Some Adventures of Captain Simon Suggs (1845) was to satirize Jacksonian democracy by targeting the alleged violence and irresponsibility of its lower-class voices, then the effect is often one in which the over-refinement of the polite language gets submerged by the attractive energy of the rural dialect. In T. B. Thorpe's "The Big Bear of Arkansas" (1841) the compelling vernacular ousts the frame language almost completely to create a subjective reality rich with unconscious significance concerning humans' relationship with the natural world. Joseph G. Baldwin's "Ovid Bolus, Esquire," from The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi (1853), is a remarkably complex contemplation of the links between the hyperbolic tallness of vernacular talk and the socioeconomic inflation of the Jacksonian era as well as a virtual treatise on the power within language to outstrip and manipulate the world it purports to represent—a thematic correlative of the stress that nonstandard spelling places on the conventional, and thus pliable, nature of words. Whether in plays such as James Kirke Paulding's The Lion of the West (1830) or in writings by and about the backwoods politician Davy Crockett, the Southwest became humorously associated with the densely metaphorical exaggeration of tall talk, the valuing of big words for their own sakes. This implied a broader definition of dialect not simply as a representation of colloquial speech but as an attitude toward language itself, an attitude typically described as a product of the sublime landscape of the West and the rampant individualism of its frontier freedoms.


Miscommunication between speakers of different varieties of a purportedly common tongue is a staple of dialect humor. Little surprise, then, that this kind of writing became the perfect medium for replaying the political differences that culminated in the Civil War. The second wave of dialect humorists of the 1850s and 1860s often deemphasized regional speech in their creation of burlesque languages that forced humor from bad grammar, mixed metaphor, ludicrous misuse of words (malapropism), and unintentional puns, all underscored by the running joke of incorrect spelling. This "misspelling bee" was partly a reaction against strong cultural pressure toward uniform spelling, though the growth of this writing during the Civil War suggests a need for unconventional languages to translate the shock of national conflict. Often dropping the frame device altogether, these humorists emphasized the limited literacy of their narrators and characters, representing their personae in imagined acts of (mis)writing, not speaking, which became a means to satirize the ignorance and ineptitude of opposing political factions. David Ross Locke's "Petroleum V. Nasby" sketches, for instance, attacked the Confederacy ironically by ventriloquizing its voice, while Charles Henry Smith's "Bill Arp" returned the compliment in a parodic southern speech disastrously sympathetic with the North. Of particular note in the southwestern tradition is Sut Lovingood's Yarns (1867) by George Washington Harris (1814–1869), which presents a purportedly Tennessean dialect that becomes almost unreadable in its subversion of conventional literacy. In the voice of white poverty, Sut's violent attacks radiate beyond the occasional target of the North to include the agents of decorum, logic, education, and civilization itself.

A challenge of reading dialect is to decide how far the literary representation distorts speech to champion or demean the speaker, how far it regularizes speech patterns to make the dialect seem more distinct than it was, and how far it represents genuine evidence for linguistic history. This challenge is pronounced with regard to representations of black English, always pressured by the weight of racist ideology. The genre of the ex-slave narrative tended to eschew dialect because of the humanizing implications of mastering the standard language and because ludicrously inaccurate parodies of black speech featured prominently in the tradition of blackface minstrelsy (remarkably popular in the North and South by the 1840s) and in proslavery agitation in the antebellum era. Both of these traditions tended to rationalize black subordination by staging linguistic ineptitude to imply the ignorance, immaturity, and mental inferiority of African Americans. Yet the representation of dialect to inscribe black-white difference may have been a reaction to racial closeness as well. Strong evidence, especially in the writings of visitors to the South such as Charles Lyell, Charles Dickens, and Frances Kemble, suggests that whites learned black English, with the implication that white southern speech may have been influenced by black English—a point that became much more contentious after the war. Many white Americans were clearly aware of distinct forms of black English by the early eighteenth century, though the mid-nineteenth century saw the real emergence of allegedly black speech in mainstream literature: in Cooper's The Spy (1821) and Satanstoe, in William Gilmore Simms's novels and stories, in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851–1852), and in Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Gold-Bug" (1843). The linguist J. L. Dillard has argued that the speech of Poe's character Jupiter contains a number of integral features of black English and may suggest the widespread existence of a Creole language beyond the Gullah spoken on the Sea Islands of Georgia and the Carolinas. The ambivalence in well-meaning white reactions to black English can be glimpsed in Stowe's novel as well as in William Francis Allen's discussion of Gullah in his introduction to Slave Songs of the United States (1867). Stowe's attempted spelling of black English is largely inconsistent and stereotypical, yet the novel still recognizes the capacity of African Americans to mask meaning through ambiguous expression—a particular skill of the character Topsy. Allen attributes the "foreignness" of Gullah to a decay, simplification, and corruption of English, but he also recognizes in black dialect a resistance to conventional representation, a tendency for speech patterns to vary tremendously from one plantation to another and between different speakers, an endless capacity to improvise on and resignify English, and a possible survival of African words.

By 1870 dialect had become a crucial aspect of American literary language. Regional speech types were established and recognizable, white writers were grappling with the difference of black English, western speech was drawing widespread attention in the early stories of Mark Twain and Bret Harte, the so-called local color movement had emerged in the New England works of Stowe, and scientific philologists such as William Dwight Whitney were beginning to argue relativistically that all languages were really dialects. The stage was set for the Gilded Age craze for dialect writing, a craze that would only intensify the social, cultural, and racial anxieties with which the representation of dialect had emerged.

See alsoAmerican English; Blacks; Civil War; Ethnology; Leatherstocking Tales; Proslavery Writing; Satire, Burlesque, and Parody; Tall Tales


Primary Works

Bartlett, John Russell. The Dictionary of Americanisms. 1848. New York: Crescent, 1989.

Bristed, Charles Astor. "The English Language in America." In Cambridge Essays, Contributed by Members of the University, pp. 57–78. London: J. W. Parker, 1855.

Marsh, George Perkins. Lectures on the English Language. New York: Scribner, 1860.

Secondary Works

Bailey, Richard W. Nineteenth-Century English. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

Blair, Walter. Native American Humor (1800–1900). New York: American Book Company, 1937.

Blair, Walter, and Hamlin Hill. America's Humor: From PoorRichard to Doonesbury. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Cmiel, Kenneth. "'A Broad Fluid Language of Democracy': Discovering the American Idiom." Journal of American History 79 (December 1992): 913–936.

Cmiel, Kenneth. Democratic Eloquence: The Fight overPopular Speech in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: William Morrow, 1990.

Dillard, J. L. Black English: Its History and Usage in the United States. New York: Random House, 1972.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. "Dis and Dat: Dialect and the Descent." In his Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the "Racial" Self, pp. 167–189. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Gustafson, Thomas. Representative Words: Politics,Literature, and the American Language, 1776–1865. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Lynn, Kenneth. Mark Twain and Southwestern Humor. Boston: Little, Brown, 1959.

Read, Allen Walker. "The World of Joe Strickland." Journal of American Folklore 76 (1963): 277–308.

Schmitz, Neil. "Tall Tale, Tall Talk: Pursuing the Lie in Jacksonian Literature." In On Humor: The Best from "American Literature," edited by Louis J. Budd and Edwin H. Cady, pp. 190–210. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1992.

Shell, Marc. "Babel in America; or, The Politics of Language Diversity in the United States." Critical Inquiry 20 (1993): 103–127.

Simpson, David. The Politics of American English, 1776–1850. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Gavin Jones

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dialect, variety of a language used by a group of speakers within a particular speech community. Every individual speaks a variety of his language, termed an idiolect. Dialects are groups of idiolects with a common core of similarities in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. Dialects exist as a continuum in which adjacent dialects are mutually intelligible, yet with increasing isolation between noncontiguous dialects, differences may accumulate to the point of mutual unintelligibility. For example, in the Dutch-German speech community there is a continuous area of intelligibility from Flanders to Schleswig and to Styria, but with Flemish and Styrian dialects mutually unintelligible. Adjacent dialects usually differ more in pronunciation than in grammar or vocabulary. When a dialect is spoken by a large group of speakers of a language, it often acquires prestige, which leads to the development of a standard language. Some countries have an official standard, such as that promoted by the French Academy. The first linguistic dialectology focused on historical dialects, written texts serving as the basis for establishing the dialects of a language through the methods of comparative linguistics.

The methods of modern linguistic geography began in late 19th-century Europe with the use of informants rather than texts, and resulted in the first linguistic atlases of France, by Jules Gilliéron, and of Germany, by Georg Wenker. Those techniques were refined in the United States in the preparation of the Linguistic Atlas of the United States (Hans Kurath et al., ed.) and its derivative works. In recent years linguists have become increasingly interested in social dialects, such as the languages of social groups within an urban population and the languages of specific occupations (farmers, dockworkers, coal miners, government workers) or lifestyles (beatniks, drug users, teenagers, feminists). In the United States much work has been done in the area of black English, the common dialect of many African Americans. See also slang.

See H. Orton and E. Dieth, ed., Survey of English Dialects (1962–70); H. B. Allen and G. N. Underwood, Readings in American Dialectology (1971); R. H. Bentley and S. D. Crawford, ed., Black Language Reader (1973); H. Kurath, Studies in Area Linguistics (1973); P. Trudgill, Dialects in Contact (1986); C. M. Carver, American Regional Dialects (1987).

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dialectabreact, abstract, act, attract, bract, compact, contract, counteract, diffract, enact, exact, extract, fact, humpbacked, hunchbacked, impact, interact, matter-of-fact, pact, protract, redact, refract, retroact, subcontract, subtract, tact, tract, transact, unbacked, underact, untracked •play-act • autodidact •artefact (US artifact) • cataract •contact •marked, unremarked •Wehrmacht •affect, bisect, bull-necked, collect, confect, connect, correct, defect, deflect, deject, detect, direct, effect, eject, elect, erect, expect, infect, inflect, inject, inspect, interconnect, interject, intersect, misdirect, neglect, object, perfect, project, prospect, protect, reflect, reject, respect, resurrect, sect, select, subject, suspect, transect, unchecked, Utrecht •prefect • abject • retroject • intellect •genuflect • idiolect • dialect • aspect •circumspect • retrospect • Dordrecht •vivisect • architect • unbaked •sun-baked

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di·a·lect / ˈdīəˌlekt/ • n. a particular form of a language that is peculiar to a specific region or social group: this novel is written in the dialect of Trinidad. ∎ Comput. a particular version of a programming language. DERIVATIVES: di·a·lec·tal / ˌdīəˈlektəl/ adj.

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dialect XVI. — F. dialecte or L. dialectus — Gr. diálektos, f. dialégesthai hold discourse, f. DIA- + légein speak.
Hence dialectal XIX; dialectical was earlier in this sense XVIII. So dialectic XVII, dialectical XVI pert. to logical disputation. dialectic sb. investigation of truth by discussion XIV. dialectician XVII. — F.

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dialect Vocalizations among a population of animals that differ from those of another population of the same species. There are many dialects in bird-song.

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dialect Vocalizations among a population of animals that differ from those of another population of the same species. There are many dialects in bird-song.

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dialect Regional variety of a language, distinguished by features of pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. Dialectal differences may be relatively slight (as in the dialects of American English), or so great (Italian) that mutual comprehension becomes difficult or impossible.