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Exploring Dialects

Dialects Defined

Language communities have distinct ways of speaking that are unique unto themselves. Their lexicon, language rules, slang and accents are what set them apart. These distinctions are commonly referred to as dialects. Many times a group develops a unique dialect when they are socially or regionally isolated from other language speakers. Another term, idiolect, speaks toward the manner in which an individual communicates. Like dialects, idiolects are unique to the person who speaks it, but people of that speaker’s language community will share sufficient common verbal elements in order to understand and relate to the speaker.

Is there a difference?

The difference between a language and a dialect is often a question of degree rather than kind. There are no absolute criteria for differentiating. In The Dictionary of Linguistics, dialect is defined as a type of language spoken by people indigenous to a certain geographical region.   Many linguists have averred that every form of speech is a dialect of the initial language from which they derived. For instance, the   French and Italian languages spoken today derived from Latin dialects. Other linguists call attention to the historical and political events that played a role in the structure of a dialect.

Do dialects matter?

The scientific research of dialects facilitates the understanding of the basic principles that trigger a language transformation, an improvement, and a language variant in space and time. The research also facilitates a public understanding of language diversity and sheds new light on the issues surrounding various dialects, such as, ‘should substandard ways of speaking be eliminated?’

The hatching of “Pidgin”

When people from different language groups need to communicate with one another regularly regular basis but do not care to learn the other’s language (e.g. when European merchants began trading globally), they may create what known as a pidgin language. This is a streamlined language employing only the essentials in its blended vocabulary—borrowing from both languages.  No complex grammar rules are involved; just the basic Tarzan and Jane communication. A pidgin is not a native language to anyone and used exclusively in business environments. Yet, sometimes, children may end up speaking   pidgin as their first language. When this occurs, the pidgin can develop into a complex creole language, complete with a large vocabulary and an vast set of grammatical rules comprised of the elements of its mother languages.

Ain’t ain’t unacceptable anymore

Contrary to what we learned in school, “correct English” does not exist. Any manner of speaking that is following the rules of a dialect is equally “correct.” Words like ain’t, are “authentic” words in various dialects and suitable for everyday use. Nonetheless, people tend to judge others by their speech and dialects convey different levels of social status based on that society’s preconceptions. In general, the dialects of Southern American English are of the lowest stature, at least among northerners. Many northerners assume that a person who speaks a southern dialect is rather stupid and clearly uneducated. Ironically, some educated southerners share this opinion and “correct” themselves to meet northern speech standards.

The advancement of modern communications technology could decelerate the progression of dialects and language transformation. These days, a single dialect, aka Network Standard is aired nationwide and    few people are geographically isolated anymore. Still, racism, poverty, and social class distinctions prevent some groups from entering the mainstream of a culture, thus fostering the emergence of communal dialects like Ebonics (Black English), which is sometimes spoken by urban-dwelling African-Americans. There was much political debate (apart from the linguistic aspects) as to whether Ebonics is a “legitimate” English dialect, or an “illegitimate” and inferior gutter-talk.  Similarly, teenagers create their own dialects as a determining factor in who is, and is not, worthy of inclusion in their social circles. Their dialects also function as a “private language” for parental exclusion. Teen dialects come and go quite rapidly; by the time adults catch on, the dialect has become obsolete. As well, the Internet has given rise to a fresh, social dialect that is composed of words such as IDK, OTOH, and ROFLMAO.

Any way you slice it, dialects are intriguing and pertinent to the overall study of language variances.


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