What is a dialect?
by Clive Upton.
Clive Upton is Emeritus Professor of Modern English Language in the University of Leeds. He has been researching English Dialects for almost fifty years, and was adviser to the BBC’s Voices project.
Dialect is one of those words that almost everybody thinks they understand, but which is in fact a bit more problematic than at first seems to be the case. A simple, straightforward definition is that a dialect is any variety of English that is marked off from others by distinctive linguistic features. Such a variety could be associated with a particular place or region or, rather more surprisingly, it might also be associated with a certain social group—male or female, young or old, and so on.
But whether the focus is regional or social, there are two important matters that need to be considered when defining ‘dialect’:
- What are the building blocks of dialect?
- What are the most common mistakes that people make when referring to ‘dialect’?
Click the links below to learn more about:
Place and upbringing
The place we’re brought up may have a significant effect on the words we use – particularly when it comes to regions of England. Discover some examples…
Standard and non-standard dialects
Is standard English THE English language, and do dialects represent an inferior or substandard form of English? We think not – as this page explains.
What is the difference between dialect and accent?
Do you know the difference between an accent and a dialect? This page runs through the differences and gives some examples to help explain.
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