Thursday, September 9, 2010

What's a dialect and what's an accent?

There seems to be a lot of confusion out there about what a dialect is and what an accent is, so I'll spend a little time clearing that up as best I can.

Dialect - a variety of a language that is characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers.

(a la wikipedia)

Everyone speaks in one dialect or another (actually, people make use of several dialects depending on company). Dialects include accents and local usages (think y'all or chav or hizzle); they are more general ways of speaking that a speech community shares.

Accent is a manner of pronunciation of a language

(also from wikipedia)

Just as everyone speaks in one or more dialects, everyone has an accent. There isn't an English speaker that is 'accentless'. The people on the news are either speaking in a west coast accent, or are using something called received pronunciation (or Broadcast English). They usually have been trained to speak this way because it is thought those dialects are the ones most easily understood by the public at large.

Here's a map of America from a phonological perspective:

Individually, we all have an idiolect. An idiolect is a specific person's own unique way of speaking (their word choice, preferred grammar patterns etc). In linguistics, we tend to avoid studying the idiolect because the data is only useful for that one person and it's also very difficult to determine the specifics of an idiolect.

So, hopefully you can see a tiered system of the Dialect, Accent, and Idiolect. This is one of the ways human language is so layered, that variation occurs in association with huge social groups right down to the individual.


  1. Good info, I really enjoy your posts.

  2. Your post are very informative keep it up.

  3. Too much to get enjoyment out of it lol... although I don't read any of his political writing.

  4. Knowledge = Power. Keep the smarts coming brother.

  5. add me bro, i added u

    i read daily

  6. well that's all fine and dandy, how about people who don't carry any community traits of speaking?

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  8. i learned something today, so it was a success of a day. time for sleep!

  9. @Flav, everyone does. You gain your vernacular FROM your community. Your community defines your mode of speaking in a dialectical sense. There is no escape.

    People who speak incredibly different from their group are called "lames", and sometimes it means they're just ahead of the curve in social trends.


    repaying the love. as I will do everyday. Thanks for the support!

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