The English language learner may be anxiously surprised that the English language has many dialects, some of which they will encounter in their careers and interactions within our global village.
What is a Dialect?
Dialect is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group." Individuals may have different attitudes towards the dialect of group to which they do not belong. Some may think of a dialect as referring to a non-standard form of a language. However, a dialect represents the language as spoken within a specific region or speech community.
A region's dialect, or a social group's dialect is constrained by its rules and vocabulary, unique to that form of language. How do we know that the unique dialect or form of a language spoken in a region has rules? It is because other members of the social group can acquire that dialect, and in turn speak that language, consistent with all the other members of that speech community, in terms of pronunciation, grammar, lexical choices and word sequence. It is this pattern of language use which identifies members of the social or regional group.
What social group might a English speaking person be part of, who sees a friend and exclaims, "Yo, whaddup, bro'?"
Understanding a Dialect’s Regional Zones
People within the same speech community may be spread across a narrow or wide geographic region. The wider the geographic region, the more variability will be found in the dialect. When members of a speech community migrate away from their mainstream members, their dialect will reflect variations and inclusions of grammar structures, pronunciation and vocabulary which are different from those of other mainstream members. The less a person or group migrates, the more stable their dialectal patterns.
What Influences a Dialect?
The spoken dialect may conform to cultural rules, political or religious rules. Some governments set the policy for which dialect can or cannot be spoken in the region it governs, for example, the government of China. Other dialects remain consistent when the members of that group maintain their primary residence within the group. Yet there are other forms of dialect that emerge to deliberately show evidence of the speaker's separation from the dominant group. The form of language, or dialect (word choice, grammar, and pronunciation) will vary among individuals, influenced by many factors, such as the social reason and topic for communication, social hierarchy of members within the group, ethnicity, gender and the stability of the group. Slang is a cultural form of dialect. Individual variations in the speech patterns of a group’s members will still conform to the rules of the local or regional dialect styles, which permits unimpeded communication.
Here is a test about English speakers:
- The excessive use of the word 'like' in sentences usually occurs in which social group?
- The excessive use of the word 'like' in sentences does NOT usually occur in which social group?
For English Language Learners
English language learners can benefit from understanding the variability to be found among English language teachers and English dialects. Since the professional world is also a global world, English language learners who limit their exposure to English teachers representing only one form of an English dialect, one fitting their "linguistic and cultural stereotypes", will unintentionally limit their ability to interact with the many professionals they will meet in their careers which span many global villages. (Zheng and Yihong, 2017, p. 4).
J.R. Rickford, How Linguists Approach the Study of Language and Dialect. Retrieved from http://www-leland.stanford.edu/~rickford/papers/
Xuan, Zheng, and Gao Yihong. "Language Attitude Education as ICC Facilitation: An Explorative Class." Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics 40.1 (2017): 3-20. ProQuest. 18 Dec. 2017.
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