Dialects

More than 160 English dialects exist in the world. So not all English speakers talk the same. In this lesson, we're going to learn the main ones.

Dialects

What Is Dialect?

Dialect is a variety of a language spoken by members of a specific group or geographical area. A dialect is a variation of a language that is different from the standard variety. Dialects differ from standard varieties in terms of grammar, pronunciation, or vocabulary. In brief, dialect can indicate a person’s geographical location, education, or occupation.

The Standard Variety of A Language

The standard variety of a language is the form of the language that is widely accepted as the norm and used in formal settings, such as government, media, education, and literature. It is typically based on the dialect or language spoken by the most influential or prestigious group of people in a society, such as the educated or wealthy. The standard variety usually has a set of rules or conventions for grammar, spelling, pronunciation, and vocabulary that are taught in schools and used in official documents and communications. Here are some of the main standard varieties of the English language:

  • Standard American English
  • Standard British English
  • Standard Australian English
  • Standard Canadian English
  • Standard Indian English
  • Standard Scottish English
  • Standard Irish English

Dialect Vs. Accent

Both dialect and accent are associated with a particular region or social level. An accent is associated with any differences with the standard pronunciation of a language. However, dialect is related to a variety of a language that consists of different features in terms of grammar and vocabulary as well as aspects of pronunciation. So, accent is a part of dialect and dialect is a variety of a language.

Dialect Vs. Language

Language is a way of communicating among people. It is a usage of words in a conventional way. Language has both spoken and written forms. However, dialect is a variety of a language spoken by a group of people who share the same geographical area or social class. Languages of the same family are often not intelligible but dialects are usually intelligible to whoever knows that language. For example, a Northern American can understand a Southern American.

Dialects: Types

Dialects are divided into three general groups. Take a look at the list below:

  1. Regional dialect
  2. Social dialect
  3. Ethnic dialect

Regional Dialect

Regional dialect, also called regiolect or topolect, is a variety of a language in a particular region or area, spoken by a group of people. Remember that it is different from the standard variety that might be used in the same region. Here are some of the most common regional dialects of English around the world:

The Map of United states of America's Dialects

United States of America

In the following, you will find the main regional American dialects. Take a look at these different dialects and their examples:

  • The New York City English

This is one of the most famous American English dialects. Many people in New York City and the surrounding metropolitan area speak it. There are some words and grammatical features used in this dialect. For example:

Yous(e) → you guys

As you can see, this is the plural form of 'you' that New Yorkers mainly say.

Dungarees → blue jeans

Here, this is an old term used instead of 'blue jeans'.

Have a catch → to play a game of catch

  • Southern American English

It is spoken throughout the Southern United States, specifically in rural areas. Here are some of its lexical and grammatical pecularities:

You was talking about her.

As you can see, they use 'was' in place of 'were'

I been thinking.

As you can see, in this dialect 'been' is used instead of 'have been' in perfect constructions.

I might could win the cup.

Southern speakers tend to use two or more modals in a row unlike standard English.

Ain't to → am not, is not, have not, has not, etc.

Chill bumps → goose bumps

Coke → any carbonated soft drink

  • Midland American English

It is used in the area between the Northern and Southern United States. The boundaries of this dialect are not completely clear, but generally, we can say Midland speech is mainly rhotic. There are also some other general features mentioned below:

I feel better anymore → I feel better nowadays

As you can see, 'anymore' is used in a positive sentence and it does not have a negative meaning.

The car needs repaired → the car needs to be repaired.

As you can see, Midland speakers tend to use 'need + past participle'.

Tennis shoes → any generic athletic shoes

Carry-in → potluck

In this example, people of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio would say 'carry-in'.

  • Northern American English

It is spoken in much of the Great Lakes region and some of the Northeast region. Unlike other American dialects, it does not have different grammatical rules but the vocabulary in this area is far different. For example:

Futz around → to fool around.

crust → the end of a bread loaf.

Babushka → a woman's headscarf, tied under the chin.

It originally came from Russia and it means 'grandmother' in Russia.

You guys

As you can see, when a Northerner wants to pluralize 'you', they would say 'you guys'.

  • Western American English

It is a variety of American English spoken in the entire Western United States, including the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Take a look at some of its differences in vocabulary:

I'm hella excited → I'm very excited

As you can see, 'hella' is used as an adverb here. It can also be used as an adjective meaning much or many. It is mostly heard in Northern California.

Frontage road → a service or access road

Baby buggy → baby carriage

This is mostly common in the East of the Mississippi River.

  • Northern New England American English

It is spoken in Boston, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Eastern New Hampshire, and Eastern Connecticut. There are a number of terms that originate from, are commonly used, and are practically exclusive to New England:

Grinder → sub (a long, large sandwich)

Package store → liquor store

Hamburg → hamburger

Tag sale → garage sale or yard sale

  • North-Central American English

This dialect originated in the Upper Midwestern United States, which overlaps somewhat with the speakers of the separate Inland North dialect living in the eastern Great Lakes region. Here are some grammatical features and new vocabulary:

Do you want to come with? → Do you want to come with me? or with us?

As you can see, 'with' is used as an adverb here (no object). In standard English 'with' is not used in this way.

I need to work on this project yet. → I need to work on this project still.

As you can see, 'yet' can be used in a phrase like this; specifically around Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula.

Eh?

As you can see, this is used as a question tag and particularly used in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.

Spendy → expensive

Rummage sale → garage sale or yard sale.

The Map of Great Britain's Dialects

Great Britain

There are a lot of different dialects in Great Britain. But here, we are going to learn the main groups. Take a look at the list below:

  • Southeast English (Estuary English)

'Estuary' is a type of dialect spoken in Southeast England. It is also found in regions beyond London: Sussex, Kent, Berkshire, etc. Here are some of its notable differences:

I ain't never done anything.

As you can see, Estuary speakers use multiple negations in a phrase.

Them books → those books

'You're walking so slow'.

Here, we can see the reduction of the -ly adverbial

  • Southwest English (West Country English)

It is a variety of English that is spoken by many people in South West England. Take a look at some of its common examples:

They are mine. → those are mine.

As you can see, 'they' is used in conjunction with plural nouns, while Standard English recommends 'those'.

Where's that to? → where's that?

Here, 'to' is used to indicate location.

I writ a letter. → I wrote a letter.

  • East Anglian English

East Anglian is a type of English dialect spoken in East Anglia. Like any other dialect, it has several sub-dialects such as Fenland or Norfolk dialect. Here are some of the main differences:

He play basketball.

As you can see, the -s in third person is dropped. This is one of its most well-known features.

You wait here, time I try to find my keys.

Here 'time' is used instead of 'while'.

You better leave now, do I call the police.

Here, 'do' is used instead of 'or' (or else).

Ar ya reet bor? → are you all right neighbor?

Here, it is mostly used in Norfolk dialect.

Dow → a pigeon

  • Northern England English

Northern English is a type of English dialect that is spoken by many people in the Northern area. It has some specific features that are mentioned below in the examples:

The dogs is out.

As you can see, third-person singular form of irregular verbs such as be can be used with plurals.

Bonny → beautiful

Kirk → church

Lass → girl

Lad → boy

  • Midland English

This is one of the traditional regional dialects and it covers both East and West Midlands. Like any other dialect, it has several characteristics but the most important of all is the difference in personal and possessive pronouns except for 'mine' which stays the same. Take a look at the examples below:

Yourn → yours

Hisn → his

Ern → hers

Ourn → ours

Theirn → theirs

  • Cockney English

Cockney is an English dialect spoken in London, mostly by working-class or middle-class Londoners. The typical features of Cockney are displayed in the examples:

Don't go movin' my things.

As you can see, Cockney speakers often use 'verb+-ing'. They also leave out the g-ending.

I haven't got no money by myself. → I haven't got any money by myself.

As you can see, double negation is used by Cockney speakers.

I live with me mother. → I live with my mother.

She was the most beautifulest girl on earth. → she was the most beautiful girl on earth.

  • Scottish English

Scottish English is a variety of the English language spoken in Scotland. It is a version of English spoken by people, not the Scottish Language. Here are some examples:

I'm wanting a Burger. → I want a Burger.

As you can see, Scottish speakers frequently use progressive form with stative verbs.

How no? → why not?

  • Welsh English

Welsh English is a version of English spoken by Welsh people that is mainly influenced by the Welsh language. There are a lot of different English accents and dialects in Wales; but here are some general features used by many people:

Where to is Jack? → where is Jack?

As you can see, speakers usually use 'where to' instead of 'where'.

Bach → little

  • Irish English

Irish English also called Hiberno-English, is a set of English dialects spoken in both Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Notice that it is very different from the Irish language but it is influenced by it. Here are some common examples:

Is this your shirt? -It isn't.

As you can see, Welsh English speakers do not usually use 'no or 'yes' as an answer to yes/no questions.

He asked me would I buy something for him. → he asked me to buy something for him.

Tip!

There are two main dialects that native people in London speak, the first one is Cockney which originated in the East End of London and is spoken by working-class Londoners. The second one is Estuary English and it is mainly spoken near the River Thames and its estuary. It is important to know that standard British English is not a local dialect at all. It is the English that new learners should learn but it is not the usual dialect that British people would normally speak.

Canadian English

Canadian English refers to all varieties of English that exist in Canada. Like other dialects, Canadian English also has different sub-dialects based on the region or social background. Here are some examples of features of Canadian English:

I am done dinner. → I have finished dinner.

As you can see, in Canada, 'be done something' means 'to have/has finished something'.

'Write a test' → 'take a test' in American English (AmE)

Bunny hug → a hoodie (AmE)

Australian English

Australian English is a variety of English spoken in Australia. In fact, the majority of the Australian population speaks English. Australian English is very distinctive from other English dialects, but like other dialects, it has several sub-dialects in terms of region or social status. Here, we're going to see some general examples of Australian English:

The group was unable to finish the job. → the group were unable to finish the job.

As you can see, in Australia collective nouns are singular.

Have a shower or have a bath → take a shower or take a bath

Here, this is in contrast to American English.

Footpath → sidewalk (AmE), pavement (BrE)

BrE: British English

(The) bush → (the) woods (AmE and BrE)

Indian English

Indian English is a type of English dialect spoken in India. Its main difference from other English dialects is in phonology; but it has some other features that are mentioned in examples:

Pass out → graduate from college or school

Freeship → A studentship or scholarship

Capisicum → Bell pepper

This word is also used in Australian English.

Social Dialect

Social dialect or sociolect is a type of dialect related to a particular social (socioeconomic) class spoken by a group of people. In brief, the social background is more determinative than the geographical background. Some other factors such as gender, profession, and age are also very influential.

  • Social Class

Living in an upper-class or lower-class level of society can change one's way of speaking. Here are some common examples used in England:

lavatory (upper-class) Vs. toilet (lower-class)

He walk fast → he walks fast

In this example, Children (lower-class) at school use more vernacular verbs.

  • Gender

Different genders somehow talk differently. Some people tend to be politer than others.

'would you mind if I.....'

As you can see, Some genders may rather talk in a more polite way, using this kind of sentences.

  • Profession

People use different vocabulary and jargon in different jobs. These words may include technical terms, jargon, acronyms, and some jokes. For example:

Garbage collection → automated memory management system (in the programming world)

Uncle Bob → a wedding photographer uses this term for those who bring their own cameras and get in the way.

  • Age

Younger generations use more new vocabulary and slang than their parents. For every young generation, it is a way of asserting freedom from the older generation. For example:

Cheugy → no longer deemed cool or fashionable

'This song hits different' → This song affects me in a different way.

Social Dialect vs. Regional Dialect

It Is important to distinguish between these two types. Social dialect is based on social background and regional dialect is based on geographical area. Unlike regional dialect, the destination is not important in sociolect. External factors can easily affect sociolect, however, it is the opposite in regional dialects.

Tip!

Every person has their own variety of language which is called idiolect. It means that no two persons in the world speak the same way. Every idiolect changes constantly through time under the influence of external factors.

Ethnic Dialect

When a group of people with the same ethnicity have their own variety of language, it is called an ethnic dialect. These groups of people use this dialect to mark their own ethnicity. Here are some of the most common ethnic English dialects:

  • African-American English in the U.S.A (black English or Ebonics): It is a variety of English Language spoken by African/American people in the United States. Here are some examples:

You crazy.

As you can see, the reduction of the verb be happened here.

I don't know anybody.

Here, we have multiple negations in a sentence.

  • London Jamaican in Britain: With the growth of the Jamaican population in London, London Jamaican became one of the most popular dialects in the city. Here are some examples:

'Him arm' instead of 'his arm'

'Them walk' instead of 'they walk'

  • Aboriginal English in Australia: It is a type of English dialect used by members of Australian first nations in Australia (before British colonization). Here are some examples:

'We eatin' → 'we are eating'

As you can see in the example, We do not have any auxiliary verb in Aboriginal English.

Camp → a house

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