Varieties of American English
Part IV. Chapter 15 (pp. 261-275)
Herndon, J.H. (1999) A Survey of modern grammars. (2nd ed.).
Forth Worth, TX: Hartcourt College Publishers, Inc.
Prepared by: Aníbal Muñoz Claudio
Course: EDUC 8145
Professor: Dr. María A. Irizarry
Date: November 1, 2005
• Dialects of American English
• Structuralists and dialect research
• Transformationalist contributions to
dialect research
• Dialect Geography
• Dialect Maps
• Differences in pronunciation,
vocabulary and verb tenses
• Social Dialects
• Black English Dialects
• Spanish-Influenced English
Noam Chomsky
Born on Dec. 7, 1928 in
Philadelphia PA
Dialects of American English
• On the assumption that no two speakers of English do
so in precisely the same way, those who specialize in
the study of dialect often point out that there are
several hundred million versions of English
• Such an individual version of English is called
• Group of speakers (separated from other groups by
geographical , social, or economic barriers) develop
language systems that are peculiar to that group and
in contrast with other language habits of other groups.
These differences are called dialects of a language.
Regions in United States (dialects)
English Around the World
Spanish dialects
Spanish in America
Problems with Dialects
• Structuralists vs. transformationalists
• Conflictive methods of data gathering
• Linguistic anarchy might be free of authoritarian
value judgement, but it is also likely to be short
on commonly held principles that allow for the
effective communication of experience and
ideas, which is after all, primary purpose of
language. (Herndon, 1999)
Structuralists and Dialect Research
• Structuralists began by drawing lines of distinction
between matters of dialect and usage.
• Because there was so much confusion about this issue,
some writers referred to the standard dialect, others to
the standard usage, and still others avoid the problem
by referring to something called “Standard English”.
• Both dialect and usage referred to differences in
language habits and practices among groups of people
speaking the same languages. (Herndon, 1999)
(Structuralist cont.)
• For the linguist, dialect means all the language habits –
pronunciation, vocabulary, and syntactic patterns –that
distinguish one regional or social variety of language
from another.
• A dialect may be determined on the basis of
geographical area, social distinction, or both.
• Usage refers to the establishment of standards of
correctness or appropriateness of language choices and
the determination of preferred choices of specific items
of pronunciation, vocabulary, or syntactic combination.
• Correct usage is to language what rules of etiquette are
to human behavior. (Herndon, 1999)
Examples of English Dialects
Structuralists (cont.)
• Linguistic researchers divided their data
gathering into sections on pronunciation,
morphology (including vocabulary), and syntax.
• They began with investigation of language
differences found in different geographical
• Data gathering was painstaking and slow.
• Sorting it all out and mapping the results in precomputer days was equally painstaking and
• Social, educational, and economic barriers
between groups of Americans were apparently
far more influential in creating dialect groupings
than were rivers, miles and mountain ranges.
Transformationalist contributions to
Dialect Research
• By the time structuralists had established a position of
respect for the field of dialect research,
transformationalist theory had begun to catch the
attention of many linguistic scholars.
• The notion that a sentence either was or was not
grammatical seemed closer to traditional thinking than to
scientific objectivity, and many dialect specialists joined
the structuralist ranks of resistance.
• Then, when transformationalists began to speak in terms
of levels of grammaticality and “similar but different
grammars of a language,”dialect specialists began to
adapt some transformational methods. (Herndon, 1999)
Transformationalists (cont.)
• The impact of
transformationalist theory
has been lessened by the
fact that most differences
among dialects in
American English have to
do with pronunciation and
vocabulary differences.
• Dialect study remains
largely a matter of data
gathering and
classification –the strong
suit of structuralist
method. (Herndon, 1999)
Transformationalist (cont.)
• Researchers investigating the varieties of American
English have set a number of different objectives for
themselves: The major areas of emphasis have been:
Study of
Social dialects
Studies aim at defining
the most elusive of
language varieties
Deals with the different
varieties of English to be
found in various parts
of the country
Deal with differences found
among groups of speakers
set apart by differences in ethnic
influences, educational background,
economic situation, and social prestige
Standard American English
Dialect geography
• In matters of dialect, as in many other areas of language study, the
paths of the linguistic scholar and the teacher of English have often
taken different directions.
• While school textbooks, writers and teachers conformed to the
prescriptions of authority, linguists were fascinated by the fact that
dialect differences did exist and were interested in comparing and
contrasting them.
• Linguists had no desire to pin “good” and “bad” –or even “preferred”
and “disapproved” –labels on any dialect.
• Early projects (field work-data gathering) in European dialect
geographers led to more advanced studies in the United States from
East to West, which produced the The Linguistic Atlas of New
England. (published in 1939) (Herndon, 1999)
Dialect Maps
• Exhaustive analysis of the data
gathered for these studies
exploded much of the myth
and misconception about the
speech habits of Americans.
• Instead of the North-SouthWestern areas that had been
generally accepted as
accounting for any differences
in the ways that Americans
used their language, The
Linguistic Atlas maps showed
two heavy east-west dividing
lines separating the eastern
part of the United States into
the Northern, Midland, and
Southern dialect areas.
• Maps were prepared showing
the distribution of certain
dialect features that set each
area apart from the others.
• Dialect geographers found that
the most clearly defined
differences in regional dialects
were concentrated in matters
1. pronunciation (vowels)
2. vocabulary
3. verb forms (past and pp of
irregular verbs)
(Herndon, 1999)
Dialect Map of United States
Pronunciation and Vocabulary
• There are pronunciation
differences according to
regions.(samples drawn from dialect studies)
• There are vocabulary
(N) Northern (M) Midland (S) Southern
a. stone fence (N, M) rock fence (S)
b. living room (N, M) front room (S)
c. carry (N, M)
tote (S)
d. get sick (N)
take sick (M, S)
e. white bread (N)
light bread (M, S)
f. paper bag (N)
g. porch (N,M,S)
sack (M, S)
stoop (N,M) verandah(S)
Social dialects
• The recognition of the
differences in the language
habits of socially different
groups of people was not a
revolutionary idea.
• Learning the speech habits of
those who have greater social, 2.
economic, and educational
prestige has long been
recognized as one of the
prerequisites for upward social
• The masses of evidence
gathered by social dialect
researchers gave statistical
strength to several rather
broad generalizations about
social dialects.
Differences in the language
habits of socially different
speakers were not “random”
mistakes; their dialects were
as systematic as prestige
Speakers of different social
dialects showed a
remarkable ability to evaluate
the social position of
speakers of dialects other
than their own.
Speakers of non-standard
dialects often showed a
markedly defensive attitude
with regard to their own
dialect. (Herndon, 1999)
Social Dialects
• The first of these points may be illustrated by listing some
examples of the ways that social dialects differ from
Standard American English. Reference is made to dialects
generally called Black English (BE) and Spanish Influenced
English (SIE), but one important reservation must be noted:
These names label abstractions, just as Standard
American English is an abstraction. Dialects spoken by black
American in NY or San Francisco may differ, just as the
dialects spoken by other residents of those cities may differ.
Many middle-class black Americans speak dialects that are
as close to Standard American English as are other dialects
of other middle-class Americans. These things are also true
of some Spanish/English bilinguals.
Black English (BE)
Differences in pronunciation
1.deletion of liquids /r/ and /l/ after vowels
SAE – car BE - cah
2. deletion of final consonants in consonant clusters
SAE –list
BE -lis
Some representative differences in black
English Syntax
1. Deletion of copula be
She is a teacher.
Mary is his wife.
This is your coat.
She a teacher.
Mary his wife.
This your coat.
BE (cont.)
• Leveling the 3rd per. Singular present tense
I talk, you talk, he talks
• Use of multiple negatives
I did nothing.
I didn’t do anything
• Use of expletive it
Is there a man at the door?
I talk, you talk, he talk
I didn’t do nothing
I ain’t done nothing.
Is it a man at the door?
Spanish-Influenced English
• Many Americans of Spanish-speaking background have
campaigned for bilingual teachers for their children.
• Native speakers of English who begin study French or
German or Spanish find that learning vocabulary items is far
easier than learning proper pronunciation of sounds they
have never used before and unfamiliar sentence and
intonation patterns.
• The habits of English carry over into the new language.
• The speaker of a Spanish-influenced English dialect has
exactly the same problems.
Some representative SIE pronunciations
1. Spanish/English vowel discrepancies
2. Spanish/English consonant discrepancies
3. Treatment of Initial consonant clusters
SIE –differences in syntax (cont.)
Grammatical gender in pronouns
I like the house. It is pretty. I like the house. She is pretty.
I took the train. It was fast! I took the train. He was fast!
2. Leveling of verb forms
I talk. He talks.
I talk. He talk.
3. Use of negatives
He saw nobody
He no saw nobody
• Varieties of English include the idiolect (personal language habits) of each
individual speaker of the language and the dialects of regional or social
• Dialect research into regional differences in American English have resulted
in publications of Linguistic Atlases about regions of the United States.
• The Atlantic Coast states were divided into areas called the Northern,
Midland, and Southern Dialect areas.
• Differences in language habits are commonly divided into pronunciation,
vocabulary, and syntactic categories.
• Social dialect research, particularly in BE and SIE have provided valuable
insights into the effects of other cultures and languages on the speech habits
of Americans.
• This material is the basis for new teaching methods and materials aimed at
establishing respect for all dialects and their speakers. Teachers who
understand the dialects of their students are better equipped to assist them
in learning to control the Standard in addition to their own.

Varieties of American English