The Issue
of Dialect
What is the difference
between a dialect and a
language?
Dialects are variations
of the same spoken
language.
Speakers of two dialects
can understand one
another.
Three Features of Dialect
1. Pronunciation
 Same written word pronounced differently
 Biblical example: shibboleth (Judges 12:5-6)
2. Syntax
 Rules of grammar may differ slightly
3. Vocabulary
 Same concept represented by different words
Two Types of Dialects
Regional Dialects
 Associated with a geographic area
 Slowly fading due to media and mobility
Social Dialects
 Associated with a social/ethnic group
 Not spoken by all members of the group
 Many speakers can shift styles
Three Major U.S. Regional Dialects
Northern
Midland
Southern
North vs. South
Examples of Vocabulary
Northern Dialect
Southern Dialect
pail
bucket
press (the button)
mash (the button)
spatula
egg turner
teeter-totter
seesaw
might be able
might could
pop
soda
North vs. South
Examples of Pronunciation
Northern Dialect
Southern Dialect
pecan (pē kän´)
pecan (pē´ kan)
pen
pin
cement (sə mĕnt´)
cement (sē´ mĕnt)
on (n)
on (ōn)
business (bĭz´ nəs) business (bĭd´ nəs)
Test Yourself!
Which of the regional dialects, by an executive agreement
reached in New York City, became the gold standard of
broadcast journalism during the advent of television in the
late 1940s?
 Northern
 Midland
 Southern
Test Yourself!
Which of the regional dialects, by an executive agreement
reached in New York City, became the gold standard of
broadcast journalism during the advent of television in the
late 1940s?
 Northern
 Midland
 Southern
Regional Dialects
Regional dialects encompass the entire
English-speaking world. Dialects
spoken in the UK, Australia, Canada,
and New Zealand, for example, are in
the same category as U.S. regional
dialects.
Winston Churchill, 1874-1965
Britain and America
are two nations
separated by a
common language.
Social Dialects
 The most important social dialect in America is called
African-American Vernacular English (AAVE).
 AAVE is also called “Black English” and “Ebonics.”
 Syntax is an important feature as it relates to the
verb to be. In AAVE, the verb to be is not always
conjugated (e.g., “He be sick.”)
 AAVE differs from Midland English mostly in matters
of pronunciation.
Social Dialects
Examples of AAVE Pronunciation
Feature
Dropped l
Dropped r
th = ch
th = d
sk = ks
st = sk
Example
help = hĕp
your = yō
with = wĭch
the = də
ask = aks
street = skreet
Does AAVE stand in the
way of learning to read?
Does AAVE stand in the
way of learning to read?
There is no SBRR on
this point, but
dialecticians argue that
AAVE is not a problem.
But don’t kids need to
know Standard English?
But don’t kids need to
know Standard English?
Dialecticians point out
that no one actually
speaks Standard
English.
In fact, they dislike the
term Standard English.
What we all must learn
to read is called “Edited
American English.”
Which no one speaks –
except Professor
McKenna.
But what if reading
materials were available
in AAVE?
Experiments with “Black Readers”
Attempts to use AAVE readers in the 1960s failed for three
reasons:
1. Not all African-American children spoke AAVE.
2. Effectiveness studies proved that the readers did not
work.
3. African-American parents objected to their use.
Lisa Delpit has called the prestige
Midland dialect the “Power Code,”
arguing that its use is a prerequisite to
economic success in America.
But shouldn’t we insist on
correct pronunciations when
children read?
But shouldn’t we insist on
correct pronunciations when
children read?
As a rule, no. There are
at least four good
reasons for not always
correcting them.
1
Reason 1 for not automatically
correcting dialect pronunciations
There is no linguistic standard for
“correctness.” Some pronunciations
are simply more prevalent than others.
Test yourself:
How do you pronounce these words?
Missouri
Arkansas
1
Reason 1 for not automatically
correcting dialect pronunciations
There is no linguistic standard for
“correctness.” Some pronunciations
are simply more prevalent than others.
Test yourself:
How do you pronounce these words?
Missouri
Arkansas
1
Reason 1 for not automatically
correcting dialect pronunciations
There is no linguistic standard for
“correctness.” Some pronunciations
are simply more prevalent than others.
Test yourself:
How do you pronounce these words?
Missouri
Arkansas
1
Reason 1 for not automatically
correcting dialect pronunciations
There is no linguistic standard for
“correctness.” Some pronunciations
are simply more prevalent than others.
Try this one:
greasy
2
Reason 2 for not automatically
correcting dialect pronunciations
The child’s pronunciation may not
affect comprehension. This is the acid
test!
Pronouncing help without sounding the
l is just not on a par with pronouncing
red with a long e.
3
Reason 3 for not automatically
correcting dialect pronunciations
Calling attention to every dialect
pronunciation may distract young
children from comprehending and/or
from learning the alphabetic principle.
3
Reason 3 for not automatically
correcting dialect pronunciations
Imagine trying to “correct” all of the
dialect pronunciations in this sentence:
Text:
Child:
I can’t write with your pen.
Ah cain’t rot witch yo pin.
4
Reason 4 for not automatically
correcting dialect pronunciations
During the middle school years
children become aware of the social
significance of their dialect.
Without being instructed in how to do
so, most learn to shift styles easily, to
match the context.
– William Labov, 1962
To sum up, remember that dialects are
variations of the same spoken language.
To sum up, remember that dialects are
variations of the same spoken language.
Languages
English
Spanish
To sum up, remember that dialects are
variations of the same spoken language.
Languages
English
Southern Midland Northern
Spanish
There are two distinct levels.
Language
Level
Dialect
Level
{
{
Languages
English
Southern Midland Northern
Spanish
This is true whether we are describing
regional or social dialects.
Language
Level
Dialect
Level
{
{
Languages
English
“Power Code”
AAVE
Spanish
Speakers of all dialects must learn to read
the same written language.
Language
Level
Dialect
Level
{
{
Languages
English
“Power Code”
AAVE
Spanish
The Issue of Ebonics
 Ebonics = Ebony + Phonics
 The rationale is political:
If AAVE could be classified not
as a dialect but as a language
other than English, ESL funding
would become available for
schools with high percentages of
African-American students.
Teachers in the primary grades should
1. be aware of dialect differences, both
social and regional;
2. avoid trying to change children’s
dialects by “correcting” their
pronunciation; and
3. model the “Power Code” in their own
spoken English.
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English Language Learning - Curry School of Education