Varieties, Dialects, Accents
Based in part on
Childs, Wolfram & Schilling-Estes, Smith, and Rickford
 Who in this room speaks a dialect?
 Dialects of American English as YOU see
Dialects of American English
Some Popular Senses of
 ‘We went to Boston for a vacation and the people
there sure do speak a dialect.’
 ‘Dialect’ here refers simple to those who speak
differently from oneself.
Some Popular Senses of
 ‘I know we speak a dialect in the mountains, but it’s a
very colorful way of speaking.’
 ‘Dialect’ here refers to those varieties of English whose
features have become widely recognized through
American society, e.g.,
 Southern drawl
 New York accent
 Etc.
 For a variety of historical and social reasons,
some dialects have become much more
marked than others in American society, and
speakers of those varieties therefore accept
the dialect label more comfortably.
Some Popular Senses of “Dialect”
 ‘The kids in that neighborhood don’t really speak
English; they speak a dialect.’
 ‘Dialect’ here is perceived as an imperfect attempt to
speak ‘correct’ or ‘proper’ English
 For example:
 Three mile
 Her ears be itching
 She done grew
Three miles
Her ears itch
She’s grown up
Linguists maintain that:
 ‘Dialect’ is a neutral label to refer to any
variety of a language that is shared by a
group of speakers.
 To speak a language is to speak some dialect
of that language
 In this definition, there is no inherently ‘good’ or
‘bad’ dialects
 ‘Dialect’ is simply how we refer to any language
variety that typifies a group of speakers within a
 Socially favored or ‘standard’ varieties constitute
dialects every bit as much as those varieties
spoken by socially disfavored groups whose
language differences are socially stigmatized.
Facts about dialects
 All languages consist of dialects (a language is a
group of dialects; to speak a language is to speak a
dialect of that language)
 Therefore, everyone speaks at least one dialect
 Dialect differences are usually minor and dialects
of a language are usually mutually intelligible
 Dialects are geographically, socially, politically
Facts about dialects
 Dialects can vary with respect to:
 Phonology – pronunciation or the sound system of a
language, e.g. r-less dialects of East Coast, pin/pen
 Morphology – the smallest meaningful units of a
language, e.g., ‘He don’t know.’ ‘The house needs
 Syntax – grammar or the words are put together to
form sentences, e.g., ‘We prevented the house (from)
being destroyed.’
 Lexicon – vocabulary or the words of a language (e.g.,
lift/elevator, truck/lorry, pail/bucket)
Facts about dialects
 Some linguists distinguish between ‘dialect’
and ‘accent’:
 Different dialects have differences of grammar
and vocabulary;
 Different accents have differences of
 Every user of English uses one dialect or another,
and one accent or another.
Facts about dialects
 The status of any given dialect is arbitrarily
determined (‘A language is a dialect with a navy
and army’)
 E.g., Swedish vs. Norwegian
 But dialects can sometimes be mutually
 E.g., Mandarin vs. Cantonese
 The terms ‘dialect’ & ‘language’ are politically and
socially loaded.
Facts about dialects
 Dialect variation is a matter of difference, not
 Nonstandard dialects are “self-contained”
systems, with their regular phonological and
syntactic rules.
 Nonstandard dialects of English are close
relatives to SE, sometimes reflecting older
forms of SE.
American Dialects
American dialects: How Linguists see them
 What are the major US dialects that linguists
American dialects: How people around the
country see them
 Which dialects do many Americans consider “bad
 What do the majority of Americans see as the norm?
America Dialects: How Hollywood sees them.
American Dialects Discussion
 Do you agree with the findings of Preston’s study
that concludes that two of the low-prestige
dialects in the U.S. are those spoken in NY and
 As you were growing up, what dialects / accents
did you make fun of?
 What were some of its features?
 Why was it considered funny?
Dialect Variation Pragmatics
 Dialects can also differ with respect to pragmatics
 The relationship between language and the
contexts / situations in which it is used
 Consider the contexts for these two sentences:
 “Where are you GOing?”
 “Where are YOU going?”
Dialect Variation: Pragmatics
 Both have the structure of a wh- question, BUT
 The first in fact would be typically used as a request for
information (e.g. to a person you know is about to leave
for a vacation).
 The second can also be a request for information (e.g.
when asking several people in turn where each is going
for their vacation).
 But the second can also be used in another way, to
indicate that the person showing signs of leaving should
not be going anywhere.
What is Standard English?
 What it is not:
 An arbitrary, a priori description of English
 The usage of a particular group
 The statistically most frequently occurring forms
of English
 A form imposed upon those who use it.
 Peter Strevens
A Working Definition of
Standard English
 A particular dialect of English, being the only
non-localized dialect, of global currency without
significant variation, universally accepted as the
appropriate educational target in teaching
English; which may be spoken with an
unrestricted choice of accent.
Standard English
 Strevens defines ‘Standard English’ as that
dialect of English that is not associated with
any particular locality, and therefore occurs in
any and every locality.
 It is not paired with a specific accent.
Global Currency for Standard
 Those who use Standard English – whether as
their mother tongue or as a foreign or second
 Are not confined to any single locality or geographical
 May be found in any inhabited region of the world.
Universal Acceptance of SE
 Although SE dialect is universally accepted as
the educational target, no single accent fills an
equivalent position.
 The tacit acceptance of SE dialect for
educational purposes does not mean that it is
‘best’ in some universal sense.
Standard English and Social
 Most, if not all, English users switch between
SE and some other dialect.
 People vary their language according to the
social circumstances.
 Non-conformity to the norms of language use
appropriate for the context is often seen as
unacceptable behavior.
The English Languages? McArthur
 Will English as an international language succumb
to the same fate as Latin?
 Vulgar Latin evolved into the Romance languages
 Classical Latin was used for administration and literature
and survived in writing.
 Standard English is more like Classical Latin than Vulgar
 SE has a common core negotiated among a a variety of
national standard varieties.
Dialects, Standards,
Vernaculars Wolfram & Schiling-Estes
 What do we listen to when we listen to people talk?
 HOW people talk
as much or more than to
 WHAT people say
 After listening, we usually make judgments about
people by the kind of language they use
Their regional background
Their social status
Their ethnicity
Their education
 So there are some who believe that language
differences serve as the single most reliable indicator
of social position in our society:
 When we live a certain way, we are expected to
match that lifestyle with our talk;
 When we don’t meet people’s expectations to
match that lifestyle with our talk (e.g., a teacher
talking like a punk), the mismatch between words
and behavior is itself a topic for conversation.
Language differences are unavoidable in a
society composed of a variety of social
Dialectologists’ Position
 Dialects are not deviant forms of language, but
simply different systems with distinct subsets of
language patterns.
 All language varieties are systematic
 For any language feature, there are contexts in which
the form may be used and contexts in which it is not
typically used.
Appalachian Dialect Patterns
Building is hard work.
She was building a house.
He likes hunting.
He went hunting.
The child was charming the adults.
The child was very charming.
He kept shocking the children.
The story was shocking.
They thought fishing was easy.
They were fishing this morning.
Further Patterns for Appalachian
a1a. They make money by building houses.
b. They make money building houses.
2a. You can’t make much money fishing.
b. You can’t make much money by fishing.
3a. People destroy the beauty of the mountains
through littering.
b. People destroy the beauty of the mountains
More Patterns for Appalachian
She was disCOVering a trail.
She was FOLlowing a trai.
She was rePEATing the chant.
She was HOLlering the chant.
They were FIGuring the change.
They were forGETting the change.
The baby was RECognizing her mother.
The baby was WRECKing everything.
So what is
‘Formal Standard English’?
‘Formal Standard English’ is a variety (i.e., dialect)
of English that
 Is based on the written language of established
 Has been codified in English grammar texts
 Is perpetuated in schools
 Is conservative and resistant to change
Then what is
‘Informal Standard English’?
Informal Standard English is a variety (i.e., dialect) of
English that
 Exists on a continuum, rather than a categorical
 Is flexible with respect to specific features of regional
 Employs specific criteria to judge speech as standard
 Is defined in terms of what it is not
 Avoidance of socially stigmatized forms, e.g.,
double negatives – ‘They didn’t do nothing.’
different verb agreement patterns – ‘They’s o.k.’
different irregular verb forms – ‘She done it.’
Continuum of Standardness
Standard or non-standard?
 He’s not as smart as I.
 He’s not so smart as I.
 He ain’t as smart as me.
 He not as smart as me.
Standard or non-standard?
 He’s not to do that.
 He not supposed to do that.
 He don’t supposed to do that.
 He’s not supposed to do that.
Standard or non-standard?
 I’m right, ain’t I?
 I’m right, aren’t I?
 I’m right, am I not?
 I’m right, isn’t I?
 I’m right, isn’t it?
Standard or non-standard?
 A person should not change one’s speech.
 One should not change one’s speech.
 A person should not change their speech.
 A person should not change his or her speech.
‘Vernacular’ Dialects
 Varieties of language that are not classified as
standard dialects
Applied to spoken language
Exist on a continuum
Listener judgment essential in determining social
Usually characterized by presence of stigmatized
Not all speakers use the entire set of structures
associated with that dialect
Labeling Vernacular Dialects
 Strong affective associations related to particular
 Negro Dialect, Substandard Negro English,
Nonstandard Negro English, Black English AfroAmerican English, Ebonics, Vernacular Black English,
African American (Vernacular) English, African
American Language
 Latino/a English, Chicano/a English, Hispanic English,
 California talk, valley girl, surfer
 Which do you prefer? Why? Are they the same?
 What do you call the vernacular you speak?
What’s ‘Standard’?
What’s a ‘Dialect’?
 Notice the different definitions of both
‘standard’ and ‘dialect’ found in the readings for
this lecture.
 Can you write a paragraph outlining the differences
siting sources read in class?

Ling/Asia 122: English as a World Language