This article is about dialects of spoken and written languages.
For other uses, see Dialect (disambiguation).
The term dialect (from Latin , , from the Ancient Greek word , diálektos, "discourse", from , diá, "through" and , légō, "I speak") is used in two distinct ways to refer to two different types of linguistic phenomena:
- One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. Under this definition, the dialects or varieties of a particular language are closely related and, despite their differences, are most often largely mutually intelligible, especially if close to one another on the dialect continuum. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors, such as social class or ethnicity. A dialect that is associated with a particular social class can be termed a sociolect, a dialect that is associated with a particular ethnic group can be termed an ethnolect, and a geographical/regional dialect may be termed a regiolect (alternative terms include 'regionalect', 'geolect', and 'topolect'). According to this definition, any variety of a given language can be classified as "a dialect", including any standardized varieties. In this case, the distinction between the "standard language" (i.e. the "standard" dialect of a particular language) and the "nonstandard" (vernacular) dialects of the same language is often arbitrary and based on social, political, cultural, or historical considerations or prevalence and prominence. In a similar way, the definitions of the terms "language" and "dialect" may overlap and are often subject to debate, with the differentiation between the two classifications often grounded in arbitrary or sociopolitical motives. The term "dialect" is however sometimes restricted to mean "non-standard variety", particularly in non-specialist settings and non-English linguistic traditions.
- The other usage of the term "dialect", specific to colloquial settings in a few countries like Italy (see ), France (see ) and the Philippines, carries a pejorative undertone and underlines the politically and socially subordinated status of a non-national language to the country's single official language. In other words, these "dialects" are not actual dialects in the same sense as in the first usage, as they do not derive from the politically dominant language and are therefore not one of its varieties, but they evolved in a separate and parallel way and may thus better fit various parties’ criteria for a separate language. Despite this, these "dialects" may often be historically cognate and share genetic roots in the same subfamily as the dominant national language and may even, to a varying degree, share some mutual intelligibility with the latter. In this sense, unlike in the first usage, the national language would not itself be considered a "dialect", as it is the dominant language in a particular state, be it in terms of linguistic prestige, social or political (e.g. official) status, predominance or prevalence, or all of the above. The term "dialect" used this way implies a political connotation, being mostly used to refer to low-prestige languages (regardless of their actual degree of distance from the national language), languages lacking institutional support, or those perceived as "unsuitable for writing". The designation "dialect" is also used popularly to refer to the unwritten or non-codified languages of developing countries or isolated areas, where the term "vernacular language" would be preferred by linguists.
Where the salient distinctions are only or mostly to be observed in pronunciation, the more specific term accent may be used instead of dialect.
Differences that are largely concentrated in lexicon may be creoles in their own right.
When lexical differences are mostly concentrated in the specialized vocabulary of a profession or other organization, they are jargons; differences in vocabulary that are deliberately cultivated to exclude outsiders or to serve as shibboleths are known as cryptolects (or "cant") and include slangs and argots.
The particular speech patterns used by an individual are referred to as that person's idiolect.
Dialects do not always correspond with a standard written system this is the case for most spoken dialects.
For example, spoken dialects of the Arabic Language do not have their own writing system that is distinguishable from other dialects.
However, these dialects are not always mutually intelligible from one another.
For example, speakers of the Levantine Dialect of Arabic may have trouble understanding speakers of the Egyptian Dialect.
This leads to some debate among scholars of the status of Arabic dialects as their own regionalects or their own separate languages.
To classify subsets of language as dialects, linguists take into account linguistic distance.
Standard and non-standard dialect
A standard dialect (also known as a "standardized dialect" or "standard language") is a dialect that is supported by institutions.
Such institutional support may include any or all of the following: government recognition or designation; formal presentation in schooling as the "correct" form of a language; informal monitoring and policing of everyday usage; published grammars, dictionaries, and textbooks that set forth a normative spoken and written form; and/or an extensive formal literature that employs that variety (prose, poetry, non-fiction, etc.).
There may be multiple standard dialects associated with a single language.
For example, Standard American English, Standard British English, Standard Canadian English, Standard Indian English, Standard Australian English, and Standard Philippine English may all be said to be standard dialects of the English language.
A nonstandard dialect, like a standard dialect, has a complete grammar and vocabulary, but is usually not the beneficiary of institutional support.
Examples of a nonstandard English dialect are Southern American English, Western Australian English, New York English, New England English, Mid-Atlantic American or Philadelphia / Baltimore English, Scouse, Brummie, Cockney, and Tyke.
Dialect or language
Dialect and accent
John Lyons writes that "Many linguists [...] subsume differences of accent under differences of dialect."
Main article: Arabic Language
See also: Varieties of Arabic
There are around three geographical zones in which Arabic is spoken (Jastrow 2002).
Zone I is categorized as the area in which Arabic was spoken before the rise of Islam, it is the Arabian Peninsula, excluding the areas where southern Arabian was spoken.
Zone II is categorized as the areas to which Arabic speaking peoples moved as a result of the conquests of Islam.
Zone III are the areas in which Arabic is spoken that are located outside the continuous Arabic Language area.
There is a large amount of documentation of the Arabic dialects of Zone II.
Among these dialects are the Levant or Levantine Dialect.
This includes Syrian dialect.
Egyptian and Sudanese dialects are also widely spoken and studied.
See also: German dialects
When talking about the German language, the term German dialects is only used for the traditional regional varieties.
That allows them to be distinguished from the regional varieties of modern standard German.
The German dialects show a wide spectrum of variation.
Some of them are not mutually intelligible.
The extent to which the dialects are spoken varies according to a number of factors: In Northern Germany, dialects are less common than in the South.
In cities, dialects are less common than in the countryside.
In a public environment, dialects are less common than in a familiar environment.
The Swiss German dialects are the default everyday language in virtually every situation, whereas standard German is only spoken in education, partially in media, and with foreigners not possessing knowledge of Swiss German.
Most Swiss German speakers perceive standard German to be a foreign language.
This reflects the modern situation where they are roofed by standard German.
The Frisian languages spoken in Germany are excluded from the German dialects.
Main article: Italian dialects
Italy is an often quoted example of a country where the second definition of the word "dialect" (dialetto) is most prevalent.
Italy is in fact home to a vast array of separate languages, most of which lack mutual intelligibility with one another and have their own local varieties; twelve of them (Albanian, Catalan, German, Greek, Slovene, Croatian, French, Franco-Provençal, Friulian, Ladin, Occitan and Sardinian) underwent Italianization to a varying degree (ranging from the currently endangered state displayed by Sardinian and Southern Italian Greek to the vigorous promotion of Germanic Tyrolean), but have been officially recognized as minority languages (minoranze linguistiche storiche), in light of their distinctive historical development.
Yet, most of the regional languages spoken across the peninsula are often colloquially referred to in non-linguistic circles as Italian dialetti, since most of them, including the prestigious Neapolitan, Sicilian and Venetian, have adopted vulgar Tuscan as their reference language since the Middle Ages.
During the Risorgimento, Italian still existed mainly as a literary language, and only 2.5% of Italy's population could speak Italian.
With the unification of Italy in the 1860s, Italian became the official national language of the new Italian state, while the other ones came to be institutionally regarded as "dialects" subordinate to Italian, and negatively associated with a lack of education.
In the early 20th century, the vast conscription of Italian men from all throughout Italy during World War I is credited with having facilitated the diffusion of Italian among the less educated conscripted soldiers, as these men, who had been speaking various regional languages up until then, found themselves forced to communicate with each other in a common tongue while serving in the Italian military.
With the popular spread of Italian out of the intellectual circles, because of the mass-media and the establishment of public education, Italians from all regions were increasingly exposed to Italian.
While dialect levelling has increased the number of Italian speakers and decreased the number of speakers of other languages native to Italy, Italians in different regions have developed variations of standard Italian specific to their region.
These variations of standard Italian, known as "regional Italian", would thus more appropriately be called dialects in accordance with the first linguistic definition of the term, as they are in fact derived from Italian, with some degree of influence from the local or regional native languages and accents.
The most widely spoken languages of Italy, which are not to be confused with regional Italian, fall within a family of which even Italian is part, the Italo-Dalmatian group.
This wide category includes:
- the complex of the Tuscan and Central Italian dialects, such as Romanesco in Rome, with the addition of some distantly Corsican-derived varieties (Gallurese and Sassarese) spoken in Northern Sardinia;
- the Neapolitan group (also known as "Intermediate Meridional Italian"), which encompasses not only Naples' and Campania's speech but also a variety of related neighboring varieties like the Irpinian dialect, Abruzzese and Southern Marchegiano, Molisan, Northern Calabrian or Cosentino, and the Bari dialect. The Cilentan dialect of Salerno, in Campania, is considered significantly influenced by the Neapolitan and the below-mentioned language groups;
- the Sicilian group (also known as "Extreme Meridional Italian"), including Salentino and centro-southern Calabrian.
The Tuscan-based language that would eventually become modern Italian had been used in poetry and literature since at least the 12th century, and it first spread outside the Tuscan linguistic borders through the works of the so-called tre corone ("three crowns"): Dante Alighieri, Petrarch, and Giovanni Boccaccio.
Florentine thus gradually rose to prominence as the volgare of the literate and upper class in Italy, and it spread throughout the peninsula and Sicily as the lingua franca among the Italian educated class as well as Italian travelling merchants.
The economic prowess and cultural and artistic importance of Tuscany in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance further encouraged the diffusion of the Florentine-Tuscan Italian throughout Italy and among the educated and powerful, though local and regional languages remained the main languages of the common people.
Aside from the Italo-Dalmatian languages, the second most widespread family in Italy is the Gallo-Italic group, spanning throughout much of Northern Italy's languages and dialects (such as Piedmontese, Emilian-Romagnol, Ligurian, Lombard, Venetian, Sicily's and Basilicata's Gallo-Italic in southern Italy, etc.).
Finally, other languages from a number of different families follow the last two major groups: the Gallo-Romance languages (French, Occitan and its Vivaro-Alpine dialect, Franco-Provençal); the Rhaeto-Romance languages (Friulian and Ladin); the Ibero-Romance languages (Sardinia's Algherese); the Germanic Cimbrian, Southern Bavarian, Walser German and the Mòcheno language; the Albanian Arbëresh language; the Hellenic Griko language and Calabrian Greek; the Serbo-Croatian Slavomolisano dialect; and the various Slovene languages, including the Gail Valley dialect and Istrian dialect.
The language indigenous to Sardinia, while being Romance in nature, is considered to be a specific linguistic family of its own, separate from the other Neo-Latin groups; it is often subdivided into the Centro-Southern and Centro-Northern dialects.
Though mostly mutually unintelligible, the exact degree to which all the Italian languages are mutually unintelligible varies, often correlating with geographical distance or geographical barriers between the languages; some regional Italian languages that are closer in geographical proximity to each other or closer to each other on the dialect continuum are more or less mutually intelligible.
For instance, a speaker of purely Eastern Lombard, a language in Northern Italy's Lombardy region that includes the Bergamasque dialect, would have severely limited mutual intelligibility with a purely Italian speaker and would be nearly completely unintelligible to a Sicilian-speaking individual.
Due to Eastern Lombard's status as a Gallo-Italic language, an Eastern Lombard speaker may, in fact, have more mutual intelligibility with an Occitan, Catalan, or French speaker than with an Italian or Sicilian speaker.
Meanwhile, a Sicilian-speaking person would have a greater degree of mutual intelligibility with a speaker of the more closely related Neapolitan language, but far less mutual intelligibility with a person speaking Sicilian Gallo-Italic, a language that developed in isolated Lombard emigrant communities on the same island as the Sicilian language.
Today, the majority of Italian nationals are able to speak Italian, though many Italians still speak their regional language regularly or as their primary day-to-day language, especially at home with family or when communicating with Italians from the same town or region.
The classification of speech varieties as dialects or languages and their relationship to other varieties of speech can be controversial and the verdicts inconsistent.
Serbo-Croatian illustrates this point.
Both are based on the Shtokavian dialect and therefore mutually intelligible with differences found mostly in their respective local vocabularies and minor grammatical differences.
How these dialects should be classified in relation to Shtokavian remains a matter of dispute.
Macedonian, although largely mutually intelligible with Bulgarian and certain dialects of Serbo-Croatian (Torlakian), is considered by Bulgarian linguists to be a Bulgarian dialect, in contrast with the contemporary international view and the view in North Macedonia, which regards it as a language in its own right.
Nevertheless, before the establishment of a literary standard of Macedonian in 1944, in most sources in and out of Bulgaria before the Second World War, the southern Slavonic dialect continuum covering the area of today's North Macedonia were referred to as Bulgarian dialects (see Bulgarian language#Relationship to Macedonian).
Sociolinguists agree that the question whether Macedonian is a dialect of Bulgarian or a language is a political one and cannot be resolved on a purely linguistic basis, because dialect continua do not allow for either/or judgments.
See also: Lebanese Arabic
All Lebanese laws are written in the standard literary form of Arabic, though parliamentary debate may be conducted in Lebanese Arabic.
See also: Maghrebi Arabic
In Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, the Darijas (spoken North African languages) are sometimes considered more different from other Arabic dialects.
Officially, North African countries prefer to give preference to the Literary Arabic and conduct much of their political and religious life in it (adherence to Islam), and refrain from declaring each country's specific variety to be a separate language, because Literary Arabic is the liturgical language of Islam and the language of the Islamic sacred book, the Qur'an.
Although, especially since the 1960s, the Darijas are occupying an increasing use and influence in the cultural life of these countries.
Examples of cultural elements where Darijas' use became dominant include: theatre, film, music, television, advertisement, social media, folk-tale books and companies' names.
In the 19th century, the Tsarist Government of the Russian Empire claimed that Ukrainian (or Little Russian, per official name) was merely a dialect of Russian (or Polonized dialect) and not a language on its own (same concept as for Belarusian language).
That concepted was enrooted soon after the partitions of Poland.
According to these claims, the differences were few and caused by the conquest of western Ukraine by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
However, in reality the dialects in Ukraine were developing independently from the dialects in the modern Russia for several centuries, and as a result they differed substantially.
Following the Spring of Nations in Europe and efforts of the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, across the so called "Southwestern Krai" of Russian Empire started to spread cultural societies of Hromada and their Sunday schools.
There have been cases of a variety of speech being deliberately reclassified to serve political purposes.
One example is Moldovan.
In 1996, the Moldovan parliament, citing fears of "Romanian expansionism", rejected a proposal from President Mircea Snegur to change the name of the language to Romanian, and in 2003 a Moldovan–Romanian dictionary was published, purporting to show that the two countries speak different languages.
Linguists of the Romanian Academy reacted by declaring that all the Moldovan words were also Romanian words; while in Moldova, the head of the Academy of Sciences of Moldova, Ion Bărbuţă, described the dictionary as a politically motivated "absurdity".
Main article: Varieties of Chinese § Classification
Although the written characters have remained relatively consistent for the last two thousand years, the pronunciation and grammar in different regions have developed to an extent that the varieties of the spoken language are often mutually unintelligible.
From the Ming dynasty onward, Beijing has been the capital of China and the dialect spoken in Beijing has had the most prestige among other varieties.
Since then, other spoken varieties are regarded as fangyan (regional speech).
Cantonese is still the most commonly-used language in Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau and among some overseas Chinese communities, whereas Hokkien has been accepted in Taiwan as an important local language alongside Mandarin.
Main article: Interlingua
Drawing from such concepts as the international scientific vocabulary and Standard Average European, linguists developed a theory that the modern Western languages were actually dialects of a hidden or latent language.
Researchers at the International Auxiliary Language Association extracted words and affixes that they considered to be part of Interlingua's vocabulary.
In theory, speakers of the Western languages would understand written or spoken Interlingua immediately, without prior study, since their own languages were its dialects.
This has often turned out to be true, especially, but not solely, for speakers of the Romance languages and educated speakers of English.
Interlingua has also been found to assist in the learning of other languages.
In one study, Swedish high school students learning Interlingua were able to translate passages from Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian that students of those languages found too difficult to understand.
The vocabulary of Interlingua extends beyond the Western language families.
Selected list of articles on dialects
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialect.