What is a dialect?
Dialect refers to the varieties of a language that are used in specific regions or social groups. For example, Canadian English differs from American English in terms of vocabulary and pronunciation. Similarly, African American Vernacular English (AAVE) differs from Standard American English in terms of its grammar, syntax, and slang expressions. Although dialects may vary slightly from one another, they all share the same underlying language. In other words, dialects are simply different ways of speaking the same language.
Dialects and language change
Because dialects are spoken by specific groups of people in specific regions, they are often subject to change. Over time, dialects can develop new words, pronunciations, and grammatical structures.
This is especially true for vernacular dialects, which are not based on any standard form of the language. For instance, African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) has been known to borrow words from other languages, such as Spanish and French. This process of borrowing is called code-switching.
Code-switching is when speakers alternate between two or more languages (or dialects) in the same sentence. For example, a speaker might say “I’m going to the store” in English, but then switch to Spanish and say “¿Me puedes pasar la leche, por favor?”
Code-switching is common among bilingual speakers, but it can also happen within the same language. For instance, a speaker of AAVE might switch back and forth between English and AAVE within the same sentence.
Dialects and social class
Dialects can also be used to mark social class. For instance, in the United Kingdom, Received Pronunciation (RP) is considered to be the standard form of English. RP is typically associated with upper-class Britons, while working-class Britons are more likely to speak a non-standard dialect, such as Cockney or Geordie.
The same can be said for the United States, where Standard American English (SAE) is considered to be the standard form of English. SAE is typically associated with upper-class Americans, while working-class Americans are more likely to speak a non-standard dialect, such as African American Vernacular English (AAVE) or Chicano English.
It’s important to note that, while dialects can be used to mark social class, they are not necessarily indicative of intelligence or education. For instance, many working-class people are just as intelligent and educated as upper-class people, but they simply speak a different form of the language.
As mentioned above, dialects can be used to mark specific regions. In the United States, there are a number of regional dialects, such as Northeastern English, Southern American English, and Midwestern America English.
Each of these dialects is spoken in a different region of the country and has its own unique features. For instance, Northeastern English is spoken in the northeastern United States and has features such as the loss of the r sound after a vowel (e.g., “car” becomes “cah”). Southern American English is spoken in the southern United States and has features such as the use of ain’t and y’all. Midwestern American English is spoken in the midwestern United States and has features such as the use of um and you guys.
Why Anthropologists Study Dialects
Dialects are fascinating for anthropologists because they provide insight into how language and culture interact. Each dialect is a repository of the history, culture, and values of the people who speak it. It’s no wonder that dialects can be so closely tied to a sense of identity – they are literally an expression of who we are. For this reason, studying dialects is essential to understanding not just language but also human culture and behaviour.
Bilingualism: the ability to speak two languages fluently.
Code-switching: the alternation between two or more languages (or dialects) in the same sentence.
Linguistic anthropology: the study of language in its social and cultural context.
Sociolinguistics: the study of the relationship between language and society.
Glossary Terms starting with D
- Debt Slavery – Entrapping Workers in a Cycle of Unpayable Debt
- Democracy – When all Citizens have an Equal Vote
- Demography – A Branch of Sociology that studies Human Populations
- Despotism – A Single Ruler who has Absolute Power
- Development – The process of Economic, Social and Cultural change
- Developmental Cycle of the Domestic Group – How Groups Change and Adapt Over Time
- Dialect – A Variety of a Language that has its own unique features
- Dialectic Reasoning – A Debate that Leads to a Conclusion
- Discrimination – Treating People Differently based on their Race, Gender or Other Characteristics
- Divination – Gaining Information through Supernatural Means
- Division of Labour – Assigning Tasks in such a way as to Enable Specialisation
- Domestic Mode of Production – Producing Goods for the Family
- Duolocal Residence – When Husband and Wife Live Separately
- Durkheim, Émile: The Father of Sociology and His Contributions to Anthropology
- Dowry – A Form of Marriage Payment
- Dynasty – A Line of Hereditary Rulers