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    • In My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle has a specific working-class dialect, which the Professor attempts to educate out of...
    • In Huck Finn, Twain develops characters by having them speak various dialects common to their station in the American...
    • In To Kill a Mockingbird, many of the characters have different dialects, showing their class in the...
    • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. One of the most enduring examples of a story told in regional dialect is Mark Twain’s...
    • The Color Purple. Celie’s messages to God make up the format of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Her dialect is marked...
    • Angela’s Ashes. Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes is as much a story about Ireland as it is...
    • Definition of Dialect
    • Distinctions Between Language and Dialect
    • Distinctions Between Dialect and Accent
    • Prominence of Dialects
    • Regional and Social Dialects
    • Prestige Dialects
    • Dialect in Writing
    • Sources

    "A dialect is a variety of English which is associated with a particular region and/or social class. To state the obvious, speakers from different geographical regions speak English rather differently: hence we refer to 'Geordie' (Newcastle English), 'New York English' or 'Cornish English.' In addition to geographical variation, the social background of a speaker will also influence the variety of English that person speaks: two children may grow up in the same Yorkshire village, but if one is born into a wealthy family and attends an expensive private school, while the other is born into a less well-off family and attends the local state school, the two are likely to end up speaking rather different varieties of English. It is this combination of regional and social variation that I refer to collectively as 'dialect,'" (Hodson 2014).

    "The very fact that 'language' and 'dialect' persist as separate concepts implies that linguistscan make tidy distinctions for speech varieties worldwide. But in fact, there is no objective difference between the two: Any attempt you make to impose that kind of order on reality falls apart in the face of real evidence...English tempts one with a tidy dialect-language distinction based on 'intelligibility': If you can understand it without training, it’s a dialect of your own language; if you can’t, it’s a different language. But because of [the] quirks of its history, English happens to lack very close relatives, and the intelligibility standard doesn’t apply consistently beyond it...In popular usage, a language is written in addition to being spoken, while a dialect is just spoken. But in the scientific sense, the world is buzzing with a cacophony of qualitatively equal 'dialects,' often shading into one another like colors (and often mixing, too), all demonstrating how magnificen...

    "Accents have to be distinguished from dialects. An accent is a person's distinctive pronunciation. A dialect is a much broader notion: it refers to the distinctive vocabulary and grammar of someone's use of language. If you say eether and I say iyther, that's accent. We use the same word but pronounce it differently. But if you say I've got a new dustbin and I say I've gotten a new garbage can, that's dialect. We're using different word and sentence patterns to talk about the same thing," (Crystal and Crystal 2014).

    "It is sometimes thought that only a few people speak regional dialects. Many restrict the term to rural forms of speech—as when they say that 'dialects are dying out these days.' But dialects are not dying out. Country dialects are not as widespread as they once were, indeed, but urban dialects are now on the increase, as cities grow and large numbers of immigrants take up residence...Some people think of dialects as sub-standard varieties of a language, spoken only by low-status groups—illustrated by such comments as 'He speaks correct English, without a trace of dialect.' Comments of this kind fail to recognize that standard English is as much a dialect as any other variety—though a dialect of a rather special kind because it is one to which society has given extra prestige. Everyone speaks a dialect—whether urban or rural, standard or non-standard, upper class or lower class," (Crystal 2006).

    "The classic example of a dialect is the regional dialect: the distinct form of a language spoken in a certain geographical area. For example, we might speak of Ozark dialects or Appalachian dialects, on the grounds that inhabitants of these regions have certain distinct linguistic features that differentiate them from speakers of other forms of English. We can also speak of a social dialect: the distinct form of a language spoken by members of a specific socioeconomic class, such as the working-class dialects in England," (Akmajian 2001).

    "In the earlier history of New York City, New England influence and New England immigration preceded the influx of Europeans. The prestige dialect which is reflected in the speech of cultivated Atlas informants shows heavy borrowings from eastern New England. There has been a long-standing tendency for New Yorkers to borrow prestige dialects from other regions, rather than develop a prestige dialect of their own. In the current situation, we see that the New England influence has retreated, and in its place, a new prestige dialect has been borrowed from northern and midwestern speech patterns. We have seen that for most of our informants, the effort to escape identification as a New Yorker by one's own speech provides a motivating force for phonologicalshifts and changes," (Labov 2006).

    "Do not attempt to use dialect [when writing] unless you are a devoted student of the tongue you hope to reproduce. If you use dialect, be consistent...The best dialect writers, by and large, are economical [with] their talents, they use the minimum, not the maximum, of deviation from the norm, thus sparing the reader as well as convincing him," (Strunk, Jr. and White 1979).

    Akmajian, Adrian, et al. Linguistics: an Introduction to Language and Communication. 7th ed., The MIT Press, 2017.
    Crystal, Ben, and David Crystal. You Say Potato: a Book about Accents. 1st ed., Macmillan, 2014.
    Crystal, David. How Language Works. Penguin Books, 2007.
    Hodson, Jane. Dialect in Film and Literature. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
    • Richard Nordquist
    • English And Rhetoric Professor
    • What Is dialect?
    • Dialect vs. Accent
    • American English Dialect Examples
    • Example of Dialect in Literature
    • Summary

    A dialect refers to a branch of a language. Within this branch, different terms are used for different things. Dialects are usually formed around particular regions. However, they may also be used within certain groups of people. For example, in The United States, there is a particular dialect in the Southern states. Within that Southern dialect, however, there may be subgroups who speak yet another dialect. Foods are the most common terms to change within a dialect. What one dialect might call shrimp, another might call crawfish or crawdads.

    Dialect and accent are two different aspects of language. However, there are some overlaps. An accent is also specific to a region. In English, there might be an American, British, or Australian accent. An accent is an inflection that occurs with word pronunciation. A dialect is entirely different words or ways of communicating altogether. Dialect goes beyond mere pronunciation. Examples of Accent: 1. An American might pronounce the word, “hello,” by speaking the “h” sound. 2. A Brit might pronounce the word, “hello,” without speaking the “h” sound. 3. This is still the same word, just spoken with a different accent. Examples of Dialect: 1. A Northern American might say, “hello.” 2. A Southern American might say, “howdy.” 3. This is an example of the differences in dialect.

    Different dialects exists in American English, and in all areas of spoken English. There are dialects for each region, in fact. Even if the particular peoples of that region do not think they speak in a dialect, they probably do. Some of the more pronounced American regional dialects are the Northeastern (East Coast) and Southern dialects. Someone from the East Coast might say, “What’s poppin’?” A Southern American would understand this, but would probably never say it. Someone from the South might say,” How’r y’ll?” A Northeastern American would understand this, but probably never say it.

    Dialect is used commonly in literature. An author may elect to use dialect if he or she wants to represent the characters well. In order to do so, the author will write dialogue specific to the region of the character. Authors want their characters to seem genuine; therefore, they must write dialogue between characters in such a way as they would speak it. George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmaliondoes this well. A Cockney girl is “adopted” by a well-to-do gentleman who tries to change both her dialect and hear accent to Standard British English. For many, this play is difficult to read because the Cockney is only specific to that region. However, if the play work not written with the Cockney dialect, it would not be effective at all.

    Define dialect: the definition of dialect is a linguistic variety peculiar to a particular geographical region or used by members of a specific social class. In summary, a dialect is a type of language that is spoken by a particular region or group of people. Dialect is much more broad and far reaching that accent. Most dialects will include with them their own accents, but they are more than mere pronunciation differences.

    • Dialect Definition
    • Examples of Dialect in Literature
    • Examples of Dialect in Poetry
    • Dialects in American and British English
    • Function of Dialect

    A dialect is the language used by the people of a specific area, class, district, or any other group of people. The term dialect involves the spelling, sounds, grammar and pronunciation used by a particular group of people and it distinguishes them from other people around them. Dialect is a very powerful and common way of characterization, which elaborates the geographic and social background of any character.

    Example #1: Huckleberry Finn

    One of the best dialect examples in literature, in which it is used as a literary device, occurs in this piece by Mark Twain. Here, Twain uses exaggerated dialect to distinguish between the characters.

    Example #2: To Kill a Mockingbird

    Characters that are less educated and less sophisticated are usually shown to be speaking with a much stronger dialect. At certain points you might even need translations. Such as: Translation: I suppose I have. The first year I came to school and ate those pecans, I almost died. Some people accuse him [Mr. Radley] of poisoning them, and keeping them over on the school side of the fence.

    Example #5: Gipsy

    You can also find great examples of dialect usage in two of George Eliot’s novels, Silas Mariner and Middlemarch. Another method of using dialect is to knowingly misspell a word to build an artistic aura around a character, which is termed “metaplasmus.”

    There have been several very unique dialects in literature in the past, out of which some have grown to be more dominant. Old and middle English had distinctive regional dialects. The major dialects in old English involved Kentish, Northumbrian, Mercian, and West Saxon dialects. As the years passed, the West Saxon dialect became the standard. Moreover, middle English included Southern, West Midlands, Northern, East Midlands, and Kentish dialects. In the British Isles, modern English give out hints of class as well as regional dialects. Almost every British country has its own variation to a certain extent. A. C. Baugh pointed out that in one place, at times, you can mark three dialectal regions in a single shire. Modern American English consists of dialects such as Eastern New England, Mid-southern, Inland Northern, Southern, General American North, Midland, New York, and Black English Vernacular.

    The narrative voice in literature usually aspires to speak in concert with the reality it illustrates. African American authors often criticize this condition, while discussing the significance of speaking in so-called “standard” American English in comparison with African American English. Toni Cade Bambara has made a remarkable contribution to this aspect by choosing the language of her culture and community. She used her language as a very productive critical tool, and her dialect illustration in The Lesson functioned as an examination of how the people who listen to it ultimately hear the disparaged speech. By reviving the language, which had long been marginalized, she contributes towards the effort to salvage the cultural identity of African Americans. This integration of non-standard linguistic features into the literature in “the lesson” works as an insightful response to marginalization. It also proves the strength and powerof language in portraying the diverse realities of...

    • I. What Is dialect?
    • II. Examples of Dialect
    • III. The Risks and Benefits of Dialect
    • IV. Examples of Dialect in Literature
    • v. Examples of Dialect in Popular Culture
    • VI. Related Terms

    A dialect(pronounced DIE-uh-lect) is any particular form of a language spoken by some group of people, such as southern English, Black English, Appalachian English, or even standard English. In literature, “dialect” means a form of writing that shows the accent and way people talk in a particular region. Because of this, it can sometimes risk being offensive to the people you’re imitating, but lots of great authors have used dialect in their work, and if you do it carefully it can give a lot of color and realism to a novel, poem, or story. Writing dialect is mainly about representing people’s speech in the way it really sounds, for example spelling “governor” as “gubnah.” This also includes writing sentences with the unusual grammar of the dialect, such as “Ah ain’ seen nuh’in, gubnah” (I ain’t seen nothing, governor).

    Example 1

    This is a line from a Scottish folk song, written in a light Scottish dialect. Both of the underlined words are associated with the Scottish dialect of English. However, none of the words are misspelled, so it’s not a heavy-handed use of dialect.

    Example 2

    This line is about a man from India first coming to America and trying to understand its culture. Normally, you’d have a novel where the American characters speak normally but the Indian charactersmight speak in dialect. But this novel reverses the experience, and tries to get us to hear how a “normal” American accent sounds to someone from another culture.

    The main benefits of writing dialect are in developing more realistic and life-like characters and settings. It allows your reader to imagine exactly how the characters voice ‘s might sound as they speak. And if your characters live in a place like New Orleans or Boston, with a strong accent, it helps the reader to really feel like they’re there and can also show the reader a lot about the place. It shows when a culture has a unique heritage, such as in the French-influenced dialect of New Orleans, and whether the characters are educated or come from a more disadvantaged neighborhood. There are several risks, though. The main one is that it can just be confusing! Iff’n ye wants yer reeder tuh faller wut yer sayn, it’s better to spell things correctly. It takes some readers a lot of effort to understand dialect, so don’t make it to thick, and try to make sure anyone can understand it. Second, dialect can be offensive. It calls attention to the fact that some people’s speech is “diffe...

    Example 1

    This line comes from a novel about the Caribbean island of Grenada. We can easily imagine that the character in this quote speaks with a thick Grenadian accent, though the author is actually using a very light touch with the dialect! She’s using nonstandard grammar (e.g. “is a bonus” instead of “it’s a bonus”), but she’s not using any nonstandard spellings.

    Example 2

    Gone with the Wind is a famous example of an offensive use of dialect. In this novel, all of the characters are from the American South, so they should all speak with a certain roughly similar regional “accent.” However, in the book only the black characters speak in dialect, thus giving the impression that the white accent is normal while the black accent is strange. That’s already a little offensive, but it gets worse: the black dialect isn’t even very accurate; in many ways it’s more a bun...

    Example 3

    This is a classic example of dialect with a solid creative purpose. The author represents Mrs. Reilly talking about her son, in her lower-class white New Orleans accent, and then her son speaking in his pretentious college-educated dialect–but the silliness of what he says makes for an ironic contrast with his dialect. The contrasts between Ignatius and his mother, and between his language and his obnoxious personality is both funny and meaningful without being offensive—especially since the...

    Example 1

    Snuffy is a classic comic strip in which all the characters speak in dialect. The dialect here is a vague rural American accent, which makes it less effective than if it were specific. But it’s only a comic strip, so the author can get away with it a little.

    Example 2

    All the Orcs in Warhammer speak in heavy dialect. It’s great for the players, because they get to imagine exactly how the character sounds. And it’s low-risk, because there aren’t any Orcs around to feel offended! (The quote itself, of course, comes from Orwell’s Animal Farm, but it’s being translated here into Orc-speak.)


    Diction is word choice and phrasing, and it’s a feature of all writing (and speech). Every person their own favorite words and sentence structures, and so does each culture. So when you write in dialect, you are trying to capture a group’s diction as well as their accent.

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