The term dialect (from
Latin dialectus, dialectos, from the Ancient
Greek word διάλεκτος, diálektos, "discourse", from διά,
diá, "through" and λέγω, 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 as ethnolect,
and a regional dialect may be termed a regiolect. According to this
definition, any variety of a given language constitutes "a dialect",
including any standard varieties. In this case, the distinction
between the "standard language" (i.e. the "standard" dialect of a
particular language) and the "nonstandard" dialects of the same
language is often arbitrary and based on social, political, cultural,
or historical considerations. 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 and/or sociopolitical
The other usage of the term "dialect", often deployed in colloquial
settings, refers (often somewhat pejoratively) to a language that is
socially subordinated to a regional or national standard language,
often historically cognate or genetically related to the standard
language, but not actually derived from the standard language. In
other words, it is not an actual variety of the "standard language" or
dominant language, but rather a separate, independently evolved but
often distantly related language. In this sense, unlike in the
first usage, the standard language would not itself be considered a
"dialect", as it is the dominant language in a particular state or
region, whether in terms of linguistic prestige, social or political
status, official status, predominance or prevalence, or all of the
above. Meanwhile, under this usage, the "dialects" subordinate to the
standard language are generally not variations on the standard
language but rather separate (but often loosely related) languages in
and of themselves. Thus, these "dialects" are not dialects or
varieties of a particular language in the same sense as in the first
usage; though they may share roots in the same family or subfamily as
the standard language and may even, to varying degrees, share some
mutual intelligibility with the standard language, they often did not
evolve closely with the standard language or within the same
linguistic subgroup or speech community as the standard language and
instead may better fit the criteria of a separate language.
For example, most of the various regional
Romance languages of Italy,
often colloquially referred to as Italian "dialects", are, in fact,
not actually derived from modern standard Italian, but rather evolved
Vulgar Latin separately and individually from one another and
independently of standard Italian, long prior to the diffusion of a
national standardized language throughout what is now Italy. These
various Latin-derived regional languages are, therefore, in a
linguistic sense, not truly "dialects" or varieties of the standard
Italian language, but are instead better defined as their own separate
languages. Conversely, with the spread of standard Italian throughout
Italy in the 20th century, regional versions or varieties of standard
Italian have developed, generally as a mix of national standard
Italian with a substratum of local regional languages and local
accents. While "dialect" levelling has increased the number of
standard Italian speakers and decreased the number of speakers of
other languages native to Italy, Italians in different regions have
developed variations of standard Italian particular to their region.
These variations on standard Italian, known as regional Italian, would
thus more appropriately be called "dialects" in accordance with the
first linguistic definition of "dialect", as they are in fact derived
partially or mostly from standard Italian.
A dialect is distinguished by its vocabulary, grammar, and
pronunciation (phonology, including prosody). Where a distinction can
be made only in terms of pronunciation (including prosody, or just
prosody itself), the term accent may be preferred over dialect. Other
types of speech varieties include jargons, which are characterized by
differences in lexicon (vocabulary); slang; patois; pidgins; and
argots. The particular speech patterns used by an individual are
termed an idiolect.
1 Standard and non-standard dialect
Dialect or language
Dialect and language clusters
2.3 Political factors
3.3 The Balkans
3.5 North Africa
3.8 Greater China
4 Historical linguistics
6 Selected list of articles on dialects
7 See also
9 External links
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 government recognition or
designation; presentation as being the "correct" form of a language in
schools; published grammars, dictionaries, and textbooks that set
forth a correct spoken and written form; and an extensive formal
literature that employs that dialect (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
vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, but is usually not the beneficiary of
institutional support. Examples of a nonstandard English dialect are
Southern American English, Western Australian English,
Dialect Test was designed by Joseph Wright to compare
English dialects with each other.
Dialect or language
See also: A language is a dialect with an army and navy
There is no universally accepted criterion for distinguishing two
different languages from two dialects (i.e. varieties) of the same
language. A number of rough measures exist, sometimes leading to
contradictory results. The distinction is therefore subjective and
depends upon the user's frame of reference. For example, there has
been discussion about whether or not the
Limón Creole English should
be considered "a kind" of English or a different language. This creole
is spoken in the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica (Central America) by
descendants of Jamaican people. The position that Costa Rican
linguists support depends upon which University they represent.
The most common, and most purely linguistic, criterion is that of
mutual intelligibility: two varieties are said to be dialects of the
same language if being a speaker of one variety confers sufficient
knowledge to understand and be understood by a speaker of the other;
otherwise, they are said to be different languages. However, this
definition becomes problematic in the case of dialect continua, in
which it may be the case that dialect B is mutually intelligible with
both dialect A and dialect C but dialects A and C are not mutually
intelligible with each other. In this case, the criterion of mutual
intelligibility makes it impossible to decide whether A and C are
dialects of the same language or not. The mutual intelligibility
criterion also flounders in cases in which a speaker of dialect X can
understand a speaker of dialect Y, but not vice versa.
Local varieties in the West Germanic dialect continuum are oriented
Standard Dutch or
Standard German depending on which
side of the border they are spoken.
Another occasionally used criterion for discriminating dialects from
languages is the sociolinguistic notion of linguistic authority.
According to this definition, two varieties are considered dialects of
the same language if (under at least some circumstances) they would
defer to the same authority regarding some questions about their
language. For instance, to learn the name of a new invention, or an
obscure foreign species of plant, speakers of Westphalian and East
Franconian German might each consult a German dictionary or ask a
German-speaking expert in the subject. Thus these varieties are said
to be dependent on, or heteronomous with respect to, Standard German,
which is said to be autonomous. In contrast, speakers in the
Netherlands of Low Saxon varieties similar to Westphalian would
instead consult a dictionary of Standard Dutch. Similarly, although
Yiddish is classified by linguists as a language in the Middle High
German group of languages, a Yiddish speaker would consult a different
dictionary in such a case.
Within this framework, W. A. Stewart defined a language as an
autonomous variety together with all the varieties that are
heteronomous with respect to it, noting that an essentially equivalent
definition had been stated by
Charles A. Ferguson and John J. Gumperz
in 1960. Similarly, a heteronomous variety may be considered a
dialect of a language defined in this way. In these terms, Danish
and Norwegian, though mutually intelligible to a large degree, are
considered separate languages. In the framework of Heinz Kloss,
these are described as languages by ausbau (development) rather than
by abstand (separation).
Dialect and language clusters
In other situations, a closely related group of varieties possess
considerable (though incomplete) mutual intelligibility, but none
dominates the others. To describe this situation, the editors of the
Handbook of African Languages introduced the term dialect cluster.
Dialect clusters were treated as classificatory units at the same
level as languages. A similar situation, but with a greater degree
of mutual unintelligibility, has been termed a language cluster.
In many societies, however, a particular dialect, often the sociolect
of the elite class, comes to be identified as the "standard" or
"proper" version of a language by those seeking to make a social
distinction and is contrasted with other varieties. As a result of
this, in some contexts, the term "dialect" refers specifically to
varieties with low social status. In this secondary sense of
"dialect", language varieties are often called dialects rather than
if they have no standard or codified form,
if they are rarely or never used in writing (outside reported speech),
if the speakers of the given language do not have a state of their
if they lack prestige with respect to some other, often standardised,
The status of "language" is not solely determined by linguistic
criteria, but it is also the result of a historical and political
development. Romansh came to be a written language, and therefore it
is recognized as a language, even though it is very close to the
Lombardic alpine dialects. An opposite example is the case of Chinese,
whose variations such as Mandarin and
Cantonese are often called
dialects and not languages, despite their mutual unintelligibility.
Modern Nationalism, as developed especially since the French
Revolution, has made the distinction between "language" and "dialect"
an issue of great political importance. A group speaking a separate
"language" is often seen as having a greater claim to being a separate
"people", and thus to be more deserving of its own independent state,
while a group speaking a "dialect" tends to be seen not as "a people"
in its own right, but as a sub-group, part of a bigger people, which
must content itself with regional autonomy. The
distinction between language and dialect is thus inevitably made at
least as much on a political basis as on a linguistic one, and can
lead to great political controversy or even armed conflict.
The Yiddish linguist
Max Weinreich published the expression, A shprakh
iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot ("אַ שפּראַך איז אַ
דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמײ און פֿלאָט": "A
language is a dialect with an army and navy") in YIVO Bleter 25.1,
1945, p. 13. The significance of the political factors in any
attempt at answering the question "what is a language?" is great
enough to cast doubt on whether any strictly linguistic definition,
without a socio-cultural approach, is possible. This is illustrated by
the frequency with which the army-navy aphorism is cited.
By the definition most commonly used by linguists, any linguistic
variety can be considered a "dialect" of some language—"everybody
speaks a dialect". According to that interpretation, the criteria
above merely serve to distinguish whether two varieties are dialects
of the same language or dialects of different languages.
The terms "language" and "dialect" are not necessarily mutually
exclusive, although it is often perceived to be. Thus
there is nothing contradictory in the statement "the language of the
Pennsylvania Dutch is a dialect of German".
There are various terms that linguists may use to avoid taking a
position on whether the speech of a community is an independent
language in its own right or a dialect of another language. Perhaps
the most common is "variety"; "lect" is another. A more general
term is "languoid", which does not distinguish between dialects,
languages, and groups of languages, whether genealogically related or
See also: Mesoamerican languages §
Language vs. dialect
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 dialects show a wide spectrum of variation. Some of them
are not mutually intelligible.
German dialectology traditionally names
the major dialect groups after Germanic tribes from which they were
assumed to have descended.
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 situation in
Liechtenstein is different from the
rest of the German-speaking countries. The Swiss
German dialects are
the default everyday language in virtually every situation, whereas
standard German is seldom spoken. Some
Swiss German speakers perceive
standard German to be a foreign language.
Low German varieties spoken in Germany are often counted among the
German dialects. This reflects the modern situation where they are
roofed by standard German. This is different from the situation in the
Middle Ages when
Low German had strong tendencies towards an ausbau
Frisian languages spoken in Germany are excluded from the German
Languages of Italy
Languages of Italy and Regional Italian
Italy is home to a vast array of native regional minority languages,
most of which are Romance-based and have their own local variants.
These regional languages are often referred to colloquially or in
non-linguistic circles as Italian "dialects", or dialetti (standard
Italian for "dialects"). However, the majority of the regional
Italy are in fact not actually "dialects" of standard
Italian in the strict linguistic sense, as they are not derived from
modern standard Italian but instead evolved locally from Vulgar Latin
independent of standard Italian, with little to no influence from what
is now known as "standard Italian." They are therefore better
classified as individual languages rather than "dialects."
In addition to having evolved, for the most part, separately from one
another and with distinct individual histories, the Latin-based
Romance languages of
Italy are also better classified as
separate languages rather than true "dialects" due to the often high
degree in which they lack mutual intelligibility. Though mostly
mutually unintelligible, the exact degree to which the regional
Italian languages are mutually unintelligible varies, often
correlating with geographical distance or geographical barriers
between the languages, with some regional Italian languages that are
closer in geographical proximity to each other or closer to each other
on the dialect continuum being more or less mutually intelligible. For
instance, a speaker of purely Eastern Lombard, a language in Northern
Lombardy region that includes the Bergamasque dialect, would
have severely limited mutual intelligibility with a purely standard
Italian speaker and would be nearly completely unintelligible to a
speaker of a pure
Sicilian language variant. Due to Eastern Lombard's
status as a
Gallo-Italic language, an Eastern Lombard speaker may, in
fact, have more mutual intelligibility with a Occitan, Catalan, or
French speaker than with a standard Italian or Sicilian language
speaker. Meanwhile, a
Sicilian language speaker 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
Modern standard Italian itself is heavily based on the Latin-derived
Florentine Tuscan language. The Tuscan-based language that would
eventually become modern standard Italian had been used in poetry and
literature since at least the 12th century, and it first spread
Italy among the educated upper class through the works of
authors such as Dante Alighieri, Giovanni Boccaccio, Niccolò
Machiavelli, and Petrarch. Dante's Florentine-Tuscan literary Italian
thus slowly became the language of the literate and upper class in
Italy, and it spread throughout the peninsula as the lingua franca
among the Italian educated class as well as Italian traveling
merchants. The economic prowess and cultural and artistic importance
Tuscany in the Late
Middle Ages and the
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.
During the Risorgimento, proponents of Italian republicanism and
Italian nationalism, such as Alessandro Manzoni, stressed the
importance of establishing a uniform national language in order to
better create an Italian national identity. With the unification of
Italy in the 1860s, standard Italian became the official national
language of the new Italian state, while the various unofficial
regional languages of
Italy gradually became regarded as subordinate
"dialects" to Italian, increasingly associated negatively with lack of
education or provincialism. However, at the time of the Italian
Unification, standard Italian still existed mainly as a literary
language, and only 2.5% of Italy's population could speak standard
In the early 20th century, the vast conscription of Italian men from
World War I
World War I is credited with facilitating
the diffusion of standard Italian among less educated Italian men, as
these men from various regions with various regional languages were
forced to communicate with each other in a common tongue while serving
in the Italian military. With the eventual spread of the radio and
Italy and the establishment of public education,
Italians from all regions were increasingly exposed to standard
Italian, while literacy rates among all social classes improved.
Today, the majority of Italians are able to speak standard 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.
However, to some Italians, speaking a regional language, especially in
a formal setting or outside of one's region, may carry a stigma or
negative connotations associated with being lower class, uneducated,
boorish, or overly informal.
Italians in different regions today may also speak regional varieties
of standard Italian, or regional Italian dialects, which, unlike the
majority of languages of Italy, are actually dialects of standard
Italian rather than separate languages. A regional Italian dialect is
generally standard Italian that has been heavily influenced or mixed
with local or regional native languages and accents.
The languages of
Italy are primarily Latin-based Romance languages,
with the most widely spoken languages falling within the
Italo-Dalmatian language family. This wide category includes:
Standard Italian and Tuscan;
the various related
Central Italian dialects, such as Romanesco in
the Neapolitan group (also known as "Southern 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 Sicilian group, including Salentino and Calabrian.
Cilentan dialect of
Salerno is considered significantly influenced
by both the Neapolitan and
Sicilian language groups.
Sardinian language is considered to be its own Romance language
family, separate not only from Italian and the wider Italo-Dalmatian
family but basal to all other romance families. It is often subdivided
into the Campidanese and Logudorese dialects. The Corsican-related
Gallurese and Sassarese which are also spoken in Sardinia, on the
other hand, are often considered closely related to or derived from
Tuscan and are therefore fully part of the Italo-Dalmatian languages.
Furthermore, the Gallo-
Romance language of Ligurian and the Catalan
Algherese dialect are also spoken in Sardinia, respectively in
Calasetta and Alghero.
Aside from the more common Italo-Dalmatian
Romance languages in Italy,
other native languages in
a variety of
Gallo-Italic languages, Gallo-Rhaetian languages,
Rhaeto-Romance languages, and Ibero-
Romance languages (such as
Emilian-Romagnol, Ligurian, Friulian, the Lombard languages, Sicilian
Gallo-Italic, Algherese, the Vivaro-Alpine dialect, Ladin, etc.);
Germanic languages, such as the Cimbrian languages, Southern Bavarian,
Walser German and the Mòcheno language;
the Albanian Arbëresh language;
Griko language and Calabrian Greek;
Serbo-Croatian Slavomolisano dialect; and
various Slovene languages, including the
Gail Valley dialect and
The classification of speech varieties as dialects or languages and
their relationship to other varieties of speech can be controversial
and the verdicts inconsistent. English and
the point. English and
Serbo-Croatian each have two major variants
(British and American English, and Serbian and Croatian,
respectively), along with numerous other varieties. For political
reasons, analyzing these varieties as "languages" or "dialects" yields
inconsistent results: British and American English, spoken by close
political and military allies, are almost universally regarded as
dialects of a single language, whereas the standard languages of
Serbia and Croatia, which differ from each other to a similar extent
as the dialects of English, are being treated by some linguists from
the region as distinct languages, largely because the two countries
oscillate from being brotherly to being bitter enemies. (The
Serbo-Croatian language article deals with this topic much more
Similar examples abound. Macedonian, although mutually intelligible
with Bulgarian, certain dialects of Serbian and to a lesser extent the
rest of the South Slavic dialect continuum, is considered by Bulgarian
linguists to be a Bulgarian dialect, in contrast with the contemporary
international view and the view in the Republic of 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
Republic of Macedonia
Republic of Macedonia were referred to as Bulgarian dialects.
In Lebanon, a part of the Christian population considers "Lebanese" to
be in some sense a distinct language from Arabic and not merely a
dialect. During the civil war Christians often used Lebanese Arabic
officially, and sporadically used the
Latin script to write Lebanese,
thus further distinguishing it from Arabic. All Lebanese laws are
written in the standard literary form of Arabic, though parliamentary
debate may be conducted in Lebanese 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,
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.
Modern Ukrainian language has been in common use since the late
17th century, associated with the establishment of the Cossack
Hetmanate. In the 19th century, the Tsarist Government of the Russian
Empire claimed that Ukrainian was merely a dialect of Russian and not
a language on its own. The differences were few and caused by the
conquest of western Ukraine by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
However, the dialects in Ukraine eventually differed substantially
from the dialects in Russia.
German Empire conquered Ukraine during
World War I
World War I and was
planning on either annexing it or installing a puppet king, but was
defeated by the Entente, with major involvement by the Ukrainian
Bolsheviks. After conquering the rest of Ukraine from the Whites,
Ukraine joined the USSR and was enlarged (gaining Crimea and then
Eastern Galicia), whence a process of Ukrainization
was begun, with encouragement from Moscow.
After World War II, due to Ukrainian collaborationism with the Axis
powers in an attempt to gain independence, Moscow changed its policy
towards repression of the Ukrainian language.
Today the boundaries of the
Ukrainian language to the Russian language
are still not drawn clearly, with an intermediate dialect between
them, called Surzhyk, developing in Ukraine.
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
Varieties of Chinese
Varieties of Chinese § Classification
Unlike languages that use alphabets to indicate their pronunciation,
Chinese characters have developed from logograms that do not always
give hints to their pronunciation. 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. As a series of migration to the south throughout the
history, the regional languages of the south, including Gan, Xiang,
Wu, Min, Yue and Hakka often show traces of
Old Chinese or Middle
Chinese. 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. With the founding of the Republic of China,
Standard Mandarin was designated as the official language, based on
the spoken language of Beijing. Since then, other spoken varieties are
regarded as fangyan (dialects).
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.
This section is empty. You can help by adding to it. (February 2018)
Main article: Interlingua
One language, Interlingua, was developed so that the languages of
Western civilization would act as its dialects. Drawing from such
concepts as the international scientific vocabulary and Standard
Average European, linguists[who?] 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
Interlingua were able to translate passages from
Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian that students of those languages
found too difficult to understand. It should be noted, however,
that the vocabulary of
Interlingua extends beyond the Western language
Selected list of articles on dialects
Varieties of Arabic
Varieties of Chinese
Varieties of French
Varieties of Malay
Connacht Irish, Munster Irish, Ulster Irish
Dialects of Polish
Sri Lankan Tamil dialects
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Sounds Familiar? – Listen to regional accents and dialects of the UK
on the British Library's 'Sounds Familiar' website
International Dialects of English Archive Since 1997
thedialectdictionary.com – Compilation of Dialects from around the
A site for announcements and downloading the SEAL System
BNF: cb119757609 (data)