Sociolinguistics


Dialect and Accent

A dialect can be distinguished from another dialect of a given language in lexical, grammatical and/or phonological terms.

Dialects are language varieties used by regional or social groups. These groups define themselves or are defined by others by different extralinguistic factors such as age, ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic status.

Whereas dialect denotes regional variation, the language varieties characteristic of different social groups are more correctly referred to as social dialects or sociolects. Sociolects are varieties which are shaped by the social background of the speaker, i.e. by the aforementioned extralinguistic factors. Upper-class speech in the UK and youth language are examples of sociolects.

While dialect implies lexical, grammatical and/or pronunciation differences, accent is restricted to pronunciation features alone. An accent affects only the phonological level of a linguistic variety. When we say that someone speaks with an accent (e.g. a foreign accent, a working-class accent, a regional accent), we refer to the personís individual way of pronouncing language. When we say, however, that someone uses a dialect, we refer not only to his or her pronunciation but also to this personís use of grammar and vocabulary.

Within linguistics, Ďdialectí is used as a neutral term to denote the lexical, grammatical and phonological differences between two or more linguistic varieties. However, outside linguistics, i.e. in non-academic contexts, this is different. Dialects often carry negative connotations and are perceived as vulgar forms of speech with low status and prestige.


(See Standard and Prestige for more information on the prestige of dialects).