Of all the terms described here, ‘variety’ is the most versatile in character. It is always applicable and it can be used to talk about any distinct form of a language. For example, an accent, a dialect, a register or a style can be referred to as a language variety. In other words, ‘variety’ can be used to describe any occurrence of linguistic variation which is not classified in more detail. Accent, dialect, register, style or other forms of linguistic variation, such as pidgin or creole, are variations of language.

‘Variety’ is therefore a neutral term. It can be applied, for example, instead of ‘dialect’ in order to avoid the negative connotations which often accompany the term outside linguistics, i.e. in everyday use of language within a society (See Dialect and Accent).

Linguists distinguish between three main types of linguistic varieties depending on extralinguistic factors such as the geographical location and the social background of the speaker, and the speech situation in which he or she finds himself or herself (cf. Kortmann 2005: 255f):

(5) geographical or regional varieties which are termed dialects (see Dialect and Accent),
(6) social varieties which are referred to as sociolects (see Dialect and Accent), and
(7) functional varieties (see Register and Style).