Accent And Dialect

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Most people think of an accent as something that other people have. In some cases, they speak disparagingly about one accent compared with another. The truth is that everyone has an accent, because an accent is simply a way of pronouncing words. The reason that you can tell the difference between people from Boston and the Appalachians, or between London and Manchester is because each group of people has a different way of pronouncing the same words. In other words, accent is all about sound.

When it comes to changes in vocabulary in different regions, then you’re talking about dialect. Dialect refers to differences in accent, grammar and vocabulary among different versions of a language. For example, depending on where you live in England, one type of baked goods could be called buns, cobs or rolls. It is likely that when you speak in the dialect of a particular region, you will also speak in the accent of a particular region. However, incomers may speak the dialect of a region with a different accent. This may also apply to people who have emigrated from one country to another. They may speak a different form of a language from those born in that country.

So, what does all this have to do with writing? It’s simple. Most written English is based on a dialect of English. The variety of English known as standard English uses a certain type of grammar and vocabulary which is taught to students of English all over the world. They may speak with a different accent, but the dialect is basically the same.

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17 thoughts on “Accent And Dialect”

  1. A book that illustrates your point:

    In Lori Wick’s Sophie’s Heart, English was the heroine’s second language. The author did a beautiful job of conveying Sophie’s accent by selectively inserting extra words and omitting others, leaving the sound of the mispronounced words to the reader’s imagination. There were no weird, distracting spellings, just a masterfully conveyed accent.

  2. And is “standard English” based on the American English superdialect (color, meter, elevator) or the British English superdialect (colour, metre, lift)?

  3. Good question, I think this subject deserves a post on its own, like what is exactly “standard English,” “Queen’s English,” etc.

  4. A good post, except that grammar differs across US/UK English and so isn’t quite ‘standard’. (I.e. the puncutation belongs inside a quotation in US English, but outside of it (unless it is a direct part of the quotation) in British English.)

  5. Good point, Alan. The whole notion of standardisation is laughable, as language is always evolving. The Alliance Francaise have faced that issue head on when trying to remove certain English phrases from the French language.

  6. “Standard English” usually depends on where a book is published. Books published in the UK follow UK conventions, those published in the States follow US conventions, and those published in Canada often follow a mix of conventions depending on the book’s target market.

  7. As a child, you can very easily pick up accents. I was born in Manchester, though my parents are Scottish. I had a scottish accent. By my first few weeks of school, I had picked up a Manchester one! then, when we moved to the Netherlands, thus only hearing Manchester accents on Dinnerladies (a comedy), i began to pick up a scottish accent from my parents again. I now have half a scottish accent. i’m not quite sure what the other half is. all I know is that my English teacher does a feeble attempt at immitating my accent lol

  8. I’m in much the same boat, Kirsty, combining a British accent with the accent learned from my Trinidadian mother.

  9. I know as it stands, this is absolutely right… but I disagree with the way ‘accents’ and ‘dialects’ are recognised in general (in the UK at least). In my opinion, the reason why most regional variations in the UK are described as accents is because we all use the same spelling conventions, that happen not to be regular for any of us. Therefore whenever people from different ends of the country say a word, they are said to be pronouncing the same word differently (accent). But what would happen if we had a spelling reform? There would be no possible way of having one spelling for the whole country, we would need several to keep everyone happy. Whereas Northerners would be happy to keep words like ‘grass’, ‘bath’ etc the same, Southerners would not. They could turn out something like ‘grahss’, ‘bahth’ or ‘grarse’ and ‘barth’. Take a word like ‘castle’ and it could turn out very different; maybe ‘kassel’ in the north and ‘karssol’ in the south. How would the situation be described now? Would we be pronouncing the same word differently, or would we have two different words? As far as I’m concerned, it’s the latter… and that to me is a situation that makes far more sense. Of course, it wouldn’t be in the government’s interests to do that to the most powerful language in the world… but my point is, it would be possible. And that alone to me undermines the whole argument that ‘accents’ and ‘dialects’ are different. Compare Castillian Spanish ‘playa’ (beach) with Catalan ‘platja’. They could easily be said to be the same word, if they were spelled the same, just pronounced differently. However, dialects are given more recognition in Spain whereas they are suppressed in England. Feel free to shoot my theory down 🙂

  10. So accent is the part of dialect or we might say, dialect includes accent in a language. For example in kiswahili language, we have kiswahili cha bara and kiswahili cha pwani, so both are dialects of kiswahili but within a dialect for example kiswahili cha bara, different people with regard to the effect of their first language, as kiswahili is the second language for the most Tanzanians, peole pronounce the same words differently. For example ”VIATU” Which means shoes, for the nyakyusa they pronounce ”fiatu” as in nyakyusa they dont have the voiced labiodental fricative ”v” so the voiceless ‘f” replaces., Kura, instead of kula ‘which means to eat for the kuria people as they dont have lateral sounds ‘[l] so retroflex replaces the missing.

  11. Dialects and accents alike are not tolerated in the U.S.. I speak the ‘Appalachian English’ Dialect but I am in the military so I travel around the country (and world for that matter) and no matter where I go, I am teased and poorly imitated. I noticed when working with some British folks that our dialect is more similar to ‘British English’ than ‘Standard American English’ though its not very apparent based on accent alone. Most non-Americans do not know that everyone in America does not sound like the actors and actresses you hear on your favorite Hollywood films. Just for everyone’s knowledge here are some vocabulary words you will find in an Appalachian mans . dictionary that’s not Standard AmE.

    Buggy = Grocery Cart/Shopping Cart
    Wasper = Wasp
    Heared = Heard
    Seed = Saw
    Knowed = Knew
    Airish = Windy or Chilly
    Sigoglin (sigh-gog-lin) = Crooked/Leaning (not strait)
    Boomer = Red Squirrel
    Coke/Dope = Soda/Pop
    Holler = Hollow (Small Valley)
    Bottoms = Flat Lowlands
    Far = Fire
    Yonder = A loosely defined place
    Yay = So (As in holding hand horizontally and saying “He’s about yay tall”
    Reckon = Figure/Calculate
    Yuns = Y’all/Yous/You Guys (Plural You)

    Of course there are many more but here is a sample of the more common ones.

  12. In Nigeria also, there are various languages but taking the yoruba language for example, there are many dialects like the ijesha, ekiti, ondo and the rest. accent deals with sounds while dialect deals with the varieties in the vocabulary of a language. I am staying in the north now and i have to learn their language, but i discover that my accent is still there…

  13. Your ACCENT is connected with the way you pronounce words.

    But DIALECT is connected with words and groups of words which are different in different parts of the country. Many dialectal words or phrases have died out now and are only used by older people.


  14. So can ebonics be considered a dialect? if someone speaks with ‘incorrect’ grammar, and mispronounces many words but lives in the same area as other people who do not speak that way, would that just be an accent or a dialect? axe=ask, i be, you be, he/she/it be.

  15. So can ebonics be considered a dialect? No. For what it’s worth. Some will argue it is, but there is a difference between a dialect and simply speech badly learned. Others, of course, will disagree with that and say there is no difference and anything a group of “peoples says is a-ight”. Here is the distinction I would make: A dialect is a variation on a standard language typology (even if that standard is constructed), a sub-dialect is a variation on THAT. So General American English is a dialect of Language of English. British English is a different dialect of the English Language. Likewise Australian English, etc.

    New Enlgand, Dixie, etc are large, general sub-dialects or regional dialects, of American English. A dialect has an established grammar, vocabulary, syntax, etc. of its own that in a literary and advanced language like English should have a literary history of its own. Dialects will be observably different in writing because of grammatical and word differences; as opposed to “accents” which are simply differences in pronunciation.

    Sub-standard speech is simply that. A sub-standard form of a language or dialect that may have its own conventions, but has no literary existence and so no ability to communicate sophisticated concepts due its lack of sophisticated vocabulary or constructions. Its source is not different education– like US vs UK– but a lack of education. Anyways…

  16. Ebonics, also referred to as African American Vernacular English, is absolutely a dialect of English. It is a dialect that has its own specific linguistic features which don’t occur in the Standard American English. It isn’t a form of sub-standard speech, but instead a dialect with distinct grammatical, morphological, and syntactical characteristics that aren’t wrong or bad at all, they are just different from the standard. So, yes Ebonics is a dialects of English.

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