Dialect: Development and Significance

Abstract

Dialects and their varieties have recently become the point of a renewed discussion among scholars and researchers. Any language has its varieties and the formation of these varieties is predetermined by a number of factors. What is even more important, language varieties (or dialects) differ between themselves; this makes this topic even more attractive when it comes to carrying out of the research.

In light of the renewed interest to the language dialects, it is necessary to research dialect origin and creation in more detail. Of special interest are the sources, which influence the formation of dialect. This research paper addresses all these issues. First of all, it draws attention to how the interest to dialect formation has changed over the past several years and what the currents studies on this topic focus on.

Secondly, the paper presents the information on where dialect comes from focusing mainly on geography and political influences. In addition, the ways of dialect’s creation are identified. This is followed by the discussion of the sources of dialect among which social, physical, and cultural sources are named as the most important because they influence dialect formation most strongly.

Introduction

Division of our modern society into numerous social groups leads the unavoidable development of language differences. Every language has certain differences with regard to location, cultural preferences, or even traditions. People introduce new manners of words’ pronunciation, use different accents, and introduce some new words to underline their individualities.

Such a widespread development of language differences and variations introduces a new linguistic term, dialect, that is aimed at defining the reasons of why language becomes different within various social groups and what causes its spread over the world.

The peculiar feature of dialect is that it may be used in two different ways like any variation of language that is inherent to one social group and like a variety of a standard language, considering numerous social and cultural factors.

Dialect has its roots in both time and space, and this is why it is always connected to certain geographical, cultural, and social points. Historical background proves that the term dialect had no distinctions with the term language till the Renaissance period, when dialect as a term was detached from language and named as its variation.

The history of dialect is unique indeed and has close connection to numerous social, geographical, and cultural concepts; the relation to these factors makes dialect a considerably local term, a language variation with its own peculiarities of vocabulary, differences in pronunciation, and uniqueness of phrases.

The Origin of Dialect

Changing the Value of Dialect. The scholars have been trying to define the origin of dialect over the centuries. How come that there emerge different varieties of one and the same language? Where do these varieties come from? Since the number of dialects in the world is incalculable, it is reasonable to seek answers to these questions. The number of standard languages is immense and, so far, it is impossible to understand why, in addition to these languages, the development of dialects takes place.

For a long time the word “dialect” has been associated with low social status because people who use dialects for inter-communication, as a rule, belong to a separate community and, in most of the instances, this community is poorly developed (Filppula, 2005). At present, however, dialects have attracted special attention on the part of the researchers for the reason that now they are considered as peculiarities of a definite language which a separate society uses for communication.

In the modern society dialects are not disrespected; instead, they are studied: “Typology, cognitive linguistics, discourse analysis and pragmatics have provided fresh perspectives on old problems and opened up completely new lines of research such as cognitive dialectology, folk linguistics, and perceptional dialectology” (Filppula, 2005, p. vii). All these studies allow learning much about dialect and its origins in particular.

Geographical Origins. There is much evidence that namely geography is responsible for the formation and distribution of dialects, which emerge as a simple variation of a language but then gradually turn into a separate system used for encoding and decoding of certain information.

As mentioned by Wolfram, Carolyn, & Christian (1999), there exist different reasons for the languages developing certain varieties, but in most of the cases this occurs due to one definite factor: “When groups are physically or socially separated in some way, language differences can be expected.

As a language changes … differences show up between dialects as groups of people follow different paths of language change” (p. 6). Thus, for instance, people occupying a definite territory develop a variety of a separate language, especially if their communication with other groups is limited. This variety of language differs in grammar, pronunciation and, what is the most important, vocabulary.

Since people living on separate territories are involved in definite trades and, therefore, have different names for specific objects. The names for the objects emerge on the basis of what is known about them; this being the reason, these names may differ from group to group. This, however, is only one of the factors that influence the development of dialects with respect to geography.

It is also important to mention that peculiarities of the landscape and the territory that people occupy also have an effect on the development of a definite dialect. It was sometimes the case that people were forced to leave a country and settle on a separate territory; however, there were cases when “natural barriers such as mountains and rivers have … cut people off from each other, creating a natural basis for differences to emerge and be maintained” (Wolfram et al., 1999, p. 6).

In this way, though geographically being the citizens of one and the same country, people had to develop their own language for communication due to their being separated from the ingenuous informants. With respect to this, rivers, mountains, or other natural barriers also had a significant role in shaping a particular dialect.

To be more exact, the names of these barriers had considerable influence on the development of words and word-combinations within a definite dialect. At this, the basics of the original language from which dialect evolved also mattered because “dialect speakers acquire their language by adopting the speech features of those around them, not by failing in their attempts to adopt standard language features” (Wolfram & Schilling-Estes, 2006, p. 8).

This testifies to the fact that dialect cannot develop from nothing because, in this case, it will be a separate language, not a variety of it. Therefore, dialects can also emerge because of the natural barriers, which once again proves that dialect mainly comes from geography.

Political Origins. Political origin of dialect is closely related to the geographical one, though certain differences still exist. Here, it is necessary to distinguish between “dialect” and “language” because quite often these terms are used as synonyms. Language is a standard system used for communication, while dialect is only a variety of such a system.

Unlike language, dialect is non-standard; it does not have a written form and dialect speakers do not belong to a separate state. All that they can be united by is common territory that, in a number of cases, is a part of some state. This is what the political influence on dialect formation consists in. Politics distinguishes between language and dialect on the basis of the speakers’ belonging to a separate state and deserving a right to be called a separate people. With regards to this, a group of dialect speakers can enjoy only regional autonomy.

Thus, there emerges a distinction not only between language and between dialect, but a controversy between political and linguistic status of dialect. In this way, the origin of dialect is predetermined by certain political factors, which influence its formation, status, and development.

The Creation of Dialect

Dialect, though it is only a variety of language, is also created in accordance with definite principles. In general, “dialect is created whenever anyone speaks in a language not his own. Although such speech is often referred to as a foreign accent, it is one more form of dialectal expression” (Blunt, 1994, p. 1).

Since this form is used by a group of people for a long period of time, it usually develops certain set of features, standards, rules, and norms. Of course, these standards and rules are informal, but, due to the fact that they are used by a great number of people of a separate community, they are considered as acceptable:

Different communities may have slightly different norms, and this informal set of norms is the one that really counts in terms of social acceptance. It is important, for this reason, to carefully distinguish between those norms that make up the formal standard and the informal, yet highly influential, norms of social acceptability that govern most everyday, interactional evaluation of standardness. (Adger, Wolfram, & Christian, 2005, p. 15)

Taking this fact into account, the scholars distinguish between minimum and arbitrary standards when it comes to the discussion of dialect. As far as the minimum standards are concerned, they are “specifications that must be met for acceptability” (Luria, Seymour, & Smoke, 2005, p. 194).

Though the word “standard” seems to be inapplicable to dialect, it is still necessary to consider it. The question whether dialect is able to meet any standards is disputable; however, if there are features that allow distinguishing one dialect among the others, this means that this particular dialect was created according to the features peculiar for it only.

Despite this, the concept “minimum standard” can be applied only to standard language. Just like any other minimum standards (for instance, the safety ones), a variety of language has to go through a number of assessment stages before it is regarded as good enough or at least suitable (Adger et al., 2005).

From this, it derives that, if this variety does not pass all those stages, it will not be recognized as valid and, thus, it will not be referred to as standard language. In this case, the variety will be required to meet the arbitrary standards conformity with which will allow it to be called a dialect. The nature of arbitrary standards is simple; if a vast majority of people uses dialect with specific norms, than the dialect corresponds to the arbitrary standards. A real-life example makes this idea more understandable:

For example, the United States uses Fahrenheit degrees to measure temperatures. Most of the rest of the world measures temperatures in degrees Celsius. One could argue that the Fahrenheit system is the inferior system. However that may be, Fahrenheit degrees … serve as an agreed upon arbitrary standard that everyone in the United States understands and uses. It is not so important that the best system of temperature measurement be used as it is that everyone agrees on the same arbitrary standard. (Luria et al., 2005, p. 194)

This is how the American society adopted the norms for measuring temperature. Similarly, the dialects are created if a definite number of people agree on the dialect norms. If these norms correspond to the arbitrary standards and none of the community members contests them, then dialect passes as acceptable. Just as in case with Fahrenheit degrees, dialect cannot be good or bad, as well as it cannot be compared with the standard language accepted in a definite society. What matters is that people agree on the norms of this dialect.

Grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and the like features are built according to the same standards. As it was already mentioned, dialect is not written, which is why there cannot be any disputes regarding grammatical or any other characteristics of the language, which a particular community speaks.

This being the reason, grammar of any dialect is, as a rule, simplified. It is remarkable, however, that dialect develops a definite system of inflections, verb forms, formation of plural number, etc. This, of course, depends on whether the primary language is analytical or synthetic.

In most of dialects, the basics of the language are preserved, though they undergo simplification with some of the inflections or auxiliary verbs being omitted. Pronunciation in dialect is also oriented towards simplification; any dialect can be characterized by assimilation, amalgamation, reduction, and the like processes which are completely unacceptable in standard languages. The same goes for vocabulary.

While a standard language does not allow the usage of certain words or refers them to the colloquial ones, dialect does not classify the words into acceptable and unacceptable. Besides, the vocabulary is built on the basis of the community’s peculiarities, such as territory, occupations, education, geographical position, and the like factors.

Thus, dialect is created only if its characteristics correspond to certain norms and standards. Unlike standard language which has to correspond to minimum standards, dialect has to be in conformity only with the arbitrary ones, which serve as a basis for dialect’s grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation formation.

Sources of Dialect

Dialect takes a very important place in linguistic and becomes crucial for communication between people of the same nationality. In order to present correct and reliable communication, it is necessary to understand the sources of dialects and the factors, which influence dialect appearance. Because of the constant dilemma that is inherent to the nature and development of dialect, it turns out to be very hard to define one concrete source of dialect.

There are many different reasons of language diversity, and sources of dialect may vary considerably. Numerous sociolinguistic and dialectological studies prove that “physical, cultural, and social facts are responsible for the variation in U. S. English” (Wolfram, Adger, & Christian, 1999, p.6). Each of the above-mentioned sources may be divided into certain sub-factors and has some special influence on dialect development and spreading.

Social Sources of Dialect. In spite of the fact that the sources of dialect are usually connected to physical or to be more exact to geographical factors, the role of social and cultural sources is significant as well. The diversity of social status is one of the first points that are reflected in dialect.

As a rule, dialects, which are created on the ground of social inequality, are called sociolects. Social status is a significant source of dialect across time and space: the representatives of upper classes always wanted to distance themselves far away from the representatives of lower classes, and the creation of language variety may serve as a kind of “flight of the elite” (Wolfram and Schilling-Estes, 2006, p.36).

For example, the historical development of the obligatory speaking norms underlines the privileges of standard English and admit that this variety of language has to be spoken by “a privileged segment of society that includes its political leaders, its opinion-makers, and its literati” (Landers, 2001, 116). Unfortunately, the social source of dialect creates some challenges and misunderstandings in the society.

Sweetland and Cheney (2001) admit that dialects are labeled as words by means of dictionaries; and poor people do not actually have a chance to present their own language in a written form, this is why many dialects, based on social inequality, may exist in oral forms only and are still unknown to a the whole world.

Cultural Uniqueness of Dialects. Cultural background becomes another significant source of dialect and its development over the world. Numerous cultural factors create such conditions, which have an impact on people’s manner of speaking and sharing information.

Any nation is usually proud of own cultural heritage and its racial variety that leads to the creation of different groups, this is why it is so crucial for any nation to preserve its own dialect that is considered to be an integral part of its heritage. If cultural changes take place, linguistic system is powerful enough and can easily adapt all current challenges in order to introduce a new dialect, prove its rights to existence, and explain why this very dialect has to be used and developed (Holmes, 2008).

Cultural differences usually affect the processes of communication between different people. If a person with particular cultural background tries to explain something to a person with different cultural background, numerous misunderstanding may appear immediately, and each of these representatives should be regarded as right.

The same situation happen with dialect spreading: one culture has its own rules and preferences and use a particular language to express emotions, share information, and enlarge knowledge. People, who may speak the same language but have other cultural preferences, may not understand the each other because of the varieties of language, in other words, because of the existed dialect.

Cultural and social factors are significant sources of dialect, however, some linguists cannot agree that these two factors may be regarded as the primary sources of dialect. After a thorough investigation of sounds, Blunt (1994) came to the conclusion that the primary source of any dialect is sound and utterance. Much depends on the way of how a sentence, a word, and a sound are pronounced.

Dialects are different by their nature, and people promote their development, taking into consideration their own abilities, awareness, and interests. Even the speed of speech may be an influential factor for dialect’s creation. Similarities to the already known accents, attention to geographical location, and peculiarity of social status – each of these issues may be added to the nature of sound pronounced and become a considerable source of dialect.

Sound as a Primary Source of Dialect. One more significant source of dialect may be any kind of contact to other languages. The historical overviews show that the existence of colonies took a significant place in the United States development. The varieties of colonies, where people spoke Spanish, Italian, and French, had a considerable influence into dialects of the United States.

People tried to find out the ways to communicate and use some common knowledge to comprehend each other, and such contact of Standard English with other languages led to the appearance of dialects and their fast and valid spreading over the whole Unites States of America. These regional distinctions should be also considered as important sources of dialect in any country, and in the United States as the country, raised from colonies and varieties of languages.

Conclusion

The role of dialect in our modern world becomes more and more important because of numerous reasons. First of all, people of different countries and nations try to preserve their heritage and share it with other representatives of various cultures.

The idea to save the existed dialect bothers many people, and in order to achieve success, it is crucially important to comprehend the sources of dialect, the reasons of dialect creation, and the peculiarities of dialect spreading, to investigate the places, where dialect came from, and to evaluate why dislocation of dialect still takes place.

Geographical factors like territorial division, cultural preferences like customs and traditions, and social issues like status inequality, or the desire to own higher positions – all this becomes important for dialect usage and for the reasons of language variety’s existence.

In general, it is impossible to say that dialect comes from one particular place. Dialect itself takes a long trip, and has connection to history, geography, and culture. And the ability to combine so many different influential factors is considered to be the major feature that distinguishes dialect from language and identifies dialect as a unique concept with its own sources, vocabulary, and pronunciation.

Annotated Bibliography

Wolfram, W., & Schilling-Estes, N. (2006). American English: Dialects and Variation. Malden, MA: BlackWell Publishing.

The author of this book presents clear information about language variations of English and takes into consideration such important points like ethnic differences and regional diversities. This source provides its reader with a chance to get a clear understanding of the difference between language and dialect and to find out why such term like dialect creates certain challenged to people while defining it as a linguistic concept. Attention to popular points of view makes this book interesting and reliable, because offered examples taken from every day life and communications help to evaluate information easily and comprehend facts quickly.

Adger, C. T., Wolfram, W., & Christian, D. (2007). Dialects in Schools and Communities. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

This new edition of cooperation of such great authors and linguists like Adger and Wolfram allows to study the process, which are usually inherent to dialects and their spreading in English. The description of popular ideas as for language variations and the reasons of their appearance, the analysis of impact of dialect differences, and the introduction of sources of dialect helps to study the topic of dialect to its full extent. The influence and responsibility of cultural and social factors in regards to dialect is perfectly described by means of theoretical material and illustrative examples.

Landers, C. E. (2001). Literary Translation: A Practical Guide. Tonawanda, NY: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

The dilemma of dialects creates numerous challenges for people, who are eager to communicate, translate information, or enlarge own level of knowledge by means of sources of different cultures. Landers (2001) admits that “dialect is a challenge unique to literary translation” (p. 116) and gives clear grounds for his statement. This books helps to comprehend that essence of dialect is influential not only to the sphere of communication but also to the sphere of translation, and this is why it becomes more important to evaluate the origins of dialect.

Sweetland, J. H., & Cheney, F. N. (2001). Fundamental Reference Sources. ALA Editions.

The attention of these authors is paid to the peculiarities of references and the material that is available in electronic formats. They share their knowledge of how to find out electronic media and how to achieve success while using various dictionaries. The authors also touch upon the concept of dialects, because their uniqueness leads to considerable changes of dictionaries. As dialect is “essentially local” (Sweetland & Cheney, 2001), the creation of dialect dictionaries has to be careful and particular. The work if these authors prove that the theme of dialect has to be evaluated properly, because the role of these language variations remains to be important.

Wolfram, W., Adger, C. T., & Christian, D. (1999). Dialects in School and Communities. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

The book of these authors is directed to the evaluation of dialect differences of English that is used in the United States of America. It is necessary to admit that physical, cultural, and social factors become crucial for dialects: conditions under which people live requires changes from time to time, and language has to adopt these challenges and consider new conditions in the forms of dialects and other language variations. People always want to differ from each other, and the creation of dialects within one concrete society is the attempt number one that allows achieving the goal and become different.

Luria, H., Seymour, D. M., & Smoke, T. (2006). Language and Linguistics in Context: Readings and Applications for Teachers. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

This source is aimed at describing the ways of dialect’s creation and spreading over the world. With the help real life examples, the author introduces the concept of dialect and underlines the most important stages of its development in the United States and worldwide. The distinct features of Standard English and its dialects have to be considered as well, because they help to comprehend how language varies or should vary and to analyze the reasons of why language and dialect cannot be regarded as similar concepts.

Blunt, J. (1994). Stage Dialects. Woodstock, Illinois: The Dramatic Publishing Company.

The author of this book starts his investigations from presentation of a clear and comprehensive explanation of dialect regarding it as “a distinctive form of pronunciation, language structure, and vocabulary which is identified with a geographical area or a social class” (Blunt, 1994, p. 1). This definition introduces not only the essence of the term dialect but also specifies its sources and peculiarities. Simple structure of book, attention to current changes of society, and specification of dialect sources – all this makes the book of this writer a captivating source full of necessary and reliable for this research information.

Holmes, J. (2008). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

The author concentrates on significant research concerning dialects and factors, which may influence its development. Gender and age points, cultural background, and social inequality becomes important thins to pay attention to, because each of them is able to create challenges for language varieties and people understanding of why these varieties take place.

Filppula, M. (2005). Dialects across Borders: Selected Papers form the 11th International Conference on Methods in Dialectology. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

This source introduces another important side of dialect: dialect values are considerable indeed, and numerous studies have to be conducted because this sphere is hard to investigate completely, and the development of new conditions creates new challenges for evaluation. It is not enough to divide dialect sources according to its geographical location or ethnical identification, and research on dialects has to be carried out constantly to take into account current preferences.

Reference List

Adger, C. T., Wolfram, W., & Christian, D. (2007). Dialects in Schools and Communities. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Blunt, J. (1994). Stage Dialects. Woodstock, Illinois: The Dramatic Publishing Company.

Filppula, M. (2005). Dialects across Borders: Selected Papers form the 11th International Conference on Methods in Dialectology. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Holmes, J. (2008). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Landers, C. E. (2001). Literary Translation: A Practical Guide. Tonawanda, NY: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Luria, H., Seymour, D. M., & Smoke, T. (2006). Language and Linguistics in Context: Readings and Applications for Teachers. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Sweetland, J. H., & Cheney, F. N. (2001). Fundamental Reference Sources. ALA Editions.

Wolfram, W., & Schilling-Estes, N. (2006). American English: Dialects and Variation. Malden, MA: BlackWell Publishing.

Wolfram, W., Adger, C. T., & Christian, D. (1999). Dialects in School and Communities. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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