The Thin Line: Exploring the Boundary Between Dialect vs Language

Tori Tornreviewed byIryna Andrus / more about Editorial Process6 min
Created: Mar 13, 2024Last updated: Apr 11, 2024
Dialect vs Language

In the diverse world we live in, it is no wonder there are so many languages. According to Ethnologue, a well-known language database, there are over seven thousand living tongues. And we can only imagine how many dialects and accents each one has! In today’s article, we explore the case of dialect vs language vs accent to find out their differences and learn other essential nuances. So buckle up, and let’s unveil this tricky subject!

Languages, Dialects, and Accents: Defining Them All

To figure out all the details of this important topic, it is essential to understand the definitions of each term and see what we can learn from this information. Hence, for starters, let’s find it out together!

Meaning and Example of Language

Essentially, we all might know what the word “language” means. But how can we define it more clearly? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it is a communication system consisting of different words, sounds, and grammar. Language can be spoken or written, and it is usually associated with a certain geographic area or group of people.

Most countries have at least one (but often more than one) official language used in government, education, television, and other formal communications. Some examples of tongues are English, Spanish, French, Hindi, Hebrew, and many others. Quite clear, right? So, with this information in mind, let’s find out what a dialect is.

Meaning and Example of Dialect 

Some people frequently wonder, is a dialect a language? And although they share many similarities, the only right answer is a firm no. A dialect is a distinct form of the language spoken in a certain part of the country or by a specific group of people. Such variations appear due to many factors, including regional differences, historical migrations, cultural and social influences, etc. 

Most dialects differ from the standard languages in pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, syntax, unique speech patterns, and other factors. However, despite the number and variety of dialects, it is important to remember that they are not considered separate languages. Instead, they are viewed as a branch of a larger linguistic system.

And what is an example of dialect? The first one that comes to mind is Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese – both are very widespread and spoken in different parts of the country and are considered dialects. Other examples include Canadian French, Egyptian Arabic, Sicilian Italian, and Swiss German. Different forms of Standard English, such as British, American, or Australian, might also be considered dialects.

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Meaning and Example of Accent

Now, you know that a language is a form of communication, and a dialect is a form of a language. In that case, what is an accent? In layman’s terms, it is a unique way of the language’s pronunciation peculiar to a certain country, area, or social class. Accents are a great example of the diversity of our world. Within the borders of the same country, you can meet people with different accents. Moreover, various dialects might have their accents as well! 

Let’s explore some accent and dialect examples in English. We’ve already mentioned that different forms, such as British or American English, might be considered dialects. They have plenty of distinctive features, like vocabulary or grammar rules. But there is also an obvious difference in pronunciation – that is why we can usually say whether the person speaks British or American English.

Do you feel a bit overwhelmed yet? Because that’s not all! Each British and American dialect in speech (whether you consider them dialects or not) has different accents within themselves. This list is extensive; some examples include Midwestern, Californian, AAVE accents in American English and Cockney, Geordie, and Scouse in British English. And that’s just within one language! 

Similarity and Difference Between Language and Dialect

Since there are so many languages and dialects in the world, it might be quite challenging to determine which one you deal with. To help you understand it, we’ve created lists of similarities and distinctions between them, which might be useful. So, what is the difference between a language and a dialect?

  • Mutual intelligibility. Speakers of dialects can usually understand each other, at least to some extent. Mutual intelligibility between languages is typically much lower. But, of course, there can be exceptions in both directions.
  • Standardization. Languages often have a standardized form used in education, government, and media. Dialects, on the other hand, are frequently considered regional or informal variations.
  • Writing systems. Most languages have their unique writing systems, but dialects typically come only in spoken forms.

And what about the similarities?

  • Both dialects and languages are variations in how people communicate.
  • They share a common ancestor language in the distant past.
  • Regardless of the language or dialect, they share common linguistic elements such as phonemes (individual sounds), morphemes (smallest units of meaning), syntax (word order), and semantics (meaning).
  • Most languages and dialects have similar grammatical structures, including the use of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and conjunctions. While the specific rules may vary, the underlying principles are often consistent.

As you can see, the language dialect definition is quite similar – they are both forms of communication peculiar to a certain area or a group of people. However, it doesn’t mean that it is the same thing. It is essential to understand all the nuances, both linguistic and social, behind each language and dialect to appreciate the diversity of our world.

Master Different Languages with Promova

If your goal is to master English or other foreign languages, you are on the right page! Promova is a language-learning platform created to help you reach your fluency goals. For those aiming to learn English, we offer:

  • one-on-one and group lessons with professional tutors;
  • free trial lesson to take a glance at the studying process;
  • free Conversation Club to practice speaking skills;
  • personalized course created based on your current level.

And much more! Additionally, if you want to learn Spanish, French, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, or other tongues, you can install a convenient Promova application and study anywhere and anytime you want. So, if you are just starting your language-learning journey or looking for different options to perfect your current level, don’t hesitate, and give Promova a try!

Conclusion

Now that you know how is dialect different from language and accent, it is time to finish our article. We hope that with the help of today’s article, you will understand that, despite the numerous similarities, each communication form has many differences, and cannot be considered the same thing. And we are excited to see you in the next one!

FAQ

Is it true that British English is a dialect?

The classification of British English as a dialect can be a matter of perspective and linguistic interpretation. It can indeed be considered a dialect, encompassing various regional variations and accents within the United Kingdom. However, it’s essential to recognize that British English itself also includes several distinct regional dialects, so while it as a whole can be considered a dialect, it’s composed of multiple sub-dialects.

How many dialects does English have?

English is a global language spoken in many countries, each with its own unique dialects and accents. Estimates of the number of English dialects range from dozens to over a hundred, depending on the criteria used to define a dialect.

Can dialects evolve into separate languages over time?

Although it is a very complicated process, it is still possible for dialects to become separate languages. Some linguists believe that it happens when a certain dialect can no longer be mutually intelligible with another dialect.

How do linguistic standardization efforts impact dialects?

Standardization involves establishing norms for spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, often based on the dialect spoken in the politically and economically dominant region. This can lead to the marginalization or suppression of regional dialects, as speakers may feel pressure to conform to the established form of the language in education, media, and other formal contexts.

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