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The Social Stratification of English in New York City, 2nd ed., by William Labov (Cambridge University Press, 2006)


A regional or social variety of a language distinguished by pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary, especially a way of speaking that differs from the standard variety of the language. Adjective: dialectal.

The scientific study of dialects is known as dialectology, commonly regarded as a subfield of sociolinguistics.

See also:


From the Greek, "speech"


  • "It is sometimes thought that only a few people speak regional dialects. Many restrict the term to rural forms of speech--as when they say that 'dialects are dying out these days.' But dialects are not dying out. Country dialects are not as widespread as they once were, indeed, but urban dialects are now on the increase, as cities grow and large numbers of immigrants take up residence. . . .

    "Some people think of dialects as sub-standard varieties of a language. spoken only by low-status groups--illustrated by such comments as 'He speaks correct English, without a trace of dialect.' Comments of this kind fail to recognize that standard English is as much a dialect as any other variety--though a dialect of a rather special kind, because it is one to which society has given extra prestige. Everyone speaks a dialect--whether urban or rural, standard or non-standard, upper class or lower class."
    (D. Crystal, How Language Works. Overlook, 2006)

  • Regional and Social Dialects
    "The classic example of a dialect is the regional dialect: the distinct form of a language spoken in a certain geographical area. For example, we might speak of Ozark dialects or Appalachian dialects, on the grounds that inhabitants of these regions have certain distinct linguistic features that differentiate them from speakers of other forms of English. We can also speak of a social dialect: the distinct form of a language spoken by members of a specific socioeconomic class, such as the working-class dialects in England."
    (A. Akmajian, Linguistics. MIT, 2001)

  • "Prestige" Dialects in New York City
    "In the earlier history of New York City, New England influence and New England immigration preceded the influx of Europeans. The prestige dialect which is reflected in the speech of cultivated Atlas informants shows heavy borrowings from eastern New England. There has been a long-standing tendency for New Yorkers to borrow prestige dialects from other regions, rather than develop a prestige dialect of their own. In the current situation, we see that the New England influence has retreated, and in its place, a new prestige dialect has been borrowed from northern and midwestern speech patterns. We have seen that for most of our informants, the effort to escape identification as a New Yorker by one's own speech provides a motivating force for phonological shifts and changes."
    (William Labov, The Social Stratification of English in New York City, 2nd ed. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006)

  • Dialect in Writing
    "Do not attempt to use dialect [when writing] unless you are a devoted student of the tongue you hope to reproduce. If you use dialect, be consistent. . . . The best dialect writers, by and large, are economical of their talents, they use the minimum, not the maximum, of deviation from the norm, thus sparing the reader as well as convincing him."
    (William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style, 3rd ed. Macmillan, 1979)

Pronunciation: DI-eh-lekt

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