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Robert Louis Stevenson, "Truth of Intercourse" (1879)


The distinctive speech of an individual, considered as a linguistic pattern unique among speakers of his or her language or dialect.

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Coined by linguist Bernard Bloch: from Greek idio (personal, private) + (dia)lect


  • "Because each of us belongs to different social groups, we each speak a language variety made up of a combination of features slightly different from those characteristic of any other speaker of the language. The language variety unique to a single speaker of a language is called an idiolect. Your idiolect includes the vocabulary appropriate to your various interests and activities, pronunciations reflective of the region in which you live or have lived, and variable styles of speaking that shift subtly depending on whom you are addressing."
    (Thomas P. Klammer, Muriel R. Schulz, and Angela Della Volpe, Analyzing English Grammar. Longman, 2007)

  • "Almost all speakers make use of several idiolects, depending on the circumstances of communication. For example, when family members talk to each other, their speech habits typically differ from those any one of them would use in, say, an interview with a prospective employer. The concept of idiolect refers to a very specific phenomenon--the speech variety, or linguistic system, used by a particular individual. All those idiolects that have enough in common to appear at least superficially alike belong to a dialect. The term dialect, then, is an abstraction."
    (Zdeněk Salzmann, Language, Culture, and Society. Westview, 2003)

  • "It must be noted that the very existence of the term 'idiolect' as a proper object of linguistic description represents a defeat of the Saussurian notion of langue as an object of uniform social understanding."
    (William Labov, Sociolinguistic Patterns. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1972)

  • The Lighter Side of Idiolects
    "'Zerts are what I call desserts. Tray-trays are entrees. I call sandwiches sammies, sandoozles, or Adam Sandlers. Air conditioners are cool blasterz, with a z. I don't know where that came from. I call cakes big ol' cookies. I call noodles long-ass rice. Fried chicken is fri-fri chicky-chick. Chicken parm is chicky chicky parm parm. Chicken cacciatore? Chicky catch. I call eggs pre-birds or future birds. Root beer is super water. Tortillas are bean blankies. And I call forks . . . food rakes."
    (Aziz Ansari as Tom in Parks and Recreation, 2011)

    SpongeBob: [Wearing underwear on his head and walking backwards] Mr. Krabs, hello. Do you how do?
    Mr. Krabs: Why are you talking funny, man?
    SpongeBob: I anything can't do right since because pickles.
    Mr. Krabs: Nonsense. You'll be back working at the Krusty Krab in no time.
    SpongeBob: I don't think ready back go to work, Mr. Krabs.
    Mr. Krabs: You're doing just fine.
    ("Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy/Pickles." SpongeBob SquarePants, 1999)
Pronunciation: ID-ee-eh-lekt
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