linguist • writer • editor • lecturer • broadcaster
[Thursday 03 January, 2013]
Where’s this person from?
Hey, y’all, whose automobile is parked on the sidewalk?
And this person?
Hey, Jimmy, d’you no see the wee lassie waving at you?
And this one?
Hey there, wack, who’s that gear judy in the jigger?
Did you get the USA, Scotland, and Liverpool? Even if you didn’t, I’m sure you were able to see that the three sentences were showing the different ways people speak, depending on which part of the world they come from.
Certain words and phrases give the game away. Automobile and sidewalk are American English; in Britain we’d say car and pavement. For y’all (= ‘you all’) we’d probably say everyone or everybody. In the Scots example, you’ll have noticed wee (= ‘little’) and lassie (‘girl’), and the use of no (= ‘not’). In the Liverpool example, there’s gear (‘great’), judy (‘girl’), jigger (‘back alley’), and wack (‘mate’). These are all features of dialect - they tell you where someone comes from.
Usually, when people talk about dialects, they mean regional dialects: showing a person’s geographical origins in a particular country or locality or city. International dialects of English include British, American, Indian, Australian, and South African. Within Britain, we have Welsh, Scots, and Irish English, plus the dialects of immigrant groups, such as Jamaican English. Many parts of the country have their own dialects, such as Yorkshire, Lancashire, and the West Country. And some cities have their own dialects, too, such as Liverpool (Scouse), Birmingham (Brummie), and London (Cockney).
Keep your ears open for other kinds of dialect, apart from the regional ones. Some dialects will tell you where the speakers are from socially. Do they sound as if they’ve been educated in a public school for instance? These are called social dialects or class dialects. The main social dialect that you’ve already learned belongs to the written language - the kind of educated writing that you’re reading now. (See the entry on standard English to find out more about it.) You’ll also hear people talking about occupational dialects - varieties of the language which tell you the sort of job a person does (speaking or writing like a lawyer, or a priest, or a scientist, for instance).
Don’t mix up a dialect and an accent. You recognise a dialect because of its distinctive words and constructions. An accent is solely a matter of pronunciation. People in both Glasgow and Edinburgh speak the Scots dialect of English, but their accents are very different. And many kinds of accents are used when people speak standard English.
Cartoon 33a

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