[Friday 25 January, 2013]
The concept of an ‘intranational’ dialect is familiar, and this is what the entry largely deals with. The ‘international’ dialects will be less familiar, and the notion of treating British English as a ‘dialect’ some will find disturbing. It should be stressed that the term ‘dialect’ doesn’t reduce the value of a language variety in any way (though it is indeed sometimes popularly used in a demeaning sense - ‘It’s just a dialect, not a real language’). You can counter such an attitude if you start referring to standard English, for example, as being the dialect of English with the greatest prestige, the dialect most widely used by educated people, and so on. Seen in the context of world English language use, British English is a dialect spoken by about 56 million people (out of a world total of over 2 billion speakers who now use the language.
Link this entry with the entries on accent
. Make sure the distinction with accent is clear: dialect is a matter of grammar and vocabulary. The accent in which a dialect is spoken is a separate question. Incidentally, the study of dialect is known as dialectology
Regional dialects attract widespread interest. There may well be a local dialect society near you. Dialect humour is a good source of illustration (such as Lern Yerself Scouse, The Scouse Press, Liverpool): there are examples in my Language Play, Chapter 2. It would be good to build up a collection of local dialect words and phrases, starting with those used in school. Dialect forms in literature are well illustrated in Norman Blake’s Non-standard Language in English Literature (Blackwell, 1981) - many examples can be found in Dickens, Emily Bronte, Eliot, Scott, Hardy. A famous example of the representation of regional dialect is in the speech of the four captains in Shakespeare’s Henry V.