What Is Dialect Prejudice?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

dialect prejudice
"Concerning dialect prejudice, George Bernard Shaw said, 'It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him'" ( The NATS Bulletin, 1945). (ineskoleva/Getty Images)

Dialect prejudice is discrimination based on a person's dialect or way of speaking. Dialect prejudice is a type of linguicism. Also called dialect discrimination.

In the article "Applied Social Dialectology," Adger and Christian observe that "dialect prejudice is endemic in public life, widely tolerated, and institutionalized in social enterprises that affect almost everyone, such as education and the media. There is limited knowledge about and little regard for linguistic study showing that all varieties of a language display systematicity and that the elevated social position of standard varieties has no scientific linguistic basis" (Sociolinguistics: An International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society, 2006).

Examples and Observations

  • "Some native-English speakers have had rich and/or school-like language experiences at home, and others have not. They bring dialect diversity to our classrooms. Dialects that vary from Standard English, such as Appalachian or African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), are often stigmatized as improper or inferior English. However, professional linguists do not consider these varieties inferior because they conform to consistent rules, and speakers are fully able to express ideas using the dialect. Nevertheless, conscious or unconscious dialect prejudice is widespread, even among individuals who speak the variation."
    (Deborah G. Litt et al., Literacy Teacher Education: Principles and Effective Practices. Guilford, 2014)
  • Responding to Dialect Prejudice
    "Language prejudices seem more resistant to change than other kinds of prejudice. Members of the majority culture, the most powerful group, who would be quite willing to accept and champion equality in other social and educational domains, may continue to reject the legitimacy of a dialect other than their own. . . . The high level of dialect prejudice found toward vernacular dialects by both mainstream and vernacular speakers is a fact that must be confronted honestly and openly by those involved in education about language and dialects.
    "The key to attitudinal changes lies in developing a genuine respect for the integrity of the diverse varieties of English. Knowledge about dialects can reduce misconceptions about language in general and the accompanying negative attitudes about some dialects."
    (Carolyn Temple Adger, Walt Wolfram, and Donna Christian, Dialects in Schools and Communities, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2007)
  • Dialect Prejudice in British Schools
    - "Language use is one of the last places where prejudice remains socially acceptable. It can even have official approval, as we see in attempts to suppress slang and dialects at school. . . .
    "Banning words is not a sound educational strategy. As Michael Rosen points out, schools have been trying this for more than 100 years to no avail. Research shows that gradual transition towards standard English works better. But because dialect prejudice is so prevalent, this must be done in such a way that children understand there’s nothing inherently wrong with their natural expression. . . .
    "There’s nowt wrong with regional dialects, nothing broke ass about slang. They’re part of our identities, connecting us to time, place, community, and self-image. They needn’t be displaced by formal English--we can have both."
    (Stan Carey, "There’s Nowt Wrong With Dialects, Nothing Broke Ass About Slang." The Guardian [UK], May 3, 2016)
    - "Sociolinguists have been fighting dialect prejudice since the 1960s, but negative and uninformed views about non-standard English are regaining currency in media and educational debates. Most recently, Carol Walker, headteacher of a Teesside primary school, wrote a letter to parents asking that they help tackle the 'problem' posed by their children's use of local dialect by correcting certain words, phrases and pronunciations associated with Teesside (including 'gizit ere' and 'yous').
    "Naturally, I support the school's aim of teaching pupils to use written standard English so that they can progress in future education and employment. However, focusing on speech will not improve their writing. . . .
    "Ultimately, it is not the presence or absence of non-standard forms in children's speech that raise educational issues; rather, picking on non-standard voices risks marginalising some children, and may make them less confident at school. Silencing pupils' voices, even with the best intentions, is just not acceptable."
    (Julia Snell, "Saying No to 'Gizit' Is Plain Prejudice." The Independent, February 9, 2013)
  • Variationist Sociolinguistics
    "[William] Labov and [Peter] Trugdill were seminal figures in the emergence of a sub-field of sociolinguistics that has come to be known as variationist sociolinguistics. Variationist sociolinguists focus on variation in dialects and examine how this variation is structured. They have shown that linguistic difference has regularity and can be explained. Scholars in this field have been central figures in the fight against dialect prejudice. Speaking from a position of 'scholarly and scientific detachment' (Labov 1982: 166), variationist sociolinguists have been able to show that the grammar of non-standard dialects is not wrong, lazy or inferior; it is simply different to 'standard English' and should therefore be respected. Some of these researchers have worked directly with teachers and teacher trainers and have designed curriculum materials on language variation for use in the classroom."
    (Julia Snell, "Linguistic Ethnographic Perspectives on Working-Class Children's Speech." Linguistic Ethnography: Interdisciplinary Explorations, ed. by Fiona Copland, Sara Shaw, and Julia Snell. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
  • The Beginnings of Dialect Prejudice
    "It is in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that we witness the beginnings of dialect prejudice; an early instance can be traced in the writings of a chronicler named John Trevisa, who complained that the Northumbrian dialect was so 'scharp, slitting [biting] and frottynge [grating] and unshape [unshapely]' that southerners like himself were unable to understand it. In the early seventeenth century, Alexander Gill, writing in Latin, labelled 'Occidentalium' (or Western dialect) the 'greatest barbarity' and claimed that the English spoken by a Somerset farmer could easily be mistaken for a foreign language.
    "Despite such remarks, the social stigmatization of dialect was not fully articulated before the eighteenth century, when a provincial accent became a badge of social and intellectual inferiority. In his Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-27), Daniel Defoe reported his encounter with the 'boorish country speech' of Devon--known to the locals as jouring--which was barely comprehensible to outsiders."
    (Simon Horobin, How English Became English. Oxford University Press, 2016) 
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Dialect Prejudice?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/dialect-prejudice-term-4052385. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). What Is Dialect Prejudice? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/dialect-prejudice-term-4052385 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Dialect Prejudice?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/dialect-prejudice-term-4052385 (accessed June 4, 2023).