Ethnic Dialects

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An ethnic dialect is the distinct form of a language spoken by members of a particular ethnic group. Also called socioethnic dialect.

Ronald Wardhaugh and Janet Fuller point out that "ethnic dialects are not simply foreign accents of the majority language, as many of their speakers may well be monolingual speakers of the majority language. . . . Ethnic dialects are ingroup ways of speaking the majority language" (An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, 2015).

In the United States, the two most widely studied ethnic dialects are African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) and Chicano English (also known as Hispanic Vernacular English). 


"People who live in one place talk differently from people in another place due largely to the settlement patterns of that area--the linguistic characteristics of the people who settled there are the primary influence on that dialect, and the speech of most people in that area shares similar dialect features.
However, . . . African American English is spoken primarily by Americans of African descent; its unique characteristics were due initially to settlement patterns as well but now persist due to the social isolation of African Americans and the historical discrimination against them. African American English is therefore more accurately defined as an ethnic dialect than as a regional one."

(Kristin Denham and Anne Lobeck, Linguistics for Everyone: An Introduction. Wadsworth, 2010)

Ethnic Dialects in the U.S.

"The desegregation of ethnic communities is an ongoing process in American society that continually brings speakers of different groups into closer contact. However, the result of contact is not always the erosion of ethnic dialect boundaries. Ethnolinguistic distinctiveness can be remarkably persistent, even in face of sustained, daily inter-ethnic contact. Ethnic dialect varieties are a product of cultural and individual identity as well as a matter of simple contact. One of the dialect lessons of the twentieth century is that speakers of ethnic varieties like Ebonics not only have maintained but have even enhanced their linguistic distinctiveness over the past half century."

(Walt Wolfram, American Voices: How Dialects Differ From Coast to Coast. Blackwell, 2006)

"Although no other ethnic dialect has been studied to the extent that AAVE has, we know that there are other ethnic groups in the United States with distinctive linguistic characteristics: Jews, Italians, Germans, Latinos, Vietnamese, Native Americans, and Arabs are some examples. In these cases the distinctive characteristics of English are traceable to another language, such as Jewish English oy vay from Yiddish or the southeastern Pennsylvania Dutch (actually German) Make the window shut. In some cases, the immigrant populations are too new to determine what lasting effects the first language will have on English. And, of course, we must always keep in mind that language differences never fall into discrete compartments even though it may seem that way when we try to describe them. Rather, such factors as region, social class, and ethnic identity will interact in complicated ways."

(Anita K. Berry, Linguistic Perspectives on Language and Education. Greenwood, 2002)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Ethnic Dialects." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Ethnic Dialects. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Ethnic Dialects." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).