regional dialect

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

regional dialects in USA
Most dialectal differences in the U.S. are based on geographic region. (Andy Sacks/Getty Images)

A regional dialect is a distinct form of a language spoken in a particular geographical area. Also known as a regiolect or topolect.

If the form of speech transmitted from a parent to a child is a distinct regional dialect, that dialect is said to be the child's vernacular.

Examples and Observations

  • "As opposed to a national dialect, a regional dialect is spoken in one particular area of a country. In the USA, regional dialects include Appalachian, New Jersey and Southern English, and in Britain, Cockney, Liverpool English and 'Geordie' (Newcastle English). . . .

    "In contrast to a regional dialect, a social dialect is a variety of a language spoken by a particular group based on social characteristics other than geography."
    (Jeff Siegel, Second Dialect Acquisition. Cambridge University Press, 2010)
  • "[L]inguists refer to so-called Standard English as a dialect of English, which from a linguistic point of view, is no more 'correct' than any other form of English. From this point of view, the monarchs of England and teenagers in Los Angeles and New York all speak dialects of English,"
    (Adrian Akmajian, Linguistics: An Introduction to Language and Communication, 5th ed. The MIT Press, 2001)

Studies of the Regional Dialects in North America

"The investigation of the regional dialects of American English has been a major concern for dialectologists and sociolinguists since at least the early part of the twentieth century, when The Linguistic Atlas of the United States and Canada was launched and dialectologists began conducting large-scale surveys of regional dialect forms. Although the traditional focus on regional variation took a back seat to concerns for social and ethnic dialect diversity for a couple of decades, there has been resurgent interest in the regional dimension of American dialects.

This revitalization was buoyed by the publication of different volumes of the Dictionary of American Regional English (Cassidy 1985; Cassidy and Hall 1991, 1996; Hall 2002), and more recently, by the publication of The Atlas of North American English (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2005)." (Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes, American English: Dialects and Variation, 2nd ed.

Blackwell, 2006)

Varieties of Regional Dialects in the U.S.

"Some differences in U.S. regional dialects may be traced to the dialects spoken by colonial settlers from England. Those from southern England spoke one dialect and those from the north spoke another. In addition, the colonists who maintained close contact with England reflected the changes occurring in British English, while earlier forms were preserved among Americans who spread westward and broke communication with the Atlantic coast. The study of regional dialects has produced dialect atlases, with dialect maps showing the areas where specific dialect characteristics occur in the speech of the region. A boundary line called an isogloss delineates each area." (Victoria Fromkin, Robert Rodman, and Nina Hyams, An Introduction to Language, 9th ed. Wadsworth, 2011)

Regional Dialects in England and Australia

"The fact that English has been spoken in England for 1,500 years but in Australia for only 200 explains why we have a great wealth of regional dialects in England that is more or less totally lacking in Australia. It is often possible to tell where an English person comes from to within about 15 miles or less. In Australia, where there has not been enough time for changes to bring about much regional variation, it is almost impossible to tell where someone comes from at all, although very small differences are now beginning to appear." (Peter Trudgill, The Dialects of England, 2nd ed.

Blackwell, 1999)

Dialect Leveling

"[T]he frequent complaint today that 'dialects are dying out' reflects the fact that the basis for dialects has shifted. Nowadays, people travel hundreds of miles and think nothing of it. People commute to work in London from as far afield as Birmingham. Such mobility would explain, for example, why 150 years ago there was a traditional Kentish dialect, while today it barely survives, such is the close and regular contact with London. . . . [I]nstead of small relatively isolated communities where each person mingles with more or less the same people for a life-time, we have vast human melting-pots where people have diffuse social networks—mingling regularly with different people, adopting new speech forms and losing the old rural forms. Both developments in communication and the effects of urbanisation have contributed to dialect levelling, a term referring to the loss of original traditional dialectal distinctions." (Jonathan Culpeper, History of English, 2nd ed.

Routledge, 2005)