Definition and Examples of Acrolects in Language

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In sociolinguistics, acrolect is a creole variety that tends to command respect because its grammatical structures do not deviate significantly from those of the standard variety of the language. Adjective: acrolectal.

Contrast with basilect, a language variety that is significantly different from the standard variety. The term mesolect refers to intermediate points in the post-creole continuum.
The term acrolect was introduced in the 1960s by William A. Stewart and later popularized by linguist Derek Bickerton in Dynamics of a Creole System (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1975)


  • "Acrolects . . . are better described as linguistic innovations characterized by the incorporation of linguistic features which have their origin in the contact situation itself. Unlike standard languages, acrolects usually have no overt set of linguistic norms and are pragmatically motivated (i.e. depend on the formality of the situation). In other words, the concept of the acrolect is both absolute (on the level of the speech community) and relative (on the level of the individual) . . .."
    (Ana Deumert, Language Standardization and Language Change: The Dynamics of Cape Dutch. John Benjamins, 2004)

Varieties of British English Spoken in Singapore

"For [Derek] Bickerton, an acrolect refers to the variety of a creole that has no significant difference from Standard English, often spoken by the most educated speakers; the mesolect has unique grammatical features that distinguish it from Standard English; and the basilect, often spoken by the least educated people of the society, has very significant grammatical difference.
"In reference to Singapore, [Mary W.J.] Tay points out that the acrolect has no significant grammatical differences from Standard British English and typically differs in vocabulary only by extending the meaning of existing words, for example, using the word 'bungalow' to refer to a two-storied building. The mesolect, on the other hand, has a number of unique grammatical features such as the dropping of some indefinite articles and the lack of plural marking on some count nouns. Also, there are several loan words from Chinese and Malay. The basilect has more significant differences such as copula deletion and do-deletion within direct questions. It is also characterized by the use of words that are typically considered slang or colloquialisms."
(Sandra Lee McKay, Teaching English as an International Language: Rethinking Goals and Approaches. Oxford Univ. Pres, 2002)

Varieties of American English Spoken in Hawaii

"Hawaiian Creole is now in a state of decreolization (with English structures slowly replacing the original creole structures). In other words, one may observe in Hawaii an example of what linguists call a post-creole continuum: SAE, which is taught in schools, is the acrolect, that is, the socially prestigious lect, or language variant, at the top of social hierarchy. At the bottom socially is the basilect—'heavy pidgin' or more accurately 'heavy creole,' a lect least influenced by SAE, usually spoken by people of low economic and social status who had very little education and very little chance to learn the acrolect in school. Between the two there is a continuum of mesolects ('in between' variants) which range from being very close to the acrolect to those which are very close to the basilect. Many people in Hawaii control various parts of this continuum. For example, most educated, professional people born in Hawaii, able to speak SAE at work in the office, switch to Hawaiian Creole when relaxing at home with friends and neighbors." (Anatole Lyovin, An Introduction to the Languages of the World. Oxford Univ. Press, 1997)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Acrolects in Language." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Definition and Examples of Acrolects in Language. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Acrolects in Language." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).