Understanding Dialectology

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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The scientific study of dialects, or the regional differences in a language.

Although to some extent an autonomous discipline, dialectology is regarded by some linguists as a subfield of sociolinguistics.

What is Dialectology?

  • "Sociolinguists and dialectologists share some goals and methods. We both tend to be interested in the language of a particular place (a speech community), language in use, 'authentic' speech, and defining a language variety in terms of how it might differ from the standard. A major difference is that in the past dialectologists or dialect geographers have been interested in the most divergent, traditional language of a community, assuming that other forms resulted from later movement toward the standard. Sociolinguists, on the other hand, are interested in the full range of forms in a community (and their social evaluation) ...
    The goals of dialect geography and dialectology have been to show where particular speech features are found, and to discover the boundaries between dialect regions. But dialect geography has also tried to find the most traditional speech in each region, on the assumption that regional dialects are most distinct when they haven't been influenced by their neighbors, or by mainstream language."
    (Gerard Van Herk, What Is Sociolinguistics? Wiley-Blackwell, 2012)

Dialect Geography

  • "Dialect geography [is] a methodology or (more accurately) a set of methods for gathering evidence of dialect differences systematically ...
    "More than a century has elapsed since the first major project in dialect geography was undertaken, and in that time there have been hundreds of projects, great and small, that have made use of the methodology ...
    "The resurgence [of dialect geography] began in the 1980s. We have already noted some of the benchmarks: the revival of the Middle and South Atlantic States project under Kretzschmar, the resumption of analysis of the survey of English dialects by Upton and his associates, and, of course, Pederson's Gulf States publications. In addition to these, significant regional projects are taking place in Spain directed by Manuel Alvar, in France sponsored by the Centre national de la Recherche Scientifique, and in many other places, including Mexico, Canary Islands, Vanuatu, and Réunion. Dialect atlases are appearing in relative profusion, some of them belated culminations of old field work and others the end-products of more recent research.
    "One reason for the resurgence is technological. Dialectology, the most data-oriented branch of language studies, finally found itself with tools commensurate to its task."
    (J. K. Chambers and Peter Trudgill, Dialectology, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Social Dialectology

  • "Social dialectology differs from traditional dialectology in its shift of focus from rural, settled communities to communities characterized by immigration and mobility... A sign that social dialectology is maturing as a discipline is that scholars are now able to compare the results of a range of studies in order to locate and explain parallel developments."
    (David Britain and Jenny Cheshire, "Introduction." Social Dialectology: In Honour of Peter Trudgill. John Benjamins, 2003)

Forms of Dialectology

  • "In social dialectology, boundaries between varieties are identified on the basis of trained linguists' observations of actual phonetic and grammatical features that constitute salient differences between varieties. In regional dialectology, boundaries are identified on the basis of what trained fieldworkers are able to elicit from speakers or speakers' reports of what they usually say. In perceptual dialectology, the beliefs and thoughts that non-linguists have about language are used to distinguish varieties. People's perceptions about language, whether descriptively accurate or not, are just as important to the researcher as the objective facts about how speakers talk."
    (Miriam Meyerhoff, Introducing Sociolinguistics, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2011)
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Nordquist, Richard. "Understanding Dialectology." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-dialectology-1690388. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Understanding Dialectology. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-dialectology-1690388 Nordquist, Richard. "Understanding Dialectology." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-dialectology-1690388 (accessed March 31, 2023).