What is Dialect?

What is dialect and where does it come from? Are accent and dialect the same thing? And is it all just bad English? Dialect is a subject that delights, but also confuses. If it’s got you feeling a bit giddy-headed, read on!

I say po-TAY-to, you say po-TAH-to…When you think of dialect, perhaps Gershwin’s famous song comes to mind. But dialect isn’t just about pronunciation. It’s also about the words we use, and the way we put them together. Three main ingredients – pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar – can vary hugely according to where you’re from. Taken together, these ingredients combine in distinctive ways to form dialects: different, yet equally valid varieties of the same language.

Whether you say po-TAY-to or po-TAH-to does matter therefore, but so does your name for this king of root vegetables. Do you call it a chitty, a murphy, a spud, a teddy or a tater? What is your word for potatoes when they’ve been cut long-ways and deep fried? And was you or were you having them for your dinner, your tea or your supper last night?

Find out more

If you still have an appetite for more, read on as we delve deeper into dialect. We’ve broken down this tricky topic into digestible chunks that explore how dialects are made and where they come from.