Virtually every language in the world has dialects—varieties of the language that are particular to a group of speakers. Dialects vary by region and by social group. Dialect diversity, or language variation, reflects the fact that languages change over time and that people who live in the same area or maintain the same social identity share language norms; in other words, they speak the same dialect.
Although many people believe that the variety of language they and the people around them speak is not a dialect, in reality, everyone speaks a dialect, since dialects are simply varieties of the same language. Many people also believe that there is only one correct form of a language, but in truth, no dialect is superior to another on linguistic grounds. All dialects are systematic language varieties that follow regular patterns of vocabulary choice, grammar, and pronunciation.
However, misconceptions persist regarding the use of different language varieties in the United States, especially in schools. While these issues have been recognized for years, and linguists have been conducting research to develop a better understanding of dialect patterns and attitudes toward U.S.dialects, much work remains to be done to develop dialect awareness and acceptance. To help inform the discussion, the Center for Applied Linguistics has created and collected a variety of resources related to dialects and language diversity.
Funder: Carnegie Corporation of New York, via subcontract from MacNeil Lehrer Productions
The Center for Applied Linguistics is a nonprofit organization promoting access, equity, and mutual understanding for linguistically and culturally diverse people around the world.