Language, Dialect, and Variety.


  1. Definition of Language.
  2. Definition of Dialect.
  3. Definition of Variety.

Language and Variety

 LANGUAGE exhibits/displays internal variation. A language is used differently in different contexts. Language is the sum total of those varieties. Ex: The internal variation of the language is conveyed in the way people speak differently according to their ethnic backgrounds.

VARIETY means a form of language that is used by particular social groups in particular social contexts. It includes dialect, style, & register. Besides, Variety is a set of linguistic items whose use is governed by REGIONAL, SOCIAL, SITUATIONAL or OCCUPATIONAL factors/variables.

– Varieties of English may include:

+ American English (geographical region factor)
+ Welsh English (geographical region factor)
+ Cockney English (geographical region factor)
+ Formal English (situational factor)
+ Colloquial English = Conversational English (situational factor)
+ Scientific English (occupational factor)
+ Religious English (occupational factor)

+ Legal English (occupational factor)
+ Lower-class-New-York-City English (social geographical region factor)


DIALECT is a subordinate variety of a language. This means that, in order to distinguish between a language & a dialect, the requirement of subordination must be satisfied. Thus, we can say that language is “the subordinate term” & dialect is “the subordinate term”. Language is superior to dialect.

– There are two ways in which this requirement of subordination is met:

+ First: A language contains more items than 1 dialect. There’s a difference of size between a language & a dialect. A language is larger than any of its dialects. Ex: English language as a whole contains more items than any of its dialects such as Welsh, British…
+ Second: The other contrast between language & dialect is a question of prestige. A language has prestige which a dialect lacks. Whether some variety is called a language or a dialect depends on how much prestige one thinks it has which depends also on whether it is used in formal writing. People refer to languages that are not written as dialects or mere dialects.


 REGIONAL DIALECTS: One of the most noticeable ways in which we observe variety in language is regional variation in the way a language is spoken. Regional variation is based on geography as we travel throughout a wide geographical area in which a language is spoken we are almost certain to notice differences in pronunciation, in the choices & forms of words & in syntax. Such distinctive varieties are called “regional dialects of the language”. Regional dialects may be arranged in a DIALECT CONTINUUM, a chain of adjacent varieties in which each pairs are mutually intelligible, but pairs taken from opposite ends of the chain are not.

Ex 1: V1 V2 V3 V4 V5 V6 V7 V8 V9 V10
+ V1 & V2 are mutually intelligible (can be understood).
+ V1 & V10 are not mutually intelligible (cannot be understood).
Ex 2: One such continuum is set to stretch from Amsterdam in the Netherlands
through Germany to Vienna in Austria & another dialect continuum from Paris to
the South of Italy.

 Language, Dialect, and Variety.


 SOCIAL DIALECTS: The term dialect can also be used to describe differences in speech associated with various social groups or classes. It originate among social groups & are related to various factors such as social class, religion & ethnicity.

– The internal differentiation of human societies is reflected in their languages.
– Different social groups use different linguistic varieties.
– Social differentiation can take different forms based on class, age, gender, race & religion.
– One particular type of social differentiation is based on “social stratification” (Stratum).
– Social stratification is used to refer to any hierarchical ordering of groups within a society.
– In Western societies, this takes the form of stratification into social classes & gives rise to social class dialects.
– In India, society is stratified into CASTES & corresponding to these castes, there are caste dialects.
– Castes are stable, rigidly separated from each other with little possibility of movement from one caste to another.
– CASTE DIALECTS: are easier to study & describe than social class dialects.

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