Diversity within English

Essay by Jason ElwoodUniversity, Master'sA+, April 1997

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In order to understand how language variation descriptors are used, we first must understand what language

variation is. We can say that the U.S. is linguistically diverse because of the multitude of languages spoken here,

but we can also find diversity within these languages. All languages have both dialectical variations and registral

variations. These variations, or dialects, can differ in lexicon, phonology, and/or syntax from the Standard

Language that we often think of as Oecorrect' Language, although they are not necessarily less proper than, say,

Standard English. It depends on where, by whom, and in what situation the dialect is used as to whether or not it

is appropriate.

Most people are familiar with regional dialects, such as Boston, Brooklyn, or Southern. These types of

variations usually occur because of immigration and settlement patterns. People tend to seek out others like

themselves. Regional variations tend to become more pronounced as the speech community is more isolated by

physical geography, i.e.

mountain ranges, rivers. Linguists have done extensive studies on regional dialects,

producing detailed Linguistic Atlases. Many linguists can tell where a person is from just by knowing whether a

person carries groceries home from the supermarket in a paper bag or from the grocery store in a paper sack (Yule

184). And the person who comes home from the supermarket with a paper sack serves to remind us that

language variation is not a discrete, but rather a continuous variable. Characteristics of the dialect are more

pronounced in the center of the speech community and tend to be less discernible at the outer boundaries, where

they often overlap other regional dialects.

Within, and between, these regional variations we find the social dialects. The primary social factors that

influence dialects are class, education, occupation, ethnicity, sex, and age (Ferguson 52,