Wednesday, August 7, 2013

In defense of dialects

I was born in, and most of my family still live in, a dialect heavy region of the US. While most regions have dialects some are more noticeable than others. I've always been fascinated by those who look down on dialects and mildly interested in this phenomenon in my not-at-all-a-linguist way. More practically, it's made me That Person who will always speak up in defense of dialects. But never so well as in this example.

What I find as fascinating as dialects is the fluidity of speech contained within one speaker. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, most everyone's speech alters for a given situation. Whether it be the use of in-group slang or an actual modification of an accent/dialect, almost everyone does it. In my everyday conversation the only regionally specific marker* I use with regularity is "y'all." However, when I'm visiting family my speech alters so greatly that my jaw is actually sore at the end of the day. Amazingly, I don't even notice it's happening until after my jaw has alerted me to the fact that I'm clearly not speaking in my adult default way. I don't actually ever fall into the full dialect as I moved so much as a child that I never fully learned the dialect in the first place. However, the parts of it I picked up as a youth are definitely still lurking in my brain. Fascinating!

I was talking about accents with a Dutch colleague back when I lived in The Netherlands as I had come to the point in my time there that I could hear a few of the different Dutch dialects (don't think this means I could speak or understand the language with anything approaching fluency, though:). He relayed a story about visiting his family in the north with his son. He immediately drops into the local dialect when with family but his son was not raised there so he gaped at his father who had just adopted a completely different dialect. Again, fascinating!

*Dr M would probably refute this as he often points out little bits of my speech that are markers for my region of birth. 


  1. Interesting, Rachel. I know my ear (not so much my lack of speaking it) picked up the differences in Spanish dialects growing up in L.A. And there were a number of them.

  2. Oh yeah, definitely. I think throughout much of California there is a variety of Spanish dialects that can be picked out. Also, the CA West Coast English accent (esp SoCal) is heavily influenced by Spanish. I find that the Spanish influence on English SoCal speakers makes it so easy to pick out a native SoCal denizen.