What is a dialect? Do I have one?

Someone doesn’t sound like you. Are they speaking in a dialect?

A dialect is a variety of a language that signals where a person comes from.

When you hear people talk, not everyone sounds the same, even when they are speaking the same language! This is often because  they are speaking in different dialects. When a person speaks in a dialect of their language, they speak the language  with specific grammatical rules, sounds, words, lilt, and pronunciations that are used by a shared group of people. Dialects can depend on region, geography, or other identifying features like social class.

Do you think have heard a dialect of English? You probably have! Here’s an example:

Have you ever heard someone say “y’all”? This is an example of the Southern American English dialect. Now, you may also have heard of the “Southern accent.” However, accent and dialect not the same. This is because accent focuses solely on how people pronounce certain words.  Dialect includes both pronunciation and grammatical features of speech. This is why “y’all” is an example of dialect – it is a way of speaking used by a group of people that not only has a unique sound, but also follows a different grammar structure.

There are as many as 14 English dialects in America! (modifiedWolfdog / CC BY-SA)

14 regional english dialects in Canada and the U.S.A. are shown on a map.

In the past, dialects which diverged from Standard English were often seen as inferior. However, with so many dialects representing different groups of people, it is important to value dialectal diversity. The phrase “Difference is not bad” also applies to how we speak!

For some more resources, check out the International dialects of English Archive.

Take this fun NYT quiz to see what regional quirks you have in your dialect!

Jessica stands in front of a flowering tree/

Jessica Marlow


Jessica is a senior majoring in Global Health and Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, concentrating in Chinese. She is interested in the role of parent-child interactions in child development as well as bilingualism.

Aahnix Bathurst


Elika Bergelson

Principal Investigator