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Thread: dialect / register

  1. #1
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    dialect / register

    Hello,

    How would you define the difference between a dialect and a register?

    On a previous WR thread, a poster made the distinction between dialect and register as follows (if I understood correctly):

    - A dialect is a linguistic system defined according to the individuals who use it
    - A register is a linguistic system defined according to the purpose/context of its use

    The above definitions seem to correspond to how the terms are normally used, but according to these definitions, it seems much clearer that "registers" exist than that "dialects" exist.

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    Re: dialect / register

    The linguistic terms are not standardized, so you will meet many different definitions and you will experience big discrepancies in use. Some people will even deny existence of such things like language, dialect, and so on.

    Based on the prevalent use in professional and half professional circles of people, I see the following possibility of defining the terms:

    1. Dialect: a local variety of a language*, usually understood by speakers of other dialects of the same language, often without a standardized grammar or spelling, used mostly for non formal purposes in a local community or among people coming from the same community but living in another community than that they came from. There is often no consensus if such a local language variety is a dialect or a language. The choice is usualy taken on the basis of political or conventional criteria and never on linguistic ones.

    2. A speech register: a way of speaking or writing including vocabulary, syntax and pronunciation (or spelling) chosen by individuals to express themselves depending on the circumstances they speak: high register (formal occasions like parliamentary speech, official documents, celebrations), low register (informal occasions, conversations among family or friends' group). There are also many in-between registers and specialized occasions like religious services, sport events, and so on.

    An individual may choose his dialect as a speech register for informal occasions, and a standardized language of a larger social unit on formal occasions (often called diglossia).


    * Language: an extremely diffuse term, used in many meanings, with no consensus on what it means. Originally: the same as speech. Often used in the meaning "national language", i.e. a standardized and codified speech (oral and written), giving a nation or ethnic group a feeling of unity, and endorsed by a state.

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    Re: dialect / register

    I think the "register" is included in the "dialect". The way, the phrases, the polite conventions, the formal speak or informal slang all of them belong and probably characterize the dialect.

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    Re: dialect / register

    Quote Originally Posted by Gavril View Post
    ...but according to these definitions, it seems much clearer that "registers" exist than that "dialects" exist.
    Not if you accept that someone may be bidialectal. If we forget about definitions for a moment and replace "dialect" with "language" we can easily accept that if French is spoken by individuals A, B, C, D and E and Chinese by individuals B, C, D, E and F that that does not stop both French and Chinese from being languages because A does not speak Chinese or F French, or because B, C, D and E speak both French and Chinese. The same applies to dialects.

    Ben Jamin's definition of dialect is essentially one which opposes the written standard and any associated spoken variety against varieties not regarded as standard and is, as he suggests, what the term "dialect" is popularly taken to mean. However, any objective assessment of how varieties relate to each other, and accordingly how they should be classified, ought not to take into account the where the speakers happen to live and/or their social status. The problem is that it all tends to be relative making scientific classification tricky.

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    Re: dialect / register

    Quote Originally Posted by Hulalessar View Post
    Not if you accept that someone may be bidialectal. If we forget about definitions for a moment and replace "dialect" with "language" we can easily accept that if French is spoken by individuals A, B, C, D and E and Chinese by individuals B, C, D, E and F that that does not stop both French and Chinese from being languages because A does not speak Chinese or F French, or because B, C, D and E speak both French and Chinese. The same applies to dialects.
    But why should Chinese and French be considered dialects rather than registers (or sets of registers) in this case?

    A person who is bilingual in French and Chinese will choose to speak one or the other based on pragmatic criteria (i.e., which is more likely to communicate the desired message in the current context) -- this seems like a distinction of register to me, whereas the definition of dialect from the original post seems to imply that dialectal differences are not the same thing as differences of register.

    BTW, I'm not trying to get into a discussion of the language/dialect distinction -- instead, I'm wondering (among other things) whether a language/dialect is more than the sum of the registers that it exists in.
    Last edited by Gavril; 5th September 2013 at 5:57 PM.

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    Re: dialect / register

    Quote Originally Posted by Gavril View Post
    But why should Chinese and French be considered dialects rather than registers (or sets of registers) in this case?
    On what grounds one should define French and Chinese as dialects and not separate languages? The official classification of the various languages in China as dialects of Chinese is odd enough, as they are almost 100% unintelligible with each other. Calling the relation between French and Chinese dialectal is even mor odd!
    But both Chinese and French can be spoken in the same register (high, low or any kind of intermediate, literary and popular).

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    Re: dialect / register

    I basically agree with the definitions in #1 but I would like to add a third concept to complete the picture. This might resolve some of the difficulties with the concept dialect:
    - A dialect is regional variety of a language.
    - A sociolect is a variety of a language typical for a social group or class
    - A register is a variety of a language adapted to speech situation.

    The three interact; e.g.:
    - Upper class sociolects are usually more oriented towards prestige dialects and show less regional variation than the language of the average Joe in the street.
    - The same is true for registers: In a business letter or a solemn speech you are less likely to use regionalisms then when you go out to the pub with your buddies from school days.
    - Certain social groups prefer certain registers. A university professor is more likely to express himself in a higher, more standard register than a farm worker in the same speech situation (e.g. in shop).

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    Re: dialect / register

    Quote Originally Posted by berndf View Post
    ... A dialect is regional variety of a language ...
    Ok, but this suggests/implies that e.g.
    1. A Piemontese child, whose first language is the Piemontese, does not have a mother tongue (lingua madre) but "only" a mother dialect.
    2. The Piemontese is a regional variety of the Italian language (which is not true, I think)

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    Re: dialect / register

    I thought we had agreed to keep this messy dialect vs language business out of this thread. At least I am all for it.

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    Re: dialect / register

    Quote Originally Posted by berndf View Post
    I basically agree with the definitions in #1 but I would like to add a third concept to complete the picture. This might resolve some of the difficulties with the concept dialect:
    - A dialect is regional variety of a language.
    - A sociolect is a variety of a language typical for a social group or class
    - A register is a variety of a language adapted to speech situation.
    Isn't it possible to collapse the concepts of dialect and sociolect into the concept of register?

    Unlike the first two concepts, the definition of register incorporates a causal mechanism: differences of register are caused by differing pragmatic situations, whereas dialectal differences are not caused by geographical borderlines, and sociolectal differences are not caused by separations between social groups (though such separations may normally involve a corresponding pragmatic separation -- a desire to distinguish the groups from each other, and so on -- that results in differences of register).
    Last edited by Gavril; 6th September 2013 at 11:37 AM.

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    Re: dialect / register

    I think I would amend the definitions given above as follows:

    - A dialect is a linguistic system defined according to the individuals who use it and may be regionally and/or socially based
    - A register is a series of choices made within a given dialect according to purpose/context

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    Re: dialect / register

    Quote Originally Posted by Hulalessar View Post
    - A register is a series of choices made within a given dialect according to purpose/context
    Are we sure that every register belongs to a larger dialect? I don't think there is any necessary dependence here.
    Last edited by Gavril; 6th September 2013 at 3:20 PM.

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    Re: dialect / register

    Quote Originally Posted by Gavril View Post
    Isn't it possible to collapse the concepts of dialect and sociolect into the concept of register?
    If a register is defined as "a variety of language adapted to speech situation", then I don't see how it's possible to collapse dialect and sociolect into register without changing the definition. I suppose you could label all these three concepts language-internal variation (without delving into questions about what a language is), but the distinction between dialect, sociolect and register is useful.

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    Re: dialect / register

    The main difference between dialects and sociolect on the one side and register on the other side is that register use depends on speech context for the same speaker while the others are characteristic of the group the speaker belongs to. Of course, the three interact but it is still useful to differentiate.

    I see no advantage in collapsing the distinction dialect vs. socialist but many disadvantages, among them that such an amorphous concept of dialect obscures the difference between dialect and register.

    PS: Crossed with previous post.
    Last edited by berndf; 6th September 2013 at 4:23 PM.

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    Re: dialect / register

    Quote Originally Posted by francisgranada View Post
    Ok, but this suggests/implies that e.g.
    1. A Piemontese child, whose first language is the Piemontese, does not have a mother tongue (lingua madre) but "only" a mother dialect.
    2. The Piedmontese is a regional variety of the Italian language (which is not true, I think)
    No, this apparent paradox is based on using the same word (language) in different meanings.

    1. A child you describe has a mother tongue. The tongue is the Piedmontese (independent of if you call it dialect or language).
    2. Most linguists (except die hard Italian centralists) acknowledge now Piedmontese as one of Italian languages (Gallo-Italic).

    Maybe we could avoid the discussion about language versus dialect by using the word tongue as a common term for both.

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    Re: dialect / register

    Quote Originally Posted by berndf View Post
    The main difference between dialects and sociolect on the one side and register on the other side is that register use depends on speech context for the same speaker while the others are characteristic of the group the speaker belongs to.
    While there can be specific linguistic features that differ from one group to another, I don't think we can assume that a sociolect/dialect as a whole is a "feature" of a community. For example, people in an English-speaking community aren't bound by any natural force to continue speaking English -- their reasons for doing so are pragmatic, and therefore it seems valid to say that English is the register (or set of registers) that they speak in.

    Of cause, the three interact but it is still useful to differentiate.

    I see no advantage in collapsing the distinction dialect vs. socialist but many disadvantages, among them that such an amorphous concept of dialect obscures the difference between dialect and register.
    When I mentioned collapsing sociolect/dialect into registers, I didn't mean to discard the concept of dialect and sociolect entirely. Instead, I was proposing treating dialectal and sociolectal differences as specific cases of variation between registers.
    Last edited by Gavril; 6th September 2013 at 4:14 PM.

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    Re: dialect / register

    As I said, the three interact. The difference that by using the term register is that speech context is in the very nature of a register.

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    Re: dialect / register

    Quote Originally Posted by berndf View Post
    As I said, the three interact. The difference that by using the term register is that speech context is in the very nature of a register.
    OK, but I wouldn't agree that sociolectal and dialectal differences aren't also based on speech context.

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    Re: dialect / register

    It is not there primary characterrustic whereas it is for register. That makes the distinction useful because it provides the appropriate concept to analyze if a certain variety, word or feature is used by a speaker for regional, social or context reasons.

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    Re: dialect / register

    Quote Originally Posted by Gavril View Post
    Are we sure that every register belongs to a larger dialect? I don't think there is any necessary dependence here.
    I do not think it is the case that registers in any given dialect will match the registers in any other. A change from one dialect to another may be forced because one dialect has not developed the terminology to discuss what the speakers want to discuss. In other situations the dialect chosen may depend on what the speakers perceive to be the correct one to use in the situation they find themselves. That may also happen in the case of registers, but you will be using a register of a particular dialect and choosing words and ways of saying things considered appropriate.

    Suppose you are a Neapolitan in Naples. You go to see your lawyer who is also Neapolitan to discuss a contract. You greet each other, discuss the price of Lamborghinis and how well Napoli played in their last match all in Neapolitan. The lawyer gets the contract out and you switch to Italian. There you have changed dialects.

    Suppose you are a Neapolitan in Milan. You go to see your lawyer who is not Neapolitan to discuss a contract. You greet each other, discuss the price of Lamborghinis and how well AC Milan played in their last match all in Italian. The lawyer gets the contract out and you continue in Italian. There you have not changed dialects, but you will have changed registers.

    It is of course all very messy because any dialect or register may exist on a continuum. Depending on circumstances speakers may signal a change in formality by changing dialects, by changing registers or a combination of both. Jargon and slang, each of which may overlap respectively with "high" and "low" registers, may be involved, but not necessarily. Despite all that, I think it is possible to have a concept of register separate from dialect or anything else if it is conceived as being about using different degrees of formality within a given dialect. If someone is monodialectal it is perfectly possible to imagine that he uses different registers in different situations. In the Amazon Rainforest it could be speaking to his wife; addressing the elders of the village in a meeting; discussing the best places to find game; etc. In an English village it could be speaking to his wife; addressing the vicar; discussing whether it is time to sow winter wheat.

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