Sociolinguistics in English Language Teaching (ELT): Language, Dialect and Accent

I believe that language, dialect, and accent are diverse. The nature of different varieties of English is a good example that I will elaborate in this essay because simply English is one of dialects, languages and also accents. It can be more fully comprehended if we differentiate between dialect and accent first. Strevens (1985) wrote it in his journal that accent refers to pronunciation, to the sounds, stress, rhythm and intonation of the language and dialect refers to everything else, but principally to grammar and vocabulary. Now, let us define the non-local dialect or in this case 'Language'. Wardhaugh (2015) defined ‘language’ as the superordinate category and the standard variety.

An accent is utilized by phoneticians to discuss pitch or stress, or by orthographers to refer to specific diacritics. However, the term is used to define reference to sets of distinctive differences over geographic or social space, most usually phonological and intonation features. In the case of second language learning, accent may refer to the carryover of native language phonology and intonation into a target language (Lippi-green, 1994). Another case, there arises a discrimination issue of owning a particular accent in which Carranza & Ryan (1975) conducted an empirical study that showed African-American, Anglo, and Hispanic students all found Spanish-accented English to be lacking in prestige and inappropriate for a classroom setting. Another clear example is the use of Received Pronunciation (RP). Around three percent of those who live in England own this accent. It allows one to be received into the ‘better’ parts of society. In the United Kingdom at least, it is ‘usually associated with a higher social or educational background, with the BBC and the professions, and [is] most commonly taught to students learning English as a foreign language’ (Wakelin, 1977, p. 5). So, we can see how accent can influence our identity.

Now, the next case is a dialect. There exists a popular usage in which 'dialect' means 'countrified', 'rustic', 'uneducated', 'inferior' (Strevens, 1985). In Yorkshire dialect, their English has some different features of grammar or lexis. For example, instead of saying “we had better get our ideas straight”, they may say “us had best get us ideas straight” which in standardized English, this dialect is accepted to use ‘us’ rather than ‘we/our’ in the prescriptive grammar. Apart from the linguistic criteria, Wardhaugh explained that there also exists in what is called a ‘dialect continuum’ (2015). He took an example of germans and dutches who live in a border of both of their countries. He explained that both language are no longer intelligible for the people there, but still they have a clear border because of the sociopolitics in which the residents who live in the dutch area will look to standard Dutch for their model, they read and write Dutch, are educated in Dutch, and watch television in Dutch and so do germans. So, situations in which there is a dialect continuum make it clear that the lines drawn between languages are not merely based on linguistic criteria.

Relating to my personal experience, I dealt with accent differences issue. I found it really tough when practicing my English with some people who came from India. They spoke English on their own accent which was difficult to be understood. So, it always stuck in my head, if I wanted to practice my English, I had to avoid talking with Hindi speakers because I hardly understood what they were talking about. It seemed to be discriminative that I labelled most of Hindi-English speakers were bad at English pronunciation. So, this experience really related to the abovementioned explanation that accent could contribute to identity.

Again, there was also a problem I encountered when learning English. The variety of English discouraged me to continue learning it because at that time, I did not know precisely there is a clear difference between standard English and variety of English dialects. What demotivated me was when I found that there were some vocabulary used differently in every country. Let me take an example of the use of “truck” which is commonly used by Americans and “lorry” is used more often by people who live in England. However, I realized that they were simply called English dialects and it differed with the standard English that people used around the world. Another example in Arabic language, Arabic dialects and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) share a considerable number of semantic, syntactic, morphological and lexical features; however, these features have many differences (Al-Sabbagh and Girju, 2013). So, although there are many dialects of Arabic, but people determine the MSA to unite all people who speak Arabic already. In short, this is the ‘language’ or the local dialect that has been standardized by people in the purpose of wider communication.

On the whole, there is a clear difference between accent, dialect and language. Simply tons of dialects should be unified if those dialects want to be a language, non-local dialects, or the dialects that have been standardized. When it comes to accent, it is already within the dialects and languages.


Al-Sabbagh R. and Girju R. (2013). Yadac : Yet another dialectal arabic corpus. Proceedings of the Eight International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC'12). Istanbul, Turkey.

Carranza, Michael A., & Ryan, Ellen B. (1975). Evaluative reactions of adolescents toward speakers of standard English and Mexican American accented English. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 8:3-102.

Lippi-Green, R. (1994). Accent, standard language ideology, and discriminatory pretext in the courts. Language in society, 23(2), 163-198.

Strevens, P. (1985). Standards and the standard language. English Today, 1(2), 5-7.

Wakelin, M. F. (1977). English Dialects: An Introduction. Rev. edn. London: Athlone Press.

Wardhaugh, R., & Fuller, J. M. (2015). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Language Variation and Change, 28.

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