Definition: Dialect

From New World Encyclopedia


From Middle French dialecte, from Latin dialectos, dialectus, from Ancient Greek διάλεκτος or diálektos (conversation, the language of a country or a place or a nation, the local idiom which derives from a dominant language), from διαλέγομαι or dialégomai (I participate in a dialogue), from διά or diá (inter, through) + λέγω or légō (I speak).


dialect (plural dialects)

  1. (linguistics, strict sense) A lect (often a regional or minority language) as part of a group or family of languages, especially if they are viewed as a single language, or if contrasted with a standardized idiom that is considered the 'true' form of the language (for example, Cantonese as contrasted with Mandarin Chinese or Bavarian as contrasted with Standard German).
  2. (linguistics, broad sense) A variety of a language that is characteristic of a particular area, community or social group, differing from other varieties of the same language in relatively minor ways as far as grammar, phonology, and lexicon.
  3. (computing, programming) A variant of a non-standardized programming language.
    Home computers in the 1980s had many incompatible dialects of BASIC.
  4. (ornithology) A variant form of the vocalizations of a bird species restricted to a certain area or population.

Usage notes

In some linguistic traditions, the term "dialect" is restricted to nonstandard lects. In scholarly English usage, it refers to both standardized and vernacular forms of language. The difference between a language and a dialect is not always clear, and often has more to do with political boundaries than with linguistic differences. It is generally considered that people who speak different dialects of the same language can understand each other, while people who speak different languages cannot, however, in some cases, people who speak different dialects of the same language are mutually unintelligible. Compare species in the biological sense.

Derived terms

  • dialectology
  • dialectometry
  • eye dialect
  • subdialect
  • superdialect
  • supradialect


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors copied and adjusted this Wiktionary entry in accordance with NWE standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit for this article is due to both New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions at Wiktionary is accessible to researchers here: