Virtually every language in the world has dialects—varieties of the language that are particular to a group of speakers. Dialects vary by region and by social group. Dialect diversity, or language variation, reflects the fact that languages change over time and that people who live in the same area or maintain the same social identity share language norms; in other words, they speak the same dialect.
Although many people believe that the variety of language they and the people around them speak is not a dialect, in reality, everyone speaks a dialect, since dialects are simply varieties of the same language. Many people also believe that there is only one correct form of a language, but in truth, no dialect is superior to another on linguistic grounds. All dialects are systematic language varieties that follow regular patterns of vocabulary choice, grammar, and pronunciation.
However, misconceptions persist regarding the use of different language varieties in the United States, especially in schools. While these issues have been recognized for years, and linguists have been conducting research to develop a better understanding of dialect patterns and attitudes toward U.S.dialects, much work remains to be done to develop dialect awareness and acceptance. To help inform the discussion, the Center for Applied Linguistics has created and collected a variety of resources related to dialects and language diversity.
Made for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and for DVD release, Do You Speak American? takes viewers on a journey through the United States, exploring how the language we use can define us, unite us, or separate us.
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CAL is proud to commemorate Black History Month by highlighting selected resources and online information that honor the linguistic legacy that generations of African Americans have contributed to our nation’s cultural milieu.