Difference between Language and Dialect in Sociolinguistics
To understand the difference between Standard Language and Dialect in sociolinguistics, we will have to understand the concept of language variation and change first.
Language is not a static phenomenon. Language as a whole and even its subparts (vocabulary, morphology, syntax, etc.) keep changing with time. There are many reasons behind language change. Language change can be synchronic (in the same time) or diachronic (historically).
Language change is governed by the users of language or the language speakers. Depending upon the age, gender, education level, region, etc. of a language speaker, language shows variation. For example, the gendered language variation arises as women speak a language differently than men. Similarly, one same language, for instance, English, is spoken differently by speakers living in Washington (American English) and in London (UK English). Interestingly, even within a country or state, language shows change.
One of the major causes of language variation is “multilingualism” or competency in more than one language. A speaker of a language like Hindi who has been well read in a foreign language like English, inevitably, will use Hindi differently than one who has never been exposed to another such foreign language as, with many other things, there will be cases of code mixing, code switching, etc.
Note that institutions and formal bodies like universities, publishing houses, and some other governmental bodies try to prevent language from changing, but, of course, with limited success. All languages find a way to change and mix with other language (unless we talk about a completely isolated tribal population using their own language in strict terms). We can comfortably say that there can never be a pure, uncorrupted, unmixed language.
These many variations in the language, with time and distance, result into different dialects of that language. Dialects of the same language would have differences, but these differences won’t be striking enough to generate incomprehension. Speakers of different dialects of a language will be able to comprehend each other, may be, even with minor difficulties in some cases.
What is the difference between standard language and dialect?
One language can have many dialects. Linguistically speaking, the difference between standard language and dialect is merely the formal process of “standardisation” (selection, codification, elaboration and acceptance) that the standard language undergoes and the dialect doesn’t. Dialect in linguistics is, thus, the non standard variety of language. When we talk in terms of sociology and politics of language, however, we have to address the issue of prestige and power. Standard language is most often considered as the language of power, prestige and high status, whereas the many other dialects of language are considered inferior and low in status.
It is important to know that the dialect of language is no way linguistically incomplete or deficient form of language. But for official and formal purposes, only one language can be chosen to become the standard variety. If we get into the intricacies of it, we will appreciate the fact that this selection of one random non-standard variety of language for standardisation is not that random. In fact, this selection is governed by politics or power, i.e. by those seated at high positions in the society. The variety of language used by a low status community would rarely be chosen for the standardisation process.
The issue gets even more complication when the speakers of the standard variety consider themselves as superior to the speakers of the non-standard variety or dialect of language. To raise oneself higher in the society stratum, often, then, the speakers abandon their language variety and try to learn the standard variety. Language becomes the marker of a community. Language becomes identity. Language reflects power. There have been incidents where language speakers fight and protest against official bodies and force them to give their dialect the status of a standard language. Many a time, this even leads to violence. The case of language and dialect in India has often resulted into this scenario.
The New York variety of English and the Massachusetts variety of English are usually considered highly prestigious or the standard language varieties. An example of dialect of English language that is considered inferior is cockney English. It is interesting to know that the famous English dramatist Bernard Shaw made use of this in his classic play Pygmalion. Similarly, eastern Hindi and western Hindi are two of the many dialects of Hindi language.
© 2015 Payal Khullar. All Rights Reserved.