Lexical differences between dialects
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Lexical differences between dialects. quite nice website with lots of examples: www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/sounds/activities/lexical-variation/. Lexical differences. Independent of accents, varieties of English differ in the lexicon

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Lexical differences between dialects

quite nice website with lots of examples:


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Lexical differences

  • Independent of accents, varieties of English differ in the lexicon

  • By “dialects” we mainly refer to varieties associated with geographic regions …

  • … but this course will (later) be concerned with other sorts of varieties, which can also be characterised by lexical differences

    • “registers” related to levels of formality

    • “sublanguages” related to different subject matters

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Lexical differences

  • Lexical differences generally not as extensive or obvious as phonological differences

  • Not surprising: if they were too many differences, mutual understanding would be jeopardised, and we’d describe them as different languages

  • Indeed, “same language” status in doubt between dialects with extensive differences (eg British ~ American)

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Lexical differences

  • Tend to be dotted around the lexicon, but can be concentrated in areas of vocabulary

    • especially high local resonance (names of flora, fauna, cultural significance)

    • old technologies independently developed before globalization (eg car terms in AmE)

    • vocabulary reflecting distinctly different system (eg legal system, education)

  • Not the same as slang, though slang is (also) notoriously dialectal

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Lexical differences: categorization

  • Lexical borrowings from local (foreign) languages

  • Local feature or speciality has name not found elsewhere

    • Group of things more specifically distinguished locally

  • Different names for the same thing

  • Word or set of words exchange meanings

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Lexical borrowings

  • Widespread in Scots and Irish English

    • kirk (church), dreich (overcast), brae (hillside)

    • taoseach (prime minister), dail (parliament), garda (police), craic (fun)

  • Norse borrowings in NE and Cumbrian

    • bairn (child), gammerstang (awkward person), lawp (jump), gan (go), yem (home)

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Local distinctions

  • Classic Whorfian idea that language is conditioned by environment

    • Seafarers recognize/name different types of boats

    • More specific names for fish in fishing communities

      • fish names also subject to variance: same name – different fish in different locations

    • Local animal or plant names

    • Terms used by farmers

    • Below the level of dialect you might find special words used within a family or other close-knit group

      • eg kinship words (mother, father, grandmother/father …)

      • private references

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Just different names

  • Biggest category, thousands of examples

    • eg Terms connected with food and drink

      • barm, barm cake, bread cake, bap, batch, batch cake, bun, roll, muffin, cob

    • Words associated with children’s games, incl. truce words: barley, fainites, pax, scribs, skinchies

  • Distinguish where local word is alternative, or replacement

    • daps, pumps, plimsolls (no standard term?)

    • roundabout aka island~circle~circus~rotary

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Lots of examples

  • Can you think of any local dialect words in your dialect?

    • Actually you may not know that a word is dialectal until you travel elsewhere

    • Or, there may be some lexical differences which your dialect is “famous” for

    • Some dialect words may just be the result of accent differences

      • eg where they say kuh for ‘cow’ they also say hus ‘house’ etc

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Vocabulary merry-go-round

  • BrE~AmE: jam~jelly~jello

  • BrE~AmE: biscuit~cake~cookie~cracker

  • Scots: live~stay

  • There seem to be specific things which are subject to massive variance, while other things are universally named

    • cf bread (everyone calls it bread)

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Vocabulary globalization

  • fries (and fish and chips in NAm)

  • AusE chips (crisps), hot chips (chips)

  • movie(s), candy, cookies

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Dialect morphology (?)

  • How are diminutives formed?

  • Some dialects seem to have a greater propensity to form diminutives

  • Often in a distinctive manner

    • Liverpool: bickie, ciggie, footie, plazzie, brekkie

    • Aussie: garbo, ambo, this arvo, journo, muso, brekko

    • old RP: footer, rugger, preggers, shampers, brekker(see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_'-er')

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Dialect geography

  • Just as you can map isoglosses that distinguish features of accents, you can map incidence of dialect words

  • Later in this course we will look more closely at some of the methods involved in dialectology

    • methods of collecting data

    • issues in quantifying dialect difference

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Words for ‘splinter’











Upton, C. & J. Widdowson (1996). An Atlas of English Dialects. Oxford: Oxford University Press.