The term ‘dialect’ is not uncontroversial and some degree of awareness must be employed when using it in our academic writings. Generally speaking, it is often assumed that there are differences between ‘dialects’ and ‘languages’. These differences are based on the conception that ‘dialects’ are linguistic (regional/social) varieties of a ‘language’ with their own grammatical and/or phonological characteristics (see Trudgill 2004: 2; Wardhaugh & Fuller 2015: 38). The idea is that if multiple linguistic varieties are mutually intelligible, then surely they are ‘dialects’ of the same ‘language’. Similarly, if linguistic varieties are mutually unintelligible, then they must be different ‘languages’. In other words, the differences between two related ‘dialects’ are always smaller than the differences between two separate ‘languages’. One must be cautious, though, since mutual intelligibility is not the only defining characteristic of a ‘dialect’. Trudgill explains: ‘The criterion of ‘mutual intelligibility’, and other purely linguistic criteria, are, therefore, of less importance in the use of the terms language and dialect than are political and social and cultural factors’ (1995: 4). Important extralinguistic factors, such as conflicting political identities and sociocultural boundaries, all influence this delicate yet unavoidable process of linguistic categorisation. As a result of this, we often find in the scholarly literature an evasive attitude to use these terms, especially within the field of sociolinguistics and language politics. It is therefore perhaps good practice to follow this convention, or at least be clear with how these terms will be used.
Trudgill, P., (1995) Sociolinguistics: An Introduction to Language and Society. Penguin Group: London.
Trudgill, P., (2004) Dialects. Routledge: London and New York.
Wardhaugh, R & Fuller, J., (eds.) (2015) An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Wiley-Blackwell: Chichester.