Difference Between Dialect vs Accent

Difference Between Dialect vs Accent

Today’s content is all about dialect and accent, and what makes them different from one another. This is a subject that many people struggle with, so we want to help you fully sense what separates them.

Both “dialects” and “accents” are unique aspects of language that we all use every day to help form a normal part of our communication. An accent is usually a little easier to detect and understand than a dialect.

We’re going to consider the important but subtle differences that help to set accents and dialects apart and provide you with some simple explanations of those differences. Once you’ve understood these differences, it’s all going to make perfect sense to you going forwards.

You’ll soon be far better equipped to tackle the dialect vs accent “debate” along with their respective structures. We’ll present the meanings of the terms in an accessible way to avoid any confusion. Let’s take a closer look.

Definition of Dialect

Dialect is simply a regional or “local” interpretation of a “standard” language. We’ll start things off by taking a look at the exact definition of dialect to lay the foundations for a better understanding of the word: “A form of language that people speak in a particular part of a country, containing some different words and grammar, etc.”

That might sound a little confusing at first, but it doesn’t have to be. To put it in simple terms, a dialect is a different version of a language based on someone’s location. An easy way to look at this is that if a language was a color, then a dialect would simply be a different shade of that color. Like maroon to the color red or aqua to the color blue. The language itself is always the same depending on the country (Chinese, Italian, etc.), but what’s different is how certain people use it depending on the part of a country they live in.

A person in the United States of America, for example, would almost definitely use the American version of English as their normal way of speaking. If you talk to two individuals in the USA however, one from South Carolina, and one from New Jersey you will notice precisely how differently they use the structure of language (and indeed their way of speaking).

They’d have slightly altered wording for a variety of objects & actions, and overall their use of   “American English” would be different from one another.  All of this would be true, despite the overall language they were speaking still being the same.

When it comes to understanding the difference between accent and dialect, the most important part to grasp is that what many people believe is an accent, is actually a dialect. To help separate the two further, we’ll now take a look at precisely what an accent is to create a better and clearer understanding.

Definition of Accent

An accent is simply the way we pronounce a word or sentence. It’s what someone sounds like. As with dialect, the best starting point for understanding how an accent separates itself is to look at the definition of the word: “The way in which people in a particular area, country, or social group pronounce words.”

We’ll shortly check out a table that will provide a quick reference guide for you to easily sum up differences between the two to make things a little easier. But let’s explore them both more first. An accent is usually far more “noticeable” than a dialect. For example, if someone from England said: “Thank you, ma’am”, this sentence is immediately recognized as being “British” English.

However, the word “ma’am”, actually comes under the dialect category. This word is associated with addressing the Queen of England, which makes the word location-specific to England (UK). Even though “ma’am” is a form of dialect, you would know that the person saying it is “British” due to the sound of the word being delivered by the person, when compared to someone from the US.

The sound of the word comes from a person’s accent, but the word itself is part of a dialect. The dialect is a different “version” of the language English. In this instance, the version would be “British” (UK) English.  This is the same way as America has its own version of English, based on location. So the language stays the same, but the version of the language changes. As does the way it sounds.

Even with no understanding of a language, you’re far more likely to recognize the native origin of a person that is speaking purely by their accent. This is because they will be using a very recognizable series of sounds. In comparison, a dialect is different because it’s a combination of words that we use to describe the world around us. But it isn’t a “noise”, it’s a choice or selection of words.

Nationality and living in different areas of a country are still what creates them both, but it’s the way the language aspects get used that makes them different. In the next section, we’ll simplify it all.

Main Differences Between Dialect vs Accent

For those still scratching their head and wondering what the difference is between dialect and accent, we’re now going to consider the key areas where the two differ. Use the below table as a quick reference guide to help sum up the two:

Basis of Comparison Dialect Accent
Language A version of a language The sound of a language
Words Specific words for items, objects, and actions based on a locationA specific way of saying a word or sentence, based on a location
ExamplesScouse, Welsh English, Low German, Tuscan, Hokkien Kiwi, Geordie, Cockney, Floridian, Northern Mandarin
DifferencesThe above examples are all different versions of native languagesThe above examples are all different ways of making a language sound

Don’t forget to come back to this table for a quick-fire refresher on the difference between dialect and accent, if you find yourself getting a little confused.

Difference Between Dialect and Accent: Conclusion

With some luck, you now have something easily accessible to help you understand the difference between dialect and accent. As you can see, it really isn’t as complicated as it might have seemed at first!  The reason why there is so much confusion is usually because one is a sound, and one is a structure. And that makes them seem very similar.

You can learn both a dialect and an accent if you spend enough time in a location, but the fundamentals will never, ever change: “Dialects are different versions of languages. Accents are the way we make languages sound.” If you absorb that one sentence alone, then you’ve understood the basis you need to separate the two.