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Regional Dialects

English speakers throughout the United States sound different, even though they are from the same country. People use different vocabulary, grammar, and syntax depending on their geographical location. This variation is called regional dialect. Studying a regional dialect helps people better understand differences within their communities and countries. It can also help writers understand how to write dialogue and readers understand how to interpret it. 

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Regional Dialects

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English speakers throughout the United States sound different, even though they are from the same country. People use different vocabulary, grammar, and syntax depending on their geographical location. This variation is called regional dialect. Studying a regional dialect helps people better understand differences within their communities and countries. It can also help writers understand how to write dialogue and readers understand how to interpret it.

Regional and Social Dialects

A dialect is a form of language unique to a particular group. Language in this context refers to vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and pronunciation. The two main types of dialect are social dialect and regional dialect.

Social dialect describes variation in language use on the basis of a social group, like socioeconomic status or ethnic background. For example, African American Vernacular English (also called Ebonics) is a social dialect. This dialect is not based on where people live but on what ethnic group they belong to. On the other hand, a regional dialect is the result of where people live.

Regional Dialects, Conversation, StudySmarterFig. 1 - A dialect is a form of language unique to a particular group.

Dialect is different from accent because it refers to a person's pronunciation, vocabulary, and other elements of language, while accent refers to just pronunciation.

Although people share social and regional dialects, everyone has a distinct personal style of speaking that makes them unique from others. This style is called an idiolect. An idiolect is a mix of combining social factors that shape social dialect, elements of regional dialect, and personality traits. People change their speech patterns depending on the context they find themselves in, such as a professional working environment or an informal social environment with close friends. How they change these speech patterns is partly shaped by their personality and their understanding of the world around them.

Regional Dialect: Definition

What is the definition of a regional dialect? Also called a regiolect, a regional dialect is a form of language unique to a geographical area or region. They are characterized by distinct features of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and usage that are different from other dialects of the same language spoken in other areas.


A person who studies regional differences in speech is called a dialectologist.

Regional dialect is a variation in language use based on geographical area.

It is important to note that the word region makes up the word regional. This can serve as a reminder that regional dialects are different than national dialects. Regional dialects differ throughout various areas of one country.

For instance, a standardized form of American English is found in media outlets such as newspapers and television scripts across the nation. However, people in the Southern United States use different vocabulary, sentence structures, and grammar in their everyday speech than is found in newspaper articles. Studying regional dialects means studying such differences within a country, not differences between countries, like the difference between American English and British English.

Regional Dialect: Analysis

A regional dialect is an interesting reflection of life in particular geographical areas. Parents pass down their way of speaking to their children who live in that region, and those children eventually pass down their way of speaking.

However, suppose children are raised elsewhere or have parents from different regions. In that case, they do not develop as strong of a single dialect because they are not surrounded by it in their community. This leads to variations within regional dialects and evolutions of new dialects.

Analyzing a person's regional dialect can provide insight into where they are from and how people communicate in that area. Migration between and within regions has also led to the development and segmentation of distinct regional dialects. Therefore, analyzing regional dialects can provide insight into rich histories of human geography.

Regional Dialects, Book, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Readers should note regional dialects when reading fictional dialogue.

Analyzing Regional Dialects in Literature

Readers should be on the lookout for indications of a regional dialect in literature. For instance, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Mark Twain writes about a boy named Huck from the American South. In the dialogue, Twain uses distinctive indications of the boy's regional dialect, like in the following excerpt:

Well, I couldn't see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn't try for it. But I never said so, because it would only make trouble, and wouldn't do no good (Chapter 1).

In this quote, Huck uses double negation that is distinctive of his regional dialect. When analyzing literature like this, readers should note how the authors enhance characterization and establish time and place through regional dialect.

Writers should also think about regional dialects too! If you are writing a fictional story, consider how the region a character is from would impact how they speak.

English Regional Dialects: Examples

Take a look at some examples of regional dialects in English.

Regional Dialect Examples
DialectRegionCharacteristics
Southern American EnglishSouthern United StatesUse of monophthongal vowel sounds, "y'all" as second-person plural pronoun, "fixin'" as a colloquialism for "getting ready to"
Geordie EnglishNorth East EnglandUse of "canny" to mean "good" or "nice," "pet" as a term of endearment, "hoy" to mean "throw"
Scouse EnglishLiverpool, North West EnglandUse of "la" or "kid" as a term of address, "giz" or "give us" to mean "give me"
West Country EnglishSouth West EnglandUse of "where to" instead of "where," "gurt" instead of "great," use of "-ee" instead of "-y" as a diminutive
AAVE (African American Vernacular English)African American communities in the United StatesUse of double negatives, deletion of final consonants, non-standard verb forms

American Regional Dialects: Examples

Let's dive deeper into the American Regional Dialects. There are as many as thirty regional dialects in the United States. These fall under the umbrella of the three main regional dialects in the United States: the North, Inland South, and the West.

The following dialects are the main regional dialects in the United States.

Regional Dialect: The Northern Dialect Regions

The main regional dialects in the Northern Dialect Regions are Inland North and Eastern New England.

Inland North

The Inland Norther American dialect stretches from the Great Lakes to Western New York. It includes major cities like Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Toledo. The Inland North regional dialect is known for "the Northern Cities Shift," a distinctive use of short vowel sounds common throughout the region. For instance, people from this region might pronounce the word "cat" like "kiy-ut."

Eastern New England

On the East of the Inland North barrier is the Eastern New England regional dialect. This includes major cities like New York City and Boston. Native New Yorkers tend to switch the letter T for D and say "da" instead of "the." A similar dialect is the Boston dialect, where they switch R for H. For instance, someone from Boston might say "wadah" instead of "water."

Regional Dialects, Mountains, StudySmarterFig. 3 - People in the Appalachian mountains have a unique regional dialect.

Regional Dialect: Inland/Mountain Southern Dialect Regions

The Inland/Mountain Southern dialect is prominent among people from Appalachia, Texas, Tennessee, and other nearby Southern states. In this region, people are known for their distinctive drawn-out vowel sounds, which combine phrases like "you all" into "y'all."

Regional Dialect: The West Dialect Regions

The Western United States has fewer distinctive regional dialects than the North and the South. However, the region is known for its long and short open /o/. For example, speakers in this region may pronounce the words "Cot" and "Caught" similarly.

Some linguists worry that regional dialects are dying out, although others disagree. Others argue that regional dialects aren't dying out, but rather evolving in an era of more globalization and migration.

As people move around the world, they interact with others who have other regional and social dialects. When people settle in new areas, they bring their own regional dialects to that area. Over time, this can lead to a merge between dialects or what sounds like standardization of the language.

Regional Dialect: Vocabularies

Vocabularies also vary by regional dialect. People who live in the Southern United States may have different words for different items and use different slang than those who live in the North.

For example, people in the Midwestern United States drink "pop," while on the East coast the same drink is called "soda," and those in certain parts of the South just call it "Coke." Similarly, in the Southern United States, people call shoes you work out in "tennis shoes," while in the East Coast, people call these shoes "sneakers."

Regional Dialects, Shoes, StudySmarter.Fig.4 - What you call these depends on where you are from in the United States.

Each regional dialect also has its vocabulary that people within their regional dialects might not use or understand. For example, in the Inland North dialect, words like Buckeye (an Ohio resident) and Fish tug (a Michigan fishing boat) are words that someone with the Inland Mountain Southern regional dialect would not be familiar with.

Learning such vocabulary words that are distinct to a regional dialect can help people understand a way of life in parts of a country they are unfamiliar with.

Regional Dialects - Key Takeaways

  • A dialect is a form of language unique to a particular group.
  • A regional dialect is a variation in language use based on geographical area.
  • A regional dialect is different from a social dialect because a social dialect is a variation in language based on social factors.
  • The three main regional dialects in the United States are North, Inland South, and West.
  • Regional dialects are important because they provide insight into how people communicate in different parts of a country.

Frequently Asked Questions about Regional Dialects

North, Inland/Mountain South, and West 

Regional dialects provide insight into communication patterns in different regions as well as human geography. 

Migration and generational change causes regional separation and differences in dialects.

Whether or not regional dialects are dying out is up for debate, but they are evolving with globalization. 

Regional dialects are variations in grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. 

Regional dialects are variations of a language that are specific to a particular geographical area or region. They are characterized by distinct features of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and usage that are different from other dialects of the same language spoken in other areas.

An example of a regional dialect in English includes Scouse English, a dialect spoken in Liverpool, UK.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Ebonics is an example of what kind of dialect?

True or False. An idiolect is a type of regional dialect

James pronounces “water” like “wadah.” Where is he from?

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