Summary and Keywords
The field of dialectology, the study of the language of an area or group of people, has a long tradition within linguistics. From the earliest dialect studies, a focus on rigorous methodological practices has been an ever-present component of this discipline. Traditional methodologies can be seen in the work of the early dialect atlases, which relied heavily on mail questionnaires or fieldworkers that would chronicle the pronunciation, grammatical features, and lexicon of residents of particular regions. More recent technological innovations, such as GIS and online survey methods and applications, have brought multidisciplinary approaches to the study of dialects, as well as allowing for broader and more robust studies of geographic areas and social groups.
The influence and interface of dialectology on various linguistic disciplines is noteworthy. Dialectological methods have most commonly been utilized in historical linguistics, sociolinguistics/language variation and change, and language endangerment/documentation. Within each of these disciplines, the adoption of methods from dialectology has allowed for the systematic study of language across geographic and social space, as well as across time.
1. The Field of Dialectology
Dialectology, the study of dialects within a language, has a long history within the field of linguistics. Dialectology has as an aim to examine and document the variance in sounds (phonetics and phonology), grammar (morphology and syntax), and lexicon within a given geographic area (dialect geography) or social group (social dialectology). At the same time, dialectology is not limited to only documenting variance; much attention is given to noting dialect boundaries (isoglosses) and providing explanation of the processes of transmission and diffusion by which dialect features (also called vernacular language features) spread. While the term dialect often carries pejorative connotations within popular culture, being associated with lower class and low education, for dialectologists and linguists it has no connotations (either positive or negative). As Wolfram (1991) points out, the term dialect is used “to refer to any variety of language which is shared by a group of speakers” (2). In sum, dialectological work (dialectology) aims to provide a systematic, quantitative description of the language varieties of particular places and peoples without any evaluative judgment.
Many of the earliest dialectological studies (Wenker, 1876 as cited in Koerner, 2004; Gilliéron & Edmont, 1902–1910), were dialect geography studies and aimed to describe the language patterns found over wide geographic locales (i.e., entire countries or regions). The geographic breadth of these studies is still apparent in dialectology work of the early 21st century. Likewise, the innovation and adaptation of methodology as seen in early work from Wenker’s study (mail-based questionnaire) to Gilliéron and Edmont’s (fieldworker-based data collection) is also typical of contemporary dialectology, where a strong methodological approach appropriate for quantitatively examining large data samples is critical. Given the strong focus on methods of data collection and analysis within dialectology, it is not surprising that over time methods and practices from dialectology have been adopted and adapted into several linguistic subfields to achieve particular research and informational outcomes. The contributions of dialectology can be seen in work on the documentation and preservation of traditional or relic dialects (dialect geography), studies of language variation across social and geographic space (sociolinguistics), and work that examines the the ways in which dialects are perceived by the broader public (a field known as perceptual dialectology).
1.1 Traditional Dialectology: Dialect Geography
Early dialectology work had linguistics, the study of language structures, as its sole goal (Trudgill, 1999). With a focus on examining language patterns across geographic areas, dialectology began as a way to test and map the ways that linguistic change occurs across physical space. The outcome of such studies can be seen in the creation of dialect atlases. Wenker in Germany and Gilliéron and Edmont in France were early pioneers in dialect atlas work. While each brought their own particular linguistic variables of interest to their studies, their analysis focused on only one level of the linguistic system (grammar or lexicon and accent) in an effort to show the ways in which language structures (typically sound changes) were regularly patterned. Within their work, these early dialectologists focused on the ways that local language varied from the standard, and documentation of those variances on maps was a primary goal of their study. However, despite having similar goals for their work, their methods for collecting data were quite different. In his work in Germany, Wenker mailed out questionnaires to a targeted audience (schoolteachers) and asked them to provide written representation of the local production of particular sentences. Unlike, Wenker, Gilliéron sent out trained linguistic fieldworkers to collect data for his dialect atlas work in France. By sending trained fieldworkers, he began improving some of the problematic aspects of previous work, since he was now able to more accurately collect data on variation in pronunciation.
One of the significant characteristics of early dialectology work was the rigorous methodology that all studies employed. With a quantitative focus on showing the distribution of linguistic features across a particular geographic space, dialect surveys and questionnaires were very detailed, covering lexical, syntactic, and phonetic features. As a result, all data collection instruments were quite long. These comprehensive surveys may be mailed to informants (as in Wenker’s work) or, as became more common, a fieldworker would travel to the area of interest and interview informants with the potential for one interview to take over a day, depending on the interview protocol. Questions would range from those about lexical items (e.g., “What do you call the insects that light up at night?”) to those about pronunciation (e.g., to test the pin/pen merger). However, for these early studies not all residents of an area were surveyed. The ideal and preferred informants for these surveys were known as NORMS, non-mobile, older, rural, male speakers. Much has been written about the problems with early dialectology methods and the effects on data and results (Chambers & Trudgill, 1998). These range from concerns about the data sources and extend to concerns about the method of elicitation. As has been noted elsewhere (Chambers & Trudgill, 1998), limiting the data sources in dialectology studies to only rural, older males leaves out the voices and language of women, the young, and those in urban and suburban areas, privileging one language group and one language variety. Additional concerns were brought up about the ways in which the method of eliciting data, through a questionnaire that often only invited one-word responses, was limiting to linguistic analysis.
From the results of these dialect studies, different types of maps were produced to visually represent and explain the systematic nature of linguistic patterns. The prominent types of maps that were used to showcase dialectology data were display maps and interpretive maps, styles that are still used today (Chambers & Trudgill, 1998). Display maps provide a symbol on the map for each answer from an informant. Typically, a display map will be made for each linguistic item in a questionnaire, and then the response of every person surveyed will be plotted on that map. Whereas display maps provide micro-level detail about each linguistic feature, interpretive maps take a more macro-level view of speakers and linguistic features. Interpretive maps look at data from a particular dialectology study or multiple dialectology studies and find general patterns and trends for geographic regions.
One of the most noteworthy innovations to come from early dialectology and dialect maps is the isogloss. The isogloss, the boundary for the use of a particular dialect form or forms, has been one of the ways that dialectologists have defined different dialect areas and explained geographic dialect continua (Bloomfield, 1935; Chambers & Trudgill, 1998; Trudgill, 1986). As dialects are all parts of the same language, mutual intelligibility from one geographic dialect area to the next is critical in the drawing of isogloss lines. While not absolute borders of where one form is used and another is avoided, isoglosses visually display the prevailing linguistic patterns of an area and can help to explain the geographic, social, and political diffusion and transmission of dialect features (Chambers & Trudgill, 1998; Wolfram, 1991).
With the creation of the American Linguistic Atlas Project in 1929 by Hans Kurath, the field of geographic dialectology began evolving rather rapidly. For this large atlas project (given the geographic area), Kurath hired multiple fieldworkers and provided training for them, ensuring that transcriptions in the field were normed to a common system. From the initial study of the New England area, the American Linguistic Atlas Project, which was renamed the Linguistic Atlas of the United States (LAUS), has continued to collect data on the language patterns of regions across the United States. Isoglosses within a particular region were critical in the creation of the atlases, but Kurath, his collaborators, and those who followed also spent a good deal of time noting the ways in which social demographics interacted with the feature bundles they were observing.
The dialect geography work that followed this early period began to take a more comprehensive linguistic approach, examining multiple linguistic levels within one study and one analysis. It is from these first studies that we see the patterns of the field emerge: we see researchers testing hypotheses about the geographic distribution of linguistic structures (with the notation of isoglosses) and a movement toward considerations of the ways in which social variables interact with them (Weinreich, 1954).
The late 20th century and early 21st century saw even more methodological innovation in dialectology as the field broadened in scope and practice. Antieau’s (2006) work on Colorado English as part of the Linguistic Atlas of the West States (LAWS) demonstrates a move toward shorter interviews and larger sample sizes in data collection in atlas work. Meanwhile, the Linguistic Atlas of the Middle and South Atlantic States (LAMSAS) with its breadth and depth of data has provided dialectologists with ample opportunity to apply new methods of data analysis and visualization (Kretzschmar, 1992; Johnson, 1996; Nerbonne & Kretzschmar, 2003). These innovations and modifications within dialectology data collection and analysis represent just a few of the ways that dialectology has adapted to and adopted changes and new techniques in linguistics and other social sciences.
Over the years, as the field of dialectology has expanded, studies that looked more specifically at social groups and social evaluations of language have emerged. This strain of study, called social dialectology, looks more specifically at the linguistic variation between social groups (Chambers, 1994; Fasold, 1987; Trudgill, 1974; Wolfram, 1969) and moves away from the more traditional methods of early dialect geography. In addition to and alongside the development of social dialectology, research and interest in non-linguists’ social evaluations of dialects developed, and perceptual dialectology studies (Preston, 1993, 1999) emerged.
1.2 Social Dialectology
The 1960s saw the rise of social dialectology, a field that departed from traditional dialectology’s interest in geographic variation in language and focused more closely on social variation in language. Unlike traditional dialectology, which aimed mostly to describe the language features of an area, social dialectology correlated social variables with linguistic features. Labov’s (1966) study of New York City speech, Wolfram’s (1969) study of Detroit, and Trudgill’s (1974) study of Norwich are some of the best-known early works in social dialectology. These studies took some methodological pieces from traditional dialectology, but each expanded those methods in significant ways, looking at language practices and patterns across the social landscape of a community. They looked at young and old residents, male and female residents, residents of different ethnic and social classes, and language use across various speech styles, and did this all within urban locales. The move away from examinations of exclusively rural areas and homogenous speakers within those regions brought the focus of social dialectology, now known as sociolinguistics, to the social characteristics that accompany language use.
Labov’s (1966) study The Social Stratification of English in New York City, often called the Fourth Floor Study, illustrates the types of methodological innovations of social dialectology. Interested in the production of /r/ in New York City, Labov devised a method of elicitation that would help to minimize the observer’s paradox, shorten the interview time, and as a result ascertain the most natural speech data from a wide variety of speakers. His method consisted of traveling to three different department stores, representing three different social classes, and then asking clerks and passersby where a particular department was (located on the fourth floor). After collecting the data on the production of /r/ in the words “fourth floor”, Labov was able to demonstrate that there was social stratification in the production of /r/, with the higher social classes using r-ful forms and lower social classes using more r-less forms.
Likewise, Wolfram’s (1969) study of African American speech in Detroit was one of the first studies to look closely at the linguistic patterns of urban African Americans. His work, which was part of the Detroit Dialect Survey, investigated the ways that social class was represented in the speech of African American residents of Detroit. It examined the social variables of social status, age, sex, racial isolation, and style. Like Labov, Wolfram noted that the style of speech ranging from casual to very careful was socially significant and was reflected in language use. With the use of a portable tape recorder and the newly emerging data collection method of the sociolinguistic interview (Becker, 2013), these early dialectology studies were able to quickly collect more natural language data than had traditional dialectology.
Trudgill’s (1974) study of Norwich brought yet more methodological innovation to social dialectology. His methods for classifying a speaker’s social status were much more detailed and nuanced and reflected the socially significant categories within the community. Trudgill also elicited speaker’s evaluations and reports of their own speech and language practices. In doing so, he was able to quantitatively report on a community’s social evaluation of a particular speech feature. This innovation, considering the ways that speakers evaluate language, is a driving force in perceptual dialectology (covered in section 1.4). Trudgill, like Labov and Wolfram, was able to look at a number of linguistic variables across speech styles of one particular geographic area as a result of technological and methodological innovations since early dialectology.
With the movement away from the mail questionnaire and the trained fieldworker transcribing data, social dialectology set about collecting language and social data using the sociolinguistic interview. Armed with recording equipment, phonological variables could be studied much more carefully, and social commentary about linguistic forms could also be collected and utilized. Still, though, social dialectology has kept its analysis empirical, while the field of sociolinguistics has adopted multiple methodologies for exploring language behavior.
Some of the most popular social variables examined in early social dialectology included, sex, age, ethnicity, social class, and education. The addition of these variables to analysis added a new layer of explanatory detail in the patterning of languages. Researchers now were accounting not just for the speaker themselves, but also in many senses for the social networks (Milroy, 1987) of a speaker and their family or other associates. This work began moving the analysis further from one individual and their language as representative of a particular place, instead beginning to see the language of an individual speaker as a product of a confluence of social factors, some of which were in their control and some of which were not.
1.3 Social Dialectology and Sociolinguistics
Because of the similarities between the fields and the shared beginnings, much has been written about the relationship between social dialectology and sociolinguistics (Chambers, 2003; Hazen, 2015; Kretzschmar, 1995; Trudgill, 1999). With strong footing in methodologies from dialectology, early sociolinguistics and studies of language variation and change took much inspiration from the quantitative focus of dialectology. However, early sociolinguistics broadened the geographic focus of dialectology with an interest in social characteristics that relate to language behavior. Hazen (2015) notes that dialectology aligns very closely with what Eckert (2014) has described as first-wave sociolinguistic work (Labov, 1966; Trudgill, 1974; Wolfram, 1969). Over time, sociolinguistic studies broadened (second-wave sociolinguistics) in methodologies (adding qualitative approaches) as well as moving the focus from studies of geographical areas to studies of smaller speech communities that may be embedded within a particular geographic place. More recently sociolinguistics has moved as a field to studies of the ways in which individuals (Johnstone, 1996, 2013) work to construct language place and practice; this has been called third-wave sociolinguistics (Eckert, 2014). Thus, modern sociolinguistics has moved away in many respects from their social dialectology roots with the adoption of different methodologies (quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods) and theoretical frameworks from other fields such as anthropology, sociology, and education. As a result of this refocusing within sociolinguistics, there has been a turn to have dialectology adapt and adopt some of the ideological stances of third-wave sociolinguistics (Hazen, 2015) to broaden the social approaches of the field.
1.4 Perceptual Dialectology
From some of the earliest work on dialects, linguists have been interested in the ways that lay people (non-linguists) perceive dialects and the attitudes that speakers have about dialects; this field is known as perceptual dialectology (PD). While the origins of PD are debated (Japan in the 1920s or the Netherlands in the 1930s; for a fuller discussion see Preston, 1999), it is certain that a concern for the ways people use and evaluate the speech of others has been an important component of studies of dialectology. Like traditional dialectology, PD is well known for its methodologies, which have evolved over time. Much early PD work utilized the little-arrow method (Weijnen, 1999) for identifying areas where speakers believed languages/dialects were similar. In this method, subjects would connect areas (with small arrows) on a map that they believed spoke similarly. Then those results would be aggregated on a larger map that would show not just trends among speaker beliefs about language similarity and difference, but would also be used to map speaker-perceived dialect boundaries. The focus on the mental maps that humans have about languages and language speakers is the impetus for all studies of perceptual dialectology (Cramer, 2016).
Dennis Preston, the founder of modern PD, innovated the methodologies for studying perceptions of dialect and has broadened the scope of PD from traditional dialectology. His work has brought a strong folk linguistics (Niedzielski & Preston, 2000) focus back to the ways in which PD studies are framed and carried out. These modern studies broaden earlier work by considering not only the ways speaker-perceived dialect boundaries correlate with the dialect boundaries found by dialectologists, but also uncover the ways speakers socially evaluate dialect differences. As a result, social evaluations of dialect differences occupy much of the innovative methodology of modern PD. There is a clear similarity in the evolution of perceptual dialectology and traditional dialectology, where social dimensions become an increasingly important focus of study.
Preston’s methodological innovations for studying modern PD, often called the five-point method, include both direct and indirect methods of inquiry, and more importantly they utilize the significant interplay between geographic and social factors in dialectology. In his “draw-a-map” method, respondents are given a map (in his work a map of the United States) with state lines drawn on it and then asked to draw circles around the areas where they believe regional speech zones exist and label or name those areas. The labels can be based on the geographic region, the people in the area, or other naming practice that the respondent may use. In some ways, this is an elaboration of the earlier little-arrow method in that emphasis is placed on identifying areas or zones of similarity and difference in speech. However, this method moves beyond the little-arrow method in that in allowing speakers to label and name the regions, language and social attitudes can be seen. Likewise, Preston’s “degree-of-difference” method, where informants are asked to label the dialect difference or similarity of another region to their home region (typically on a 1–4 scale, from most similar to least similar), is also an adaptation of early perceptual dialectology, which asked respondents to reflect on language similarities and differences. Tamasi (2003) takes another approach to the degree-of-difference methodology by employing a pile-and-sort technique where respondents sort similar dialects into piles, and from these assessments she is able to calculate degrees of difference and similarity in perceptions of dialect and regional speech.
The “correct and pleasant” method moves beyond identification of regional differences and similarities and begins to assess the social evaluations that accompany different dialects. In this method, respondents are asked to rate a dialect area (and its speakers) as being correct (or standard) and pleasant. In his work, Preston (1999) has found that in many cases the scores for correctness and pleasantness vary by region and there is not a dominant pattern for the relationship of these two social variables. More recent work has added additional variables to the analysis, such as level of education (Fridland, Bartlett, & Kreuz, 2005), to understand the ways in which these social evaluations impact dialect judgments. “Dialect identification” (Preston, 1993) is another method for assessing language attitudes, but unlike previous methods, dialect identification work often utilizes recorded speech as part of the task. Matched guise techniques (Lambert, Hodgson, Gardner, & Fillenbaum, 1960) are utilized in this method to allow participants to identify the speech region of a speaker. The final method in the five-point method of studying perceptions of dialect is more qualitative in nature and involves open-ended questions, in which responses are elicited to particular questions about dialects. This step in the method allows researchers to understand more closely the ways emotional responses and social evaluations coincide with linguistic findings.
There have been a number of studies around the world that have used the five-point method of inquiry to investigate mental dialect maps and attitudes towards dialects in specific social groups and geographic regions. This method of inquiry allows researchers to customize their study for a specific social or geographic area, and as a result the scale of a study can be quite large or small. For example, Bucholtz et al. (2007) used the method to look at reactions to speech among young people across California. Cramer’s (2010) study has a much smaller geographic scale, looking at perceptions of language in Louisville, Kentucky. Other work has looked at perception across much larger geographic and sociopolitical spaces, such as Inoue’s (1996) work in Great Britain, Preston’s (1989) analysis of dialect perception in Brazil, and Long’s (1999) work in Japan.
1.5 Modern Linguistic Atlases and Dialectometry
Work in PD and social dialectology illustrated the utility of integrating technology in to language study. In those subfields, the integration of computer mapping, data collection, and computer-aided statistical analysis are a few examples of the ways in which technology became an integral part of all work on dialects, specifically to aid in the collection and visualization of data. With the creation of geographical information systems (GIS), dialectology was offered new ways of displaying and manipulating language data on maps. Kretzschmar, Schneider, and Johnson (1989) and Kirk and Kretzschmar (1992) provide some of the first examples and discussions of the ways the emerging technology found in GIS could be used in linguistic analysis and display of linguistic atlas data.
With linguistic atlases continually being updated and created, the integration of technology in data access, collection, and display marks a significant innovation in the field. In some projects, older data that is only available in paper format is digitized, while in other projects the data is digitally collected and analyzed. The ability to innovate data allows for wider collection and distribution. For example, the Linguistic Atlas Project (Kurath, 1941; Kurath & McDavid, 1961), which contains data on pronunciation and lexicon from regions in the United States, took data that was originally hand-recorded via transcription and made the data and map visualizations of the data electronically accessible. Users can select which data they would like to visualize and produce their own maps.
More recently, The Atlas of North America English (Labov, Ash, & Boberg, 2006) utilized telephone surveys to collect data on sound changes in American English. The project, which collected data from communities with populations over 50,000, followed a strict survey format (see discussion in Chapter 4 of Labov, Ash, & Boberg, 2006) to ensure data continuity for analysis. The atlas utilizes a number of different map visualizations in the data presentation and provides statistical data for the analyzed variables; both of these are examples of the technological innovations in modern atlas making. Perhaps most noteworthy, the recording of the interviews allowed the opportunity for both acoustic and impressionistic analysis of atlas data.
The Algonquian Linguistic Atlas, the Dialect Atlas of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Linguistic Atlas of England (Viereck & Ramisch, 1997), and the Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English are just some examples of the atlases of both current and historical languages that are being created and updated regularly. The level of linguistic and social detail of analysis and visual presentation in each of these is different, but the commitment to describing and documenting the language varieties of a region, as well as to providing widespread accessibility, is upheld. Beyond the work of dialect atlases, dialect dictionaries like the Dictionary of American Regional English have also taken advantage of technological innovations in data display and dissemination as seen in “Digital Dare”.
One of the most recent innovations in dialectology is the field known as dialectometry (DM) (Goebl, 2010; Nerbonne, 2006; Nerbonne & Kretzschmar, 2003). Using data from linguistic atlases, DM takes a computational linguistic approach to understanding the distribution of language features across geographic space. With an eye for previously overlooked relationships within linguistic atlas data, methods from a number of social science fields are employed. Underscoring the quantitative nature of DM, Goebl (2010) describes its methods as “DM = geolinguistics + numerical taxometry (or classification).” Like all dialectology work, methodologies in DM are important to researchers and are constantly being honed to explain the ways in which linguistic variables, speakers, and geographic space all interact.
1.6 Applications of Dialectology Research
Often overlooked is the application of dialectology research to domains outside of linguistics. Certainly, the application of dialectology research to domains within linguistics may be more obvious, as in the case of forensic linguistics (Shuy, 2006), where dialectology research has been used in speaker identification from audio recordings (Labov, 1988), attribution of authorship in written texts (McMenamin, 1993), or in identifying cases of linguistic profiling (Baugh, 2003). In addition to these important contributions, the findings from both dialect geography and perceptual dialectology research have extended into the domains of education, as popular media has shown increasing interest in students’ language. As a result, dialectology research has been able to aid linguists and educators in the creation and dissemination of high-quality educational materials, teacher training, and community information about language and dialect (Charity-Hudley & Mallinson, 2010, 2013; Reaser & Myrick, 2015; Reaser, 2016). Additionally, dialectology research has been utilized in medical domains (Hagstrom, 2004) in order to understand and aid in better doctor–patient communication.
2. Critical Analysis of Scholarship
The long tradition of scholarship in dialectology illustrates the innate curiosity associated with the local ways that people speak. From the earliest work, scholars of dialectology have been increasingly interested in the ways to best collect, document, and display data on dialects. The influence of other disciplines such as psychology, sociology, geography, and computational science on dialectology has helped to broaden the scope of dialectology.
The reach of dialectology also cannot be overlooked. Fields such as sociolinguistics and language variation and change owe much of their theoretical and methodological beginnings to dialectology. Similarly, folk linguistics has also benefited greatly from the influence of dialectology. With an increase in interdisciplinary approaches, dialectology continues to evolve and remains a significant component of scholarly work on the history of languages, language endangerment and documentation, and language variation and change.
Links to Digital Materials
Interview with William Labov, American English Is Changing Fast.
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