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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
• 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
2/14
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)
3/14
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
4/14
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
5/14
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)
6/14
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
7/14
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
8/14
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
9/14
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)
10/14
Vocabulary globalization
• fries (and fish and chips in NAm)
• AusE chips (crisps), hot chips (chips)
• movie(s), candy, cookies
11/14
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')
12/14
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
13/14
Words for ‘splinter’
spell
spelk
speel
spill
splie
spool
splint
shiver
silver
source:
Upton, C. & J. Widdowson
(1996). An Atlas of English
Dialects. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
14/14
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