The Difference Between Language and Dialect

At Interpretation Services, our team has the opportunity of working on translation and interpretation projects in a vast number of different languages. However, on occasion, our clients find themselves confused about the difference between language and dialect. This confusion is not an uncommon occurrence. Truthfully, this difference is such a confusing topic that even some linguists have trouble explaining it. So, today, we’re going to take a step back to think about the fundamentals of languages.

What is a language?

Defining a language can be a tricky task. How do you begin to describe a language when it consists of so many distinct cultural and linguistic factors? Well, there are a few ways that we can go about a definition.

The first is that language is simply a method of communication used by individuals of a particular community or country. Additionally, language can be defined as a system of human communication, either written or spoken, that consists of using words in an orderly and standardized way. Both of these definitions work together to form a general concept of language; you can even apply this concept to languages consisting solely of signs and images.

What is a dialect?

In simple terms, a dialect is a specific form of a language that is unique to a defined social group or region. Thus, a dialect can be described as a regional variety of a language. You can distinguish one dialect from another by examining features such as grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.

So, based on this information, you can begin to understand language as a broader, parent-like term, with the various dialects stemming from it. If you were to draw this out on paper, it might resemble a family tree. Now, this is an excellent way to view the difference between language and dialect in print, but in actuality, it’s tougher to separate the distinctions between the two terms.

Language vs. dialect

How do you determine the point at which a language shifts to a dialect, or vice versa? Although there isn’t a clear line drawn between the two, there are, in fact, ways to differentiate between them.

The concept of mutual intelligibility is the most transparent way to know if two individuals are speaking in different languages or different dialects. Let’s use English to illustrate an example. For instance, an Australian might greet someone by saying, “G’day,” while a Texan might instead say, “Howdy.” Both speakers are easily able to understand one another despite using different dialects. However, if they cannot understand each other, they’re likely speaking two separate languages. Still, note that “likely” is the key word to this sentence. For languages similar to one another, such as the Scandinavian languages, mutual intelligibility may still apply.

Additionally, think of how languages are typically tied to copious grammar rules. For this reason, written records and literature are translated into different languages but not into various dialects. Generally, dialects are spoken much more frequently than they are written.

In need of professional language services?

Hopefully, this blog helped you increase your understanding of the difference between language and dialect. If you require professional language services, please contact Interpretation Services today. We offer several language services to meet your needs, including translation, interpretation, transcription, and more.