What’s the difference between a dialect and a language?
It’s a surprisingly difficult question to give a straight answer to! This is the type of question that if you ask 10 different people, you will likely get 10 different answers. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists four definitions with multiple sub-categories for the term language. Dialect also has multiple variations of its definition.
With no clear winner and a substantial amount of opinions on the matter, we decided to summarize and simplify the dozens of explanations you will find across the internet.
For our purposes, we will define the two as follows:
- Language: A general term to describe a communication system that uses a set of words and a specific method to combine them. Languages generally have both a spoken and written system.
- Dialect: A variety of languages that are generally considered mutually intelligible. Dialects are generally spoken systems only.
In short, a language is formal written and spoken system while a dialect is slightly different variety of said language.
If you live in the United States or any other English-speaking country, you are surely familiar with the English dialects such as American English, British English, and Australian English. But, did you also know about the English dialects spoken in Canada and Scotland? You may not have even thought of it in a language vs dialect framework before. While English is spoken in many other countries, these are some of the most commonly learned dialects when an individual embarks on a quest to learn the English language.
There are thousands of languages in the world and tens of thousands of dialects. Instead of listing them all, which would not only be a monumental task, but also very difficult and a little bit boring, we decided to take some of the most widely spoken languages and identified their most common dialects. This is not an exhaustive list, but it does give you a good idea of the vast language landscape worldwide.
Seeing how many different dialects there are for each individual language makes it a little easier to understand the challenge that professional interpreters and translators face every day. Languages are constantly evolving. They are spoken in a unique way by each individual. It is the translators and interpreters’ task to effectively transmit the message in a manner that each party will understand.
This challenge is what keeps many of us in the language industry for so long. It’s never boring! There is always some new mountain to climb, a new project for a unique market, the chance to connect individuals who may not have the chance otherwise. It’s our passion and specialty to support organizations in their communication. Whatever dialect or language you need support in, we are here to help. We work with professional linguists across the globe to be there when you need us, any time, any day. Contact us today to connect with an Account Manager about your business’s goals.