Dialect vs. Accent: Is It a Language, Dialect, or Accent?
In your language learning journey, you inevitably start bumping into words like “dialect” and “accent,” which don’t mean the same thing—or, do they? What’s the difference in meaning of dialect vs. accent or dialect vs language, for that matter?
Let’s dig deeper to find out!
Languages, Dialects, and Accents
Let’s begin with a brief definition of each concept so that you can better understand the dialect vs. accent issue and the language vs. dialect issue as well.
A language is “a body of words and the systems for their use common to a people who are of the same community or nation, the same geographical area, or the same cultural tradition.”
As a language enthusiast, you’ve likely got a long list of languages you can’t wait to learn. If your goal is to reach as many people as possible with your newfound language skills, then you want to focus on the top 5 languages in the world with the largest number of native speakers! These are Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, and Arabic.
Start now with Your Ultimate Guide to Basic Spanish for Beginners!
A dialect is “a variety of a language that is distinguished from other varieties of the same language by features of phonology, grammar, and vocabulary, and by its use by a group of speakers who are set off from others geographically or socially.”
An easy way to understand dialect is to look at British English versus American English. Both of these peculiar systems of communication are “English”—but their dialects differ significantly. In most cases, the two are mutually intelligible, whereas there will be times when it seems “all sixes and nines” (which is British English for “confusing”).
If you’re learning Spanish, you’ll notice extraordinary differences in dialect depending on who you’re speaking to and where they’re from. In terms of pronunciation, Spanish speakers from Spain are notorious for the ceceo (aka “the Spanish lisp”). What’s more, speakers in Argentina pronounce “ll” with a strong “sh” sound, while those in Central America pronounce it with a “y” sound.
Additionally, in each country with Spanish speakers, you’ll find unique idioms, vocabulary, and particular pronunciation differences.
An accent is “the way that particular person or group of people sound. It’s the way someone pronounces words, the musicality of their speech, etc.”
An accent is often the product of a second language—in other words, one that is not native to the speaker. For example, I grew up speaking both English and Spanish, so I don’t have an accent in either. But as I plan to learn French, it’s inevitable that I’ll need to work on perfecting my accent!
Language vs. Dialect
Let’s take a step back before we explore the difference in dialect vs. accent and learn the defining features of a language and a dialect.
Why are English and Spanish “languages,” but Spanglish isn’t?
To put it bluntly, a language is a dialect with prestige! It gains this distinction through official recognition as a language by a country in relation to geographical or political boundaries as well as how many people speak it.
Some linguists consider a “language” to exist when it has both written and spoken aspects, whereas a dialect is only spoken variation of a language. Of course, other linguists see both “language” and “dialect” living on a spectrum of variation.
Languages are dialects that became official because of their written form. This gives them a system of rules to follow. In contrast, dialects are usually only spoken.
Along with prestige comes standards, and in most cases, official languages are the ideal way to talk and write, whereas dialects take a back seat as informal deviations of the standard.
Dialect vs. Accent
Onward to discover the difference between dialect vs. accent!
Comparing dialect vs. accent tends to be less complicated than comparing language vs. dialect. The only problem is that many don’t agree on what the differences between all of these are.
In the dialect vs. accent argument, some linguists believe that accents are just a part of a dialect, meanwhile others prefer the idea that an accept is simply a form of pronunciation and a dialect includes grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.
Another common difference between dialect vs. accent is that dialect refers to a variation of language someone speaks as their mother tongue, whereas an accent relates to a person’s pronunciation quirks while speaking a second language.
An unfortunate reality is that foreign accents oftentimes provoke social injustice and problems finding jobs, education, and healthcare.
Research by Dr. Foucart of project SocialAccent suggests that the reason for the discrimination is due to how our brains process speech. Since it’s often harder to understand people with an accent, our brains make more of an effort to understand—this taxes our cognitive processes and may lead to negative feelings.
Why Learn Spanish?
When you choose to learn a language (such as Spanish), you must choose a dialect to master, and then perfect your accent.
When it comes to dialect vs. accent, they are equally important in your quest for Spanish fluency. With more than 427 million native speakers, Spanish has more native speakers than English does!
By learning how to speak Spanish, you’ll be able to communicate with people from many different countries and fascinating cultures.
In terms of popularity, Spanish shows no signs of stopping or slowing down as the number of speakers continues to increase steadily. Spanish ranks as the most popular second language for English speakers to learn; placing it ahead of Mandarin and French.
In the marketplace, knowing a second language nowadays is extremely valuable for employers and employees alike. In the current climate, Spanish is especially valuable for business and international trade.
It comes as no surprise that the Latin population in the United States is growing, with 130 million speakers by the year 2060. This would make the US the largest Spanish-speaking country, surpassing Mexico.
Compared to other languages, Spanish is straightforward to learn and not as complex or difficult as you might think. It’s also a language full of flavor and life. It is expressive, and you can travel almost all over Latin America and feel free to speak to the locals.
Practice Your Accent
When learning Spanish, mastering its accent is one of the hardest things to do. The best way to truly improve your accent is to have a 1-to-1 class with a native speaker so that you can listen to them and they can help you correct your accent and pronunciation.
Here are some steps that can help you improve your Spanish accent further:
- It’s important to listen and repeat. It can be music, a podcast, television or your teacher of course.
- Pronounce the alphabet correctly. Make sure you practice the vowel sounds, the ñ sound, the ll and the very challenging rolling of the r sound.
- Learn the correct separation of syllables and which stress goes where.
- Learn the accented syllables and the tilde which tells you which syllable has the strongest accent.
- Always practice.
Sign up for a free class to improve your language skills and sharpen your Spanish accent today!
Learning Spanish? Check out our latest posts:
- The Historical Importance of Corn in Spanish-Speaking Countries
- The Surprisingly Complicated History of Cuba
- The Meaning of Chancla: Flip Flops and Discipline
- What is the Meaning of Gringo? The History and Origin of the Term
- The History and Significance of the Virgin of Guadalupe
- The Origin and History of Spanish Paella (Plus Spanish Vocab!)
- 15 Fascinating Facts About the Yucatan Peninsula
- The Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice in Argentina
- 12 Amazing Spanish Duets You Don’t Want to Miss - April 13, 2021
- Talk About Bacon in Spanish (and Other Meaty Favorites) - April 12, 2021
- How to Discuss Your Family Tree in Spanish - April 9, 2021