For a regional dialect to vary from mainstream standard English, differences in terms used or the form of grammar emerge over time. These distinctions may be due to any number of geographical, cultural or historical reasons, and one could easily spend a life time taking various dialects back to their roots, and charting the journey they took to reach modern times. However, here I will be concerning myself with identifying and defining the various nuances of dialects that make each regions pattern of speech so distinctive.
Often, a dialect will use verbs in a way which deviates from standard English. An example of this would be the use of the word “seen” in place of “saw”, as in “I seen the cow today”. This is a case of using the incorrect tense, and so would be looked upon as nonsense by mainstream standard English speakers. However, to the user of that particular regional dialect, the utterance “I saw a cow today” might be seen as “posh”, and they would not consider using it. Another example of unorthodox verb handling would be in the pluralisation of verbs. Sometimes, verbs will be pluralised to fit into a sentence or phrase, were it is actually grammatically incorrect, such as “do’s and don’ts”. In the situation, the speaker has try to apply the common rule of plurals, adding the “s” sound, were it is not appropriate.
Some dialects make use of double negatives, as with the sentence “I didn’t do nothing”. However, unlike negative signs cancelling each other out in mathematics, here it is used for emphasis. Despite this, often users of prestigious dialects will look down upon the practise as incorrect or uneducated. This may be due to the fact that it is often associated with the way children talk. However, the use of double negatives is common practise in other languages, such as French.
Much like the pluralisation of verbs, often various dialects will pluralise nouns in a distinct way. Once again, this can be seen most commonly in children’s idiolects, were they might say “mouses” for “mice” and “oxes” for “oxen”. This pattern also appears in some dialects. More rarely, the singular may be referred to as using the plural. The most common example of this is the use of “dice” where in fact “die” is the correct word.
It is a common feature of dialects that they contain elements which are utterly unnecessary for the speaker. Often these may be words used out of context, or sometime non-verbal sounds. An example of the former would be the Liverpudlian use of the word “like” at the end of sentences. The later would be the use of the sounds “erm”, “um” and “ah” in between words. This may have some use in that it indicates uncertainty and hesitation on the part of the speaker. Often, fillers can be made up of whole phrases, such as the practise of putting, “do you know what I mean?” at the end of an utterance. While this may some times be appropriate, in cases such as, “It’s a horrible day today, do you know what I mean?”, it is clearly unnecessary, as the listener almost certainly knows what the statement means. Often, fillers can be include in speech to help fill up those “awkward silences”, as people can often feel uncomfortable with pauses in conversation. Also, at least on a subconscious level, a person may feel the need to be seen speaking at a greater length, and so use fillers to “pad out” their conversation.
Amongst all the elements I am talking about, lexical variations may be the greatest divide that lies between various dialects. Often, a dialect will make use of words which others may be completely unfamiliar with. Examples of this could be “jigger”, “laar” and “divvy”. Also, a dialect may create a word, which clearly has its roots in Standard English, but nevertheless is used in a dialect. “Bevy”, “footy” and “chewie” are all examples of this. Another type of lexical variation is when an existing word takes on a new meaning. The Liverpudlian dialect is full of such words, as can be seen with “sound”, “bird” and “hard”.
A syntactical variation is a nuance of grammar which is particular to a certain dialect. I have covered many syntactical variations earlier on in this piece, but there are almost too many to list. The Mancunian use of “our”, as in “our mother”, when in fact a single people, not a group, is speaking is a notable one. Often, a dialect will make strong use of ellipsis, and miss out parts of sentences, thus making them grammatically incorrect, and they make little sense of context. However, many syntactical variations have evolved for a reason, as they allow the speaker to talk with greater brevity than they would using normal standard English.