The Differences and Similarities Between Languages and Dialects

Across the world, we have over 7000 languages and endless dialects within those languages. Although dialect and language are very different, the terms are commonly used interchangeably.

It’s important to know that the two are actually very different, and the distinction can help with a range of different aspects of life, from choosing a voice-over agency to translating and performing a script for overseas marketing, to choosing a language to use for travel plans.

Below, we take you through the differences and the importance of recognizing how dialects and languages differ:

What Is Language?

A language is, in essence, a combination of various words, the way they are pronounced, the methods of combining them, and associated grammatical rules, all understood by one or multiple groups of people.

A language does not have to be both spoken and written to be considered a language, as some language types are only spoken, and others are only text (especially those that are no longer used in the modern age).

What Is Dialect?

A dialect can be considered a version of any one language, although some consider it to be based on the location where a certain language is spoken, the situation where the language is used, or the group of people who may speak that language.

So, dialects can be social or regional in their origins. When it comes to what they are made up of, they are all the same language, but they have different pronunciations, grammar, and vocabulary.

The Difference Between Language & Dialect

The differences between language and dialect appear to be quite simple, based on the above summaries.

A language is a trunk, and a dialect is a branch from that trunk.

Languages are very structured and strict in their rules, but dialects may be a little less formal, and relaxed in how they are used. A language can be official, but dialects, mostly, are never the official languages of any country.

Accents & Dialects

Some people believe dialects to be accents, and whilst an accent can form part of a dialect’s overall characteristics, it is not the defining part of the dialect. A dialect has very specific vocabulary, variants of grammar, phrases, etc.

Accents can define people from different regions, of course, but dialect doesn’t have to come with an accent.

A person from Nottingham, for example, may call a bread roll a cob without a Midlands accent, which would be a use of the local dialect that still, communicatively makes sense, but without the need for the accent, it is commonly associated with.

Accents, whilst they can have some intricacies and local words and slang included in their use, are more about sound and pronunciation than vocabulary, which is what sets them apart from dialects.

If you were to use an English language voice over agency for an advert and you wanted to target the Midlands, one of around 40 different dialects in the UK, you’d be likely to combine both dialect and accent for the best possible localization.

Dialects & Similar Languages

Some languages are very similar, which is why some people may consider them to be dialects. For example, Spanish and Portuguese are very similar and people who speak either language can usually understand each other.

However, they are still both considered different languages and not dialects despite being understood so well by either language speaker. On the other end of the scale, two dialects can be the same language, but they are not easily understood by their speakers despite being of the same language.

It can get complex, though, as sometimes the officials on these topics can’t always pinpoint exactly why something is a language and not a dialect, and vice versa. Sometimes it can be very specific to the country and the associated cultures and very much depends on which specific area you are looking at.

Other Language Variations

As well as accent, dialect and language it is also important to understand further variations that could impact communication of that language. One great example is slang, which can exist within a dialect, accent, or language (or all three) and it is generally very informal, so you’re unlikely to be able to learn about localized slang from a general source of information, like a book.

You also have something called a vernacular, which is a local language or common speech, jargon which is similar but is more within industry and profession, and diction, which is the way speech or writing is put across to give it a distinct style.

These kinds of variations can all be combined and considered to get a really detailed overview of a local language.

The Importance of Considering Both Language & Dialect

When it comes to using a translation company or a voice over agency, it is so important to use professionals who know how to localize. If you don’t, you could easily alienate your target audience.

So many businesses make the mistake of choosing a blanket language for their advertising, alienating the specific region they are targeting because they haven’t localized their content enough.

The same can be said for language learning and travel. If you know you will be traveling across a certain country, it is so important to understand the various dialects (or at least be aware of their existence) and how that will impact your language use throughout your journey.

Even understanding basic keyword differences throughout the country will stand you in good stead, unlocking the ability to utilize your new language skills throughout your journey.

How Will You Localise Your Language?

Whether you are utilizing different languages for educational purposes, business purposes, or personal reasons, it is so helpful to also include dialect and other language specifics to give you the best possible understanding of how to communicate in a specific area or community.

Hopefully, with the right language company or tutor, you’ll be able to nail the language, its dialects, and other nuances with ease.