Slang vs. Dialect

Difference Between Slang And Dialect Slang Words that have entered the standard vocabulary from such sources as foreign…

Difference Between Slang And Dialect


Words that have entered the standard vocabulary from such sources as foreign languages, dialects, and the special languages used by smaller groups within the larger society are collectively labeled “slang.” They are used in an informal, highly colloquial fashion and often carry an edge of special meaning. Some slang words become embedded in the language; others are used for a time and then fall out of fashion.

In describing the paths that words follow into and out of the standard language, linguists identify several sources. Words move into the common language from the technical shoptalk, or “jargon,” of such occupational groups as the military, government bureaucracies, musicians, athletes, religious bodies, students, and so forth; and from “cant,” nontechnical expressions that begin within any special subculture. “Argot” includes both jargon and cant and seems to be applied most often to the languages of the underworld.


Dialect, the way a language is spoken in a particular region (for example, the “Southern dialect” of the United States). Although dialects exist in writing, and there are dialect literary works (the poetry of Robert Burns, for example), dialect is, in the main, confined to speech.

All languages have dialects, but it is important to note that the difference between a dialect and a language is relative, not absolute; arbitrary, not logical. In Italy the Tuscan dialect became Standard Italian, but there is still a wide difference between the Italian spoken in northern Italy and that spoken, for example, in Sicily. Dutch and Flemish are dialects of the same language, the differences between them arising out of the geographical, political, and even religious differences between the Netherlands and Belgium. In Spain, Castilian is Standard Spanish, but there are other important dialects and even other languages, especially Catalan, spoken by large numbers of people. And in Norway, where Danish was once the language of educated people, a standard Norwegian language is evolving from a synthesis of several Norwegian dialects.

Not even regional dialects are solely regional: the influences of class and occupation are often noticeable, especially in rural speech. And, as scholars have fully recognized only in the 20th century, even some cities possess dialects as distinct, for example, as the English dialects of Essex, Lancashire, or County Cork, or of Maine, Tennessee, or Oklahoma.

The word “dialect” has subtle differences of meaning, according to its application. For example, some scholars contend that in the phrase “the dialect of the upper classes,” dialect means something different from what it means in “the Yorkshire dialect” or “the Southern dialect of the United States.” And in the expression “the Negro dialect and the subdialects of North America,” dialect has both “class” and ethnic relevance.



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