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E -Stufe 12 - Arbeit Nr. 4

sign language

sign language


The word dialect is first recorded in English in the sixteenth century. It is of Greek origin and was borrowed into English through Latin and French.
The Greek word from which the word is derived meant 'discourse, way of speaking', and the primary meaning of the English word given in OED is
'manner of speaking language, speech, especially a manner of speech characteristic of a particular group of people'. The secondary meaning of the
word given in OED is 'one of the subordinate forms or varieties of language arising from local peculiarities of vocabulary, pronunciation and idiom'.
It is convenient to keep the word dialect to refer to the speech of a group of people smaller than the group who share a common language, and to
remember that the basis of subdivision of a language into dialects need not necessarily be geographical; it may also be social. If a group is based
merely on occupation or shared interests it may develop its own technical vocabulary but not a dialect that is ever likely to develop into a separate
language; if the group forms a real community consisting of people with common interests who are in frequent touch with one another, it will tend
to develop a dialect of its own with a distinctive phonology as well as a distinctive vocabulary. Although it is sometimes said that speakers of two
different English dialects cannot understand each other, it is doubtful whether such a statement is ever really true, given intelligence, patience and
co-operation in both speaker and hearer. Similarly, the differences between the English language as used in America and as used in Great Britain
are heavily outnumbered by the resemblances, and it is only occasionally that the speaker of the one form of English completely fails to understand
a speaker of the other. It is therefore reasonable to describe British and American English as different dialects of the same language. On the other
hand, the various Romance languages , although at one time they were different dialects of the same language, have diverged so considerably that
French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese can now reasonably be regarded as distinct languages. Local English dialects are not simply Standard
English badly pronounced; they are varieties of speech with a pedigree as good as that of Standard English which is simply one of the English
dialects which, for various non-linguistic reasons, had acquired greater prestige than the other dialects. Down to the end of the fourteenth century
any English author would write in the dialect of the district in which he happened to live. From the fifteenth century onwards one dialect, that of the
East Midlands, began to be regarded as a standard, largely because of the accident that the two universities and the capital of the country were in
that area. Hence those who lived in other parts of the country learnt how to speak and write Standard English, and the other dialects fell into
comparative disuse.

(about 480 words)

from: G. L. Brook, English Dialects, London, 1963


1. Comprehension

1.1. What is the origin of the word 'dialect'?
1.2. Compare the definition of the word 'dialect' as it is quoted from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) with that given by Brook.
How is the word explained in your dictionary?
1.3. In your own words, explain the difference between geographical and social dialects.
1.4. Why can speakers of different dialects communicate with each other to a certain extent?
1.5. What is Standard English?

2. Discussion

2.1. Would you allow your children to speak their local dialect at home and at school? Say why or why not.
2.2. What, in your opinion, are the greatest difficulties in learning English: tenses, prepositions, the vast vocabulary, pronunciation, or spelling?
2.3. Let's imagine that all the world speaks or has to speak one language. What advantages and effects would such a monolingual world bring about?

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