This Friday I had the pleasure of dining with my friend Miriam and her lovely girlfriends. We had Thai takeaways and watched an episode (they are movie length, but episodes just the same) of Montalbano.
At the table were four of us
- A French woman
- An American (me, clearly)
- A first-generation Australian of Italian descent, and
- A first-generation Australian of Maltese descent.
Each speaks at least two languages, and naturally the conversation turned to linguistics. The Italian woman explained that her parents were from different areas of Italy, and spoke different dialects. She said that her own Italian was a mish-mash of Standard Italian and the two quite different dialects.
We then debated the definition of 'dialect' and whether or not English had any. We agreed that maybe Cockney fit the definition, but there were probably no English dialects, since most English speakers could understand one another (except maybe Americans who are rarely exposed to other Englishes).
My search of internet wikis and dictionaries has proved us both wrong and right. Cockney is, indeed a dialect, but there is an enormously long list of English dialects. I should have thought of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), which I understand and have to translate for my Aussie husband. There's even Texan, my native language.
'Dialect' is defined as differing from a language in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, while still being mutually intelligible.
This is in contrast to the way Italo-philes (and Wikipedia) define Italian dialect. In Italy dialects are not understood by one another or Standard Italian speakers. In reality, these should be called languages. So, by our definition as Romance language speakers and Mediterraneans, English doesn't have any dialects.
If you're curious, the website where I got the US map explained it all really well.
What with all the talking and nibbling and chatting and eating (at the table--the hostess was French, after all!) we didn't actually finish the movie until one in the morning. It's a rare evening when I crawl into bed at two am, but it was worth it!
Have a look at the list of global Englishes and see which dialect you speak. We'd love to see a comment below.