Dialect variation

Jack Grieve*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Relatively little research on dialect variation has been based on corpora of naturally occurring language. Instead, dialect variation has been studied based primarily on language elicited through questionnaires and interviews. Eliciting dialect data has several advantages, including allowing for dialectologists to select individual informants, control the communicative situation in which language is collected, elicit rare forms directly, and make high-quality audio recordings. Although far less common, a corpus-based approach to data collection also has several advantages, including allowing for dialectologists to collect large amounts of data from a large number of informants, observe dialect variation across a range of communicative situations, and analyze quantitative linguistic variation in large samples of natural language. Although both approaches allow for dialect variation to be observed, they provide different perspectives on language variation and change. The corpus- based approach to dialectology has therefore produced a number of new findings, many of which challenge traditional assumptions about the nature of dialect variation. Most important, this research has shown that dialect variation involves a wider range of linguistic variables and exists across a wider range of language varieties than has previously been assumed. The goal of this chapter is to introduce this emerging approach to dialectology. The first part of this chapter reviews the growing body of research that analyzes dialect variation in corpora, including research on variation across nations, regions, genders, ages, and classes, in both speech and writing, and from both a synchronic and diachronic perspective, with a focus on dialect variation in the English language. Although collections of language data elicited through interviews and questionnaires are now commonly referred to as corpora in sociolinguistics and dialectology (e.g. see Bauer 2002; Tagliamonte 2006; Kretzschmar et al. 2006; D'Arcy 2011), this review focuses on corpora of naturally occurring texts and discourse. The second part of this chapter presents the results of an analysis of variation in not contraction across region, gender, and time in a corpus of American English letters to the editor in order to exemplify a corpus-based approach to dialectology.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge handbook of English corpus linguistics
EditorsDouglas Biber, Randi Reppen
Place of PublicationCambridge (UK)
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-139-76437-7
ISBN (Print)978-1-107-03738-0
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2015

Publication series

NameCambridge handbooks in language and linguistics
PublisherCambridge University Press


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