What is a Dialect vs Accent

Updated: Jul 31, 2021

We often hear the word ‘dialect’ thrown around with ‘language’. But what is it exactly? We break it down in this post.

Is a dialect a different language? No, it’s actually a different version of one language. While languages apply to broad geographic areas, dialects are versions of the same language across specific regions. For example, English is a language spoken across the world, but there are versions/dialects of it that are slightly different from each other, such as American English, British English, and Caribbean English. Dialects usually differ from one another in specific vocabulary, ways of saying something, or figures of speech that are unique to a certain region of speakers. For example, elevators (American term) are called lifts in Britain.

What’s the difference between a language, dialect and accent?

Speakers of different dialects can usually understand each other, whereas speakers of different languages cannot. An accent is related to how someone pronounces words when they say something; it is phonological. An accent can come from a dialect (i.e. a British English accent), way of speaking, or first or second language (i.e. ESL). In other words, accents are the product of languages and dialects.

dialect vs accent

Canadian Dialects

We have dialects within Canada! Both as a country as a whole (the Canadian dialect of English) and versions of English that are unique to specific Canadian regions.

Speakers of almost all Canadian regions engage in something called ‘Canadian Raising’. This is where the stereotype that Canadians pronounce ‘about’ something more like ‘a boot’ comes from. Even this word sounds a little different when speakers from Toronto, Western Canada, the Prairies and Atlantic provinces say it.