Linguistics/Dialectology and Creoles
A distinction must be made between accent and dialect first, for the two are not interchangeable. An accent describes only someone's pronunciation. A dialect includes other aspects of regional linguistic variation, including vocabulary and syntax.
That some people lack accents is also untrue. All speakers of a language have accent.
An isogloss separates areas which share a common lingusitic feature, such as vocabulary (e.g. truck vs. lorry) or pronunciation (e.g. rhoticity, or whether the terminal r in words like waiter and whether are pronounced). Here is an example of a group of isoglosses related to pronunciation:
In this map of the Faroe Islands, areas above the dark blue line pronounce á as [aː], and those below it pronounce á as [ɔa].
If we have a lot of isoglosses, we can demarcate dialects using dialect boundaries. Dialects share a set of linguistic features among them. Here is an example"
The black lines separate Central German (light blue) from High German (yellow) and Low German (green). It is important to note, however, that the boundaries are not as clear-cut as they appear on the map. Speakers near the boundaries are likely to share linguistic features prevalent on both sides. In other words, a dialect continuum exists.
Sometimes, a person is at home with two distinct varieties of a language, which can either be separate languages or dialects, and uses them in different situations. A 'high' variety is used in official occasions, such as ceremonies or formal letters, while a 'low' variety is used for daily conversation. For example, before 1920, Classical Chinese is the 'high' variety of Chinese, while other Sinitic topolects, such as Wu, Min, Yue and Hakka, were 'low' varieties. After 1920, Mandarin became the 'high' variety, with the other topolects remaining their 'low' status. A similar type of diglossia occurs in Arabic, in which Classical Arabic is the 'high' variety and Egyptian Arabic, Tunisian Arabic, Yemeni Arabic, etc., are all 'low' varieties.
Creoles are languages formed when speakers of many languages come into contact with each other. They originate as pidgins.
Creoles at first develop as pidgins, languages which combine words from the languages of different speakers, though they tend to come mostly from the local prestige language. The language that supplies most of the vocabulary is called the lexifier language. An example of a pidgin word is the word pidgin, which is Chinese Pidgin Language for business.
At first, pidgins are spoken without regards to grammar, but when children learn the pidgins, they turn them into creoles, complete with grammatical rules. This process of creolisation. Creoles are generally not prestige languages, but in some countries, notably Haiti, Papua New Guinea, and Vanatu, creoles are official languages: Haitian Creole, Tok Pisin, and Bislama respectively, though co-official in these countries with French and/or English.
As they age, creoles tend to become more grammatically complex, a process usually called decreolisation. Usually, the grammar appears to approach that of the local prestige language, but sometimes there is no clear grammatical base for these developments, as in the Suriname creole Saramaccan. It is important to note that, like the situation of regional dialects we have seen above, there is not clear distinction between decreolised and creole languages; a post-creole continuum is created.
There are, however, some critics of the notion of decreolization, such as Derek Bickerton, a prominent creolist, who argues that the apparent process of decreolization is actually a case of language shift along a sociolect.
Creoles around the world tend to have very similar rules, though there are two schools of thought on this. One claims that the creole is based on a local 'substratum', with words from the prestige language. The other claims that the rules of creoles are part of a 'language instinct', and fairly universal, under similar conditions. As the rules of creoles never correspond to the substrata of any of the languages that went into the mix, supporters of the substratum hypothesis generally argue that creoles either combine grammar from many languages, or all stem from a common creole ancestor. Regardless of their origin, however, creoles tend to have fairly similar rules.
Creoles are different from mixed languages, which undergo a process of lexical replacement. Mixed languages are relatively rare, and tend to have more complex rules than creoles, as they maintain the grammar of the substratum.
- The word topolect was coined to cover regional varieties of a language, without judging whether they are dialects or languages.