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The term dialect (from Latin , , from the Ancient Greek word , diálektos, "discourse", from , diá, "through" and , légō, "I speak") is used in two distinct ways to refer to two different types of linguistic phenomena:
For example, most of the various regional Romance languages of Italy, often colloquially referred to as Italian "dialects," are, in fact, not actually derived from modern standard Italian, but rather evolved from Vulgar Latin separately and individually from one another and independently of standard Italian, long prior to the diffusion of a national standardized language throughout what is now Italy. These various Latin-derived regional languages are therefore, in a linguistic sense, not truly "dialects" of the standard Italian language, but are instead better defined as their own separate languages. Conversely, with the spread of standard Italian throughout Italy in the 20th century and the increase in dialect levelling, various regional versions or varieties of standard Italian developed, generally as a mix of the national standard Italian with local regional languages and local accents. These variations on standard Italian, known as regional Italian, would more appropriately be called "dialects" in accordance with the first linguistic definition of "dialect," as they are in fact derived partially or mostly from standard Italian.
A dialect is distinguished by its vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation (phonology, including prosody). Where a distinction can be made only in terms of pronunciation (including prosody, or just prosody itself), the term accent may be preferred over dialect. Other types of speech varieties include jargons, which are characterized by differences in lexicon (vocabulary); slang; patois; pidgins; and argots.
- One usage—the more common among linguists—refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. Despite their differences, these varieties known as dialects are closely related and most often mutually intelligible, especially if close to one another on the dialect continuum. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors, such as social class or ethnicity. A dialect that is associated with a particular social class can be termed a sociolect, a dialect that is associated with a particular ethnic group can be termed as ethnolect, and a regional dialect may be termed a regiolect. According to this definition, any variety of a given language constitutes "a dialect", including any standard varieties. In this case, the distinction between the "standard language", or the "standard" dialect of a particular language, and the "nonstandard" dialects of the same language is often arbitrary and based on social, political, cultural, or historical considerations. In a similar way, the definition of the terms "language" and "dialect" may also overlap and are often subject to debate, with the differentiation between the two classifications often grounded in arbitrary and/or sociopolitical motives.
- The other usage of the term "dialect", often deployed in colloquial or sociolinguistic settings, refers to a language that is socially subordinated to a regional or national standard language, often historically cognate or genetically related to the standard language, but not actually derived from the standard language. In other words, it is not an actual variety of the "standard language" or dominant language, but rather a separate, independently evolved but often distantly related language. In this sense, unlike in the first usage, the standard language would not itself be considered a "dialect", as it is the dominant language in a particular state or region, whether in terms of linguistic prestige, social or political status, official status, predominance or prevalence, or all of the above. Meanwhile, under this usage, the "dialects" subordinate to the standard language are generally not variations on the standard language but rather separate (but often distantly related) languages in and of themselves. Thus, these "dialects" are not dialects or varieties of a particular language in the same sense as in the first usage; though they may share roots in the same family or subfamily as the standard language and may even, to varying degrees, share some mutual intelligibility with the standard language, they often did not evolve closely with the standard language or within the same linguistic subgroup or speech community as the standard language and instead may better fit the criteria of a separate language.
- if they have no standard or codified form,
- if they are rarely or never used in writing (outside reported speech),
- if the speakers of the given language do not have a state of their own,
- if they lack prestige with respect to some other, often standardised, variety.
- a variety of Gallo-Italic languages, Gallo-Rhaetian languages, Rhaeto-Romance languages, and Ibero-Romance languages (such as Emilian-Romagnol, Ligurian, Friulian, the Lombard languages, Sicilian Gallo-Italic, Algherese, the Vivaro-Alpine dialect, Ladin, etc.);
Germanic languages, such as the Cimbrian languages, Southern Bavarian, Walser German and the Mòcheno language;
- the Albanian Arbëresh language;
- the Hellenic Griko language and Calabrian Greek;
- the Serbo-Croatian Slavomolisano dialect; and
- various Slovene languages, including the Gail Valley dialect and Istrian dialect.
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