What Is The Difference Between A Language And A Dialect?

By Sophy Owuor on July 24 2019 in Society

It's not always clear what the difference between a language and a dialect is.
It's not always clear what the difference between a language and a dialect is.

Unlike rat and mouse or lion and lioness, the concept of language and dialect is pretty vague and there is no clear distinction between the two as a lot of factors come into play. Here are the main differences. 

What Is A Language?

Several definitions of a language have been proposed. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a language is defined by a means of human communication, either in the form of a speech or written, made up of use of words in a structured and conventional way. Politically, it can be defined as a tool that consists of a body of words as a means of communication for people within the same geographical area or cultural tradition. In summary, a language is an umbrella term that covers all the human communication system structured in a similar way. Example of languages includes English, French, sign language, and Haitian Creole among others.

What Is A Dialect?

Sometimes, a particular language can be spoken in different countries but in different forms. For instance, the English spoken in the United States, Canada, and Britain (American English, Canadian English, and British English) are quite different but are not officially considered separate languages. The difference is the dialect. A dialect can be defined as a particular form of a language spoken in a specific area or region, or by a certain social group. A region is a defined area inhabited by people such as a village, city, country, or even continent while a social group is a group of people with common interest. In essence, a dialect is simply a variety of language. Therefore, Canadian English, American English, and British English are all varieties (dialect) of English. These language varieties are distinguished from each other by features such as vocabularies, pronunciations, and grammar.

How Do You Know If It Is A Different Language Or Dialect?

It is simple to know whether one is speaking a different language or a dialect of the same language; mutual intelligibility. Mutual intelligibility is the relationship between a language and dialects whereby speakers of different but related language varieties are able to understand each other. For instance, English speakers can easily understand each other even if they are using different dialects. If two people cannot understand each other then they are likely speaking different languages.


There is no logical difference between a language and a dialect. The difference is simply brought about by grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary. The term “dialect” is simply used to highlight the difference in pronunciations and wordings of the same language

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