6 Major Language Variation In Linguistics

Language Variation is an interesting topic. Being a linguistics Student you must have idea about these variations and changes that occur normally in every language.


A code is an arbitrary pre-arranged set of signals. A language is merely one special variety of code. The total organization of various linguistic components in a language is the code of that language. It is an abstract system which happens to be accepted arbitrarily in the community which uses it.

Dialect and Sociolect

 A regional, temporal or social variety within a single language is a dialect; it differs in variety of ways such as speech pronunciation, grammar and words from the standard language, which is in itself called a socially dialect. So a dialect is a variation and change of language sufficiently different to be, considered a separate entity, But not different enough to be classed as a separate language.

Sometimes it is difficult to decide whether a variant constitutes a dialectal sub-division or a different language, since it may be blurred by political boundaries, e.g. between Dutch and some Low German dialects. Regional dialects (or local or geographical or territorial dialects) are spoken by the people of a particular geographical area within a speech community, e.g. Cockney in London, but due to the increase in education and mobility they are receding.

We can say “Dialect is a particular kind of a given language, spoken in a certain particular locality or geographic area, showing particular differences from the  literary form of that language, such as pronunciation, grammatical construction and, idiomatic use of words to be considered as a distinct language.

The Ultimate Guide To Language Variation


Social dialects or class dialects), on the other hand, are spoken by the members of a particular group of stratum of a speech community.


An isogloss is ‘a line indicating the degree of linguistic change’On linguistic maps, a line separating the areas (called isogloss area) in which the language differs with respect to a given feature of features, i.e. a line making the boundaries within which a given linguistic feature or phenomenon can be observed’So an isogloss is a representation of statistical probabilities, a graphic way of expressing a translation in speech characteristics from one area to another, a collection of isoglosses may be interpreted as marking a zone of relative great translation in speech. We may, therefore, think of it as indicating dialect boundary.

It is a term modeled on geographical terms isotherm (a line joining areas of equal temperature) and isobar (a line joining areas of equal atmospheric pressure). It is in contrast to another linguistic term isograph ‘any line on a linguistic map, indicating a consistency in the use of sounds, words, syntax, grammar etc’.


Whereas dialects are the varieties of language according to users, registers are the varieties of language according to use. Registers are stylistically functional varieties of a dialect or language’.

These may be narrowly’ defined by reference to subject matter (field of discourse, e.g. jargon of fishing, gambling, sports etc.), to medium (mode of discourse e.g. printed material, written, latter, message on tape.), or to level of formality, that is style (manner of discourse).

Registers are, therefore, situational conditioned field-of-discourse oriented varieties of a language. Some well-known definitions of register are cited below

“By register we mean a variety correlated with a performer’s social role on a given occasion. Every normal adult plays a series of different social roles—-one man, for example, may function at different times as head of as family, motorist, cricketer, member of a religious group, professor of big-chemistry and so on, and within his idiolect he has varieties shared by other person and other idiolects appropriate to these roles. When the professor’s wife tell him to ‘stop talking like a professor’ she is protesting at a misuse of register,”

Registers are those “varieties of language which correspond to different situations, different speakers and listeners, or readers and writers, and so on.”


Idiolect is a variety of language used by one individual speaker, including peculiarities of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, etc. A dialect is made of idiolects of a group of speakers in a social or regional subdivision of a* speech community. Linguists often analyses their own dialect to make general statements about language. So the idiolect is “an identifiable pattern of speech characteristic of an individual.” or “Idiolect is the individual’s personal variety of the community language system”


 Where we do find two or more dialects or languages in regular use in a community we have a situation which Fergusson (1959) has called diglossia. He has observed that in diglossia communities there is a strong tendency to give one of the dialects or language a higher status or prestige, and to reserve it for certain functions in society, such as official government, formal or informal education, the law, politics religion, literature, slogans, press, multimedia radio and television. The prestige dialect’ is often called the standard dialect (the language).


A pidgin is a contract language, a smallest unit of different natural languages. Its use is usually recognized to certain odd groups, e.g. traders and seamen. Pidgins are used in some parts of South-West Asia. Chinese pidgin, a combination of items from Chinese and English to serve the limited purpose of trade, is another well-known example. An alternative terms used for the pidgin is contact vernacular.


When a pidgin becomes a lingua franca, it is called a creole. Thus a pidgin may extend beyond its limited function limited function and permeate through various other activities. Then it may acquire a standardized grammar, vocabulary and sound-system; and it may then be spoken by an increasing number of people as their first language. It has not such history, not much prestige either. But on account of its wider application and first-language status, it has to be distinguished from a pidgin. A Creole or a creolized language is a mixed natural language composed of elements of different languages in areas of intensive contact. Well-known examples are the creoles of the islands of Mauritius and Haiti.

Language Variation In Linguistics

Language variation refers to the many ways in which language use can differ from one community, social group, context, or individual to another. It is a fundamental concept in sociolinguistics, which studies the relationship between language and society. Language variation can be influenced by a multitude of factors, such as region, socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, and more. Here are some key concepts related to language variation in linguistics:

  1. Dialects: These are varieties of a language that are spoken by people from a particular geographic area or social group. Dialects may differ in terms of pronunciation (accent), vocabulary, and sometimes grammar. For example, American English and British English are dialects of the English language.
  2. Sociolects: Varieties of a language that are associated with a specific social group. For instance, a high-status group might have a different way of speaking than a lower-status group within the same community.
  3. Idiolects: The unique way in which an individual person speaks, representing personal linguistic habits and idiosyncrasies.
  4. Register and Style: Language variation depending on the situation or the context. For instance, the way one speaks in a formal setting (like an academic presentation) might differ from the way one speaks in a casual conversation with friends.
  5. Code-switching: The practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of a language in a single conversation or discourse context. This often occurs in bilingual communities.
  6. Gendered Language: Differences in language use based on gender. In some cultures, men and women might use language differently, either in terms of vocabulary, pronunciation, or other features.
  7. Language Change: Over time, languages evolve, and the way they are spoken can change. This evolution can result in older and newer forms of speech within the same language community.
  8. Pidgins and Creoles: These are languages that evolve as a result of contact between two or more languages. A pidgin arises as a simplified, makeshift language that evolves due to the need for communication between speakers of different native languages. If a pidgin becomes established and children begin to learn it as a native language, it may develop into a creole, which is more complex and stable.
  9. Hypercorrection: This is when speakers try to use what they perceive as a “prestigious” or “correct” form of language, but they overapply the rules, leading to non-standard forms.
  10. Language Attitudes: People often have beliefs or biases about certain dialects or ways of speaking, associating them with intelligence, politeness, education, and other social factors.

Language variation can be observed at multiple levels, from phonetic (sounds), lexical (words), to syntactic (sentence structure). By studying these variations, linguists can gain insights into human social structures, cognitive processes, historical developments, and more.

Creating a guide on major language variation in linguistics in a tabular format involves presenting different types of language variations along with their key characteristics and examples. Here’s a basic structure for such a guide:

  1. Dialectal Variation
    • Description: Variations in language due to geographical or social differences.
    • Characteristics: Differences in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.
    • Examples: British English vs. American English; Mandarin vs. Cantonese.
  2. Sociolectal Variation
    • Description: Variations in language among different social groups.
    • Characteristics: Influenced by class, ethnicity, profession, etc.
    • Examples: Jargon used by lawyers vs. medical professionals; youth slang vs. formal language.
  3. Register Variation
    • Description: Variation according to context or purpose of communication.
    • Characteristics: Formality, complexity, and specificity vary.
    • Examples: Academic writing vs. casual conversation; legal documents vs. personal letters.
  4. Temporal Variation
    • Description: Changes in language over time.
    • Characteristics: Evolution of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.
    • Examples: Old English vs. Modern English; Latin vs. Romance languages.
  5. Idiolectal Variation
    • Description: Individual language use variation.
    • Characteristics: Unique combination of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.
    • Examples: Personal speech patterns; individual use of idioms.
  6. Pidgins and Creoles
    • Description: Languages that develop in multilingual contact situations.
    • Characteristics: Simplified grammar and vocabulary (Pidgins); fully developed language systems (Creoles).
    • Examples: Tok Pisin (Pidgin); Haitian Creole.
  7. Code-Switching
    • Description: Alternating between two or more languages or dialects in conversation.
    • Characteristics: Often occurs in multilingual communities.
    • Examples: Switching between Spanish and English among bilingual speakers in the U.S.; Hinglish (Hindi-English mix) in India.
  8. Standard vs. Non-Standard Variations
    • Description: Distinction between widely accepted norms and other forms.
    • Characteristics: Standard forms often seen as ‘correct’.
    • Examples: Standard American English vs. Appalachian English; Received Pronunciation vs. regional British accents.

This structure provides a comprehensive overview of major language variations, each with a brief description, characteristics, and examples. It’s a useful format for educational purposes or as an introductory guide to the field of linguistics.

In conclusion, language variation in linguistics is a rich and complex field that allows us to explore the diversity of human expression. By examining the types, causes, and implications of language variation, we gain a deeper understanding of how language reflects and shapes our social, cultural, and geographical contexts. Embracing language variation enriches our appreciation for the multitude of ways humans communicate and connect with one another.

by Abdullah Sam
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