In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dialectology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Foundational Works
  • Reference Works and Archives
  • Textbooks and Methods
  • Atlases and Tools
  • Handbooks
  • Edited Collections
  • Journals
  • Languages Other Than English
  • Regional Dialects and Place
  • Dialect Contact and New Dialect Formation
  • Social Dialects and Community Divisions
  • Dialects, Education, and Public Dissemination
  • Perception
  • Words
  • Morphemes
  • Vowels

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Linguistics Dialectology
Kirk Hazen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0163


Dialectology is not a coherent field with a single set of methodologies. Instead, it has developed since the 1960s to become an interest of many different interconnected fields, from typology to geographic information systems (GIS), from historical linguistics to phonetics. Within all of these subareas, dialectology has become increasingly more computational. The study of dialects is one of the oldest fields of language study, and the modern examination of dialects involves both linguistic and social analysis. As an example of its lineage, the American Dialect Society was founded in 1889; the scholarship those members produced between then and the 1960s could be described as a closely related set of methodologies designed to document words and pronunciations in order to delineate primarily geographical dialect boundaries and, secondarily, language change. From the 1960s forward, the study of dialects developed through the emerging fields of language variation and change, sociolinguistics, and computational linguistics. Modern scholars of dialects, be they starting off or established, should be aware of the wealth of information produced from the significant effort of the earlier decades of dialectology, and some gateways to that scholarship are cited herein. For example, the journal American Speech was established in 1925, and its early volumes are worth investigating for modern scholars to understand the changes in methodologies and research questions that have occurred. For this bibliography, however, most of the citations point to the diversified period from the 1960s forward. During that time, dialectology ceased to be a single entity, but instead became a subcomponent of many different fields. The plethora of language-related handbooks that publishers now regularly produce often contain a chapter related to dialect variation. With the diversity of dialect methods came an explosion in the number of publications on dialects. Additionally, for the over 6,900 languages on earth, scholars have come to realize that the many thousands of dialects offer opportunities to study how language and society work. Most of the scholarship involving dialects is focused on linguistic research questions, but dialect variation has proved a useful area of focus for scholars of social analysis. With the thousands of publications on dialect variation produced over the last fifty years, the citations provided here should be seen as worthwhile examples and gateways to other quality scholarship. From the works cited here, various paths of modern dialect research unfold.

General Overviews

For modern researchers of dialects, data and analytical methods come from a wide variety of fields engaged in the scholarly study of language and society. The books in this section provide a good account of how dialectology has developed since the 1960s and how dialects are studied in the 21st century. The titles include introductions to sociolinguistics, itself a much broader conglomeration of fields than traditional dialectology, and the study of language variation and change. Novice students and experienced linguists will find needed information in these works about the breadth and depth of modern dialect study, even when the word “dialect” is not directly used. The first place readers must go is the newest book in the entire bibliography: Boberg, et al. 2018, which makes dialectology into the global enterprise that it should be in the 21st century, focusing on best practices in methodology and field reports from around the world. Three books are designed for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students in linguistics, sociology, or anthropology: the two works by Ralph Fasold, Fasold 1984 and Fasold 1990, provide accounts of the best research and research questions about synchronic language variation available at the time, and they offer a window into the previous decades of research; Holmes 2013 is a more general introduction to the area of language and society and demonstrates how dialect study fits in well with other fields. All undergraduates or graduate students will find Holmes 2013 readable and informative. The three-volume Principles of Linguistic Change, two of which are cited here as Labov 2001 and Labov 2010, is the touchstone for all scholars examining synchronic and diachronic variation. Labov’s works tackle the largest theoretical questions, but his techniques are rigorous and statistically sophisticated, challenging future researchers with new standards. Labov’s works are firmly in the field of linguistics and should only be tackled by those with some linguistic training. Wolfram and Ward 2006 is a popular account of dialect variation by scholars and fulfills the important outreach dialect scholars should provide to the society at large.

  • Boberg, Charles, John Nerbonne, and Dominic Watt, eds. 2018. The handbook of dialectology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

    The most up-to-date handbook on dialectology is also one of the most geographically and linguistically far reaching. Has sections on theory, methods, and data, with the data section covering dialects from around the world. Should be the first stop for any scholar new to dialect study and a regular reference for seasoned scholars.

  • Chambers, J. K. 2008. Sociolinguistic theory. 3d ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    Presents a lucid description of sociolinguistic work on dialect variation. Covers both methods and motivations for synchronic and diachronic variation. Includes accounts of the nature of empirical evidence used by researchers and the types of arguments sociolinguistics make, including those about social stratification, sex, and age.

  • Fasold, Ralph W. 1984. The sociolinguistics of society. Oxford and New York: Blackwell.

    Covers the social qualities of dialect variation, including multilingualism, diglossia, language attitudes, language shift, language planning, and vernacular language education. Methodologies get special attention, especially quantitative analysis. The research quality of this book, as well as the topics, are still important for modern researchers.

  • Fasold, Ralph W. 1990. The sociolinguistics of language. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

    Contains sections on the ethnography of communication, discourse analysis, language and gender, pragmatics, and pidgins and creoles. Between the two books by Fasold, most important research since the 1960s is synthesized. These two books are an ideal way for modern scholars to review the foundational scholarship of modern dialectology.

  • Holmes, Janet. 2013. An introduction to sociolinguistics. 4th ed. New York and Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

    Covers the totality of the study of language and society. Focuses on the role of language in social context and how language variation helps create social identity. Classic and valuable methods are included, as well as recent work on koinés, linguistic landscapes, New Englishes, and sexuality.

  • Labov, William. 2001. Principles of linguistic change: Social factors. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell.

    All three volumes of Labov’s magnum opus are a treasure trove of advanced techniques for data collection, linguistic theory, and statistical analysis. This volume covers detailed description and explanation of speech community, social class, gender, neighborhood, and ethnicity, as well as discussing the leaders of linguistic change.

  • Labov, William. 2010. Principles of linguistic change: Cognitive and cultural factors. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444327496

    As the final volume of Labov’s three-volume work, this book covers cognitive factors of synchronic and diachronic variation, natural misunderstandings of language, perception experiments, triggering mechanisms of vowel chain shifts, driving forces of the Northern Cities Shift, the units of linguistic change, transmission, and diffusion. Includes analysis of both phonological variation and grammatical variation.

  • Wolfram, Walt, and Ben Ward, eds. 2006. American voices: How dialects differ from coast to coast. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell.

    Designed for general public consumption, it displays the entire range of dialect variation in the US. In short essays detailing thirty-nine regional and social dialects, the many experts in this book provide detailed views of dialect diversity. Provides scholars excellent examples of writing for the general public.

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