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Dialect as a Form of Identity

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  1. Introduction
  2. Dialect defined
  3. Language > Dialect > Idiolect
  4. Characteristics of the upper peninsula and Martha's Vinyard Dialects
  5. Geographical influences on dialect
  6. Possible causes of the decreasing use of dialect as identity
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

Every time a person opens his or her mouth to speak that person is speaking not only a language but a dialect of that language as well. It is a common misconception that only certain people whose pronunciations vary from what is considered Standard American English, speak a dialect. In fact, there are so many different dialects of American English today that it has been said looking at the different varieties is like looking at varieties of the American climate, ?how many we find depends on how closely we look.? 1
In this paper I would like to take a closer look at one of the common uses of a dialect, namely, the use of a dialect as a form of identity. I would also like to examine factors that could potentially alter whether or not a person continues to use a dialect in this manner. I have previously done some research on the Finnish influenced dialect of English found in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (2002) and its use as a form of identity and I see many similarities with William Labov's findings regarding dialect as a form of identity on Martha's Vineyard (1962, 1972). However, I have also uncovered some more recent research that indicates this use of the dialect is phasing out on Martha's Vineyard (Josey 2002). This did not appear to be the case in the Upper Peninsula. I will propose that this variation is a result of the differences in population growth and economic structure between the Upper Peninsula and Martha's Vineyard.

[...] Pinker, Steven 1999 Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language. New York: Basic Books. Reed, Carroll E Dialects of American English. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. Remlinger, Kathryn 2002 Crossing Methodological Borders: Critical Discourse Analysis and Ethnodialectology. Paper presented at Methods in Dialectology XI, University of Joensuu, Finland, August 5. Remlinger, Kathryn 2002 The Finnish of the Copper Country. KeweenawNow, February Scharton, Maurice and Janice Neuleib 2002 Code-Switching from Inside Out: A Guide to Writing, Electronic document,, accessed November 12. [...]

[...] An increase in population goes hand in hand with an increase in population density and with an increase in population density there is more opportunity for wider linguistic contacts.19 So looking back at Labov's Vineyard research, leads me to wonder why, if the population was already steadily increasing during the time of his research, he didn't notice a leveling out of the dialect as identity use in the 1970's. Because of this factor, I believe that the change in dialect use on Martha's Vineyard has to do with a combination of the population increase as well as another notable societal change the island has experienced, namely, the changes in the economy and economic structure of the island. [...]

[...] Conclusion The fact that attitude is encoded in a speakers use of dialect as a form of identity points to the conclusion that if there is an outside factor that requires a speakers attitude to be changed then this should result in the speaker changing the way they use a dialect. The outside factors that have played the most substantial role on Martha's Vineyard are the population growth and the economic shift. Again, these are changes that the Upper Peninsula has not encountered in the same way or at the same rate, therefore residents have not felt the pressure to change their attitude or identity. [...]

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