Guide to Literary Terms

Start Your Free Trial

Download Guide to Literary Terms Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Dialect

Dialect - the language of a particular district, class, or group of persons. It encompasses the sounds, grammar, and diction employed by a specific people as distinguished from other persons either geographically or socially. Dialect, as a major technique of characterization, is the use by persons in a narrative of distinct varieties of language to indicate a person’s social or geographical status, and is used by authors to give an illusion of reality to fictional characters. It is sometimes used to differentiate between characters.

The word is derived from the Greek dialektos which evolved from dialegesthai, meaning “to discourse.”

Mark Twain used dialect in his Huckleberry Finn to differentiate between characters, such as when Huck and Jim are discussing Jim’s freedom:

Jim: “We’s safe, Huck, we’s safe! Jump up and crack yo’ heels! Dat’s de good ole Cairo at las’, I jis knows it!”

Huck: “I’ll take the canoe and go see, Jim. It mightn’t be, you know.”
-Chapter XVI : The Rattlesnake-Skin Does Its Work

George Eliot also made use of dialect in her novels, such as Silas Marner and Middlemarch.