Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of dialect?

The definition of dialect is the language or style of speech specific to a certain geographic location, community, time period, social class, or other grouping of people.

Dialect

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 192

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.

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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:

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Latest answer posted November 9, 2009, 2:09 am (UTC)

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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.


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