User:Mzajac/Dialect labels

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Regional dialect labels are a type of restricted-usage label used in dictionaries.

What are dialect labels?[edit]

“Dialect labels refer to geographical restriction, and we can take this to include both national varieties and regional dialects within a national variety.” (Howard Jackson 2002, Lexicography, p 110)

“Regional, a usage label indicating that the lexical item or one of its meanings belongs to a particular geographical area of a linguistic community.” (P.G.J. van Sterkenburg, 2003, A practical guide to lexicography, John Benjamins, p 411)

“Here are the most common kinds of usage information given by general and ESL dictionaries, along with typical dictionary labels: . . . 2. Regional or geographic variation: U.S., British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African, etc. Sometimes regional areas within a country are specified, and sometimes regional or dialect is used as a label.” (Sidney I. Landau 2001, Dictionaries: The Art and Craft of Lexicography, 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, pp 217–18)

“regional label – A LABEL used to mark the dialect or regional variety with which a word or phrase is associated. . . . General dictionaries of English today tend to concentrate on ‘metropolitan’ regional varieties rather than ‘provincial’ local dialects, e.g. Am(erican) or U.S., Br(itish) and Austral(ian) English.” (R.R.K. Hartmann and Gregory James, 1998, Dictionary of Lexicography, London: Routledge)

The form of dialect labels[edit]

A study by Norri “compares the use of the labels British, American/U.S., Scottish, Irish and Australian in seven British and three American dictionaries.” (Juhani Norri 1996, “Regional Labels in Some British and American Dictionaries,” in International Journal of Lexicography, v 9, n 1, pp 1-29.) Dictionaries examined were the current CCE, CED, LDE, OAL, ChD, COD, OED, AHD, RHD, and W3. Norri's paper mentions the following abbreviations (with Wiktionary context labels for comparison):

  • American English, American, AmE, U.S., US (Wiktionary: US)
    • Midland
    • NewEng
    • South Midland U.S.
    • Southwestern U.S., Southwest
    • Western U.S.
  • Australian, Austral., Austral, Austr., Austr (Wikt: Australia)
  • British English, British, BrE, Br, Brit., Brit (Wikt: UK, Commonwealth)
    • Eng
    • North Eng., Northern, north., north, north dial. (Wikt: Northern dialect, Northern England)
  • Canadian, Canad, Can (Wikt: Canada)
  • Caribbean (Wikt: Caribbean)
  • Ind (Wikt: India)
  • Anglo-Irish, Irish Eng., Irish, Ir (Wikt: Ireland)
  • New Zealand, N.Z., NZ (Wikt: New Zealand)
  • N. Amer., NAm, U.S. and Canadian, Western U.S. and Canadian, Western U.S. and Canada (Wikt: North America)
  • Pak
  • Scottish, Scots, Scot., Scot, Sc. (Wikt: Scotland)
  • South African, S. African, S. Afr., SAfr (Wikt: South Africa)
  • Welsh (Wikt: Wales)
  • dial., dial (Wikt: dialectal, regional)


  • chiefly (7 of 10 dictionaries), especially or esp. (4), mainly (2)
  • originally, orig.

British English and (North) American English[edit]

British English originated in Britain, predating the establishment of the United Kingdom (1707 or 1800) and Commonwealth of Nations (1931). The qualifier British would have been redundant before permanent colonial settlements gave birth to overseas varieties of the language, and the name British English is only attested as late as 1861. Until the twentieth century, the standard form was taught in schools and widely used outside of North America. Regionalisms from Australia, India, South Africa, as well as those of Cornwall, Wales, or Scotland, would have been avoided in much formal writing.

American English is the variety of the language specific to English-speaking parts of the Americas, dating before US independence (1776, although the name isn't attested until 1806). The term Canadian English (1857) was coined in the w:Province of Canada, predating Confederation by a decade.

These dialects are defined by the parts of the language's family tree that branched off in different places and times, and not by today's political boundaries. British English, is not “United Kingdom English,” and its characteristic features have been inherited by the language as spoken in London, the Midlands, Wales, Cornwall, and Scotland, as well as the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, India, Australia, and New Zealand. Only political correctness can account for a label like “UK,” implying that the dialect stops at a border across the island of Ireland. Canadian English is a branch of American English, and the label “US” refers to the main part of the latter that excludes the former.

This etymological model of the language is illustrated in Strevens’s World Map of English. Crystal’s more detailed adaptation is in McArthur (1998), The English Languages, p 96.

The following list appears in John Algeo (1991), “A Meditation on the Varieties of English,” in English Today, v 7, n 3 (July), pp 3–6. Algeo discusses the issue of abstraction in the model (“all linguistic varieties are fictions”) and political problems surrounding some of its terminology, which he has adopted “for purely practical purposes.”

  • International or World English=
    • British English (branch)=
      • UK English (national variety)=
        • England English (sub-national variety)=
        • Scots English
        • Welsh English
        • Northern Irish English
      • Australian English
      • New Zealand English
      • South African English
      • . . . etc.
    • American English (branch)=
      • US English (national variety)=
        • Northern
        • North Midland
        • South Midland
        • Southern
      • Canadian English
      • . . . etc.

Dictionary labelling[edit]

Norri states “words tend to be specified as being exclusively British English especially when British and American English are compared. In CED, the annotation Brit. is used ‘mainly to distinguish a particular word or sense from its North American equivalent or to identify a term or concept that does not exist in North American English’ (CED, p. xvi). COD's label Brit. means that ‘the use is found chiefly in British English (and often also in Australian and New Zealand English, and in other parts of the Commonwealth) but not in American English’.”

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, based on the COD, is slightly more specific “the use is found chiefly in British English (and often also in Australian and New Zealand English and in other parts of the Commonwealth except Canada) but not in North American English” [my emphasis for differences]

Merriam–Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11 ed., 2003, p 20a): “The label Brit indicates that a word or sense is current in the United Kingdom or in more than one nation of the Commonwealth (as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada).[1] Also, Merriam–Webster Online.[2]

The ChD and OED assume British English as a baseline, e.g., the latter only applies a regional label “when the word is not current in the standard English of Great Britain.”) Source: Norri 1996.


Some dictionaries use the label dial. (dialect, or dialectal).

  • Merriam–Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11 ed., 2003 [2004], p 18a): “The label dial for “dialect” indicates that the pattern of use of a word or sense is too complex for summary labeling: it usually includes several regional varieties of American English or of American and British English: [. . .] The label dial Brit indicates currency in several dialects of the Commonwealth; dial Eng indicates currency in one or more provincial dialects of England: [. . .]”[3]
  • World Book Dictionary (2003, p 117): “Dialect means that the word is spoken in a certain district of a country or by a certain group of people.”[4]

The label dial. may be non-specific, but no more so than slang.

Since we don't suffer the space considerations of popular print dictionaries, we should expand dialectal to a specific list whenever possible. We should not discard this information because it is less specific than we desire, nor should we disregard it when we find it in references.

Geographic context[edit]

A different kind of regional qualifier is also used, less frequently: phrases like “in Scotland”, “in the UK”, “in Irish folklore” appearing as context labels or in the text of definitions. These are not dialect labels, but topical labels.


In some instances, the phenomenon may indeed be typical of America, but the word has spread to other varieties of English, where it occurs when topics relating to the United States are discussed. Region then becomes part of the defitition of the word, often having less to do with demarcation of usage. Somewhat surprisingly, this aspect of regional labelling is only dealt with in one of the ten dictionaries studied. After COD's explanation of its use of regional labels (e.g. Brit., US, Austral.), we are cautioned as follows (p. xxxi): “These usage labels should be distinguished from comments of the type ‘(in the UK)’ or ‘(in the US)’ preceding definitions, which denote that the thing defined is associated with the country named. For example, Pentagon is a US institution, but the term is not restricted to American English.”

Most other dictionaries indicate this kind of regionalism as part of the definition, or apply a regional label.


Regional labels.


American regional English labels mentioned in the front matter of DARE. * indicates most common, per Wikipedia's w:Dictionary of American Regional English.

  1. North
  2. Northeast
  3. New England
  4. South Midland
  5. southern Appalachians
  6. South
  7. Gulf States
  8. West


Atl Atlantic CanEngl Canadian English e east(ern) Haw Hawaiian mid middle midl midland midwest midwestern Missip Mississippi MW midwestn north(ern) NB New Brunswick ne northeast NEast northeast NEng New England Nfld Newfoundland nth(n) north(ern) nw northwest NYC New York City s south(ern) se southeast sth(n) south(ern) sw southwest w west(ern) wrn western

Labov, Atlas of North American English, pp 146, 148.

  • Canada
    • Canada
    • Atlantic Provinces
  • North
    • (Upper Midwest)
    • Inland North (= Great Lakes)
    • St. Louis Corridor
    • Western New England
  • Eastern New England
    • Boston
    • Providence
  • New York City
  • Mid-Atlantic
  • Western Pennsylvania
    • Pittsburgh
  • (Southeast)
    • Midland
      • Cincinnati
      • St. Louis
    • South
      • Inland South
      • Texas South
      • Charleston
    • Florida
  • West
  • North Central (~ Upper Midwest)


  • West/Central Canadian (Inland Canada)
    • BC
      • (Chinook Jargon)
    • Prairies
      • Alberta
      • Saskatchewan
      • Manitoba
    • Ontario
      • Northern Ontario
        • Northwestern Ontario
        • Northeastern Ontario
      • Southwestern Ontario
      • Midwestern Ontario
      • Toronto
      • Eastern Ontario
        • Ottawa Valley
  • Quebec
    • Montreal
  • Atlantic Provinces
    • Maritimes
      • New Brunswick
      • Prince Edward Island
      • Nova Scotia
        • Cape Breton
        • Lunenburg
    • Newfoundland