FAQs About Dialect

Have you ever gotten into a battle of pronunciation with family and friends, debating the “right” way to say words like “ball,” “lawyer,” “crayon,” and “vehicle?”

I was born and raised in Wisconsin. As a college freshman at Ohio State, I innocently asked my roommate if she knew where our dorm’s “bubbler” was located. She looked at me as if I had grown two heads, and I quickly realized that Milwaukee’s beloved term for “water fountain” was used only there and nowhere else!

So, is there truly a “right” way to say words? How can you tell if it’s a language dialect instead of a language disorder?

Q: What is a dialect?

A: Dialect refers to variations within a given language that are common to certain regions or social groups. Within American English, examples include Appalachian English, African American English, Southern American English, and North-Central American English. Dialect includes patterns in our vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and so much more!

Q: Is one dialect better than another?

A: Every dialect is unique and important, and no dialect is better than another. Instead, our dialect can be a way for us to communicate information that is valuable to us, such as where we come from and the social groups that we are a part of.

Q: How can I tell the difference between a language dialect and a language disorder?

A: In contrast to a dialect, a language disorder impairs a person’s ability to talk, understand, write, and/or read. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help you identify if a child has a language disorder or is simply speaking a dialect. The SLP would then provide services only in the case of a language disorder.

To learn more, visit www.asha.org or check out the references below.

-Erika Baldwin, M.S., CF-SLP


American Speech, Language, and Hearing Association (2020). Speech and Language Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/

Battle, D. (2002). Communication Disorders in Multicultural Populations. Woburn, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann.