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Review of  Dialectology

Reviewer: Ewa Latecka
Book Title: Dialectology
Book Author: J. K. Chambers Peter Trudgill
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 11.2

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Chambers, J.K. and Peter Trudgill (1999) Dialectology (2nd
Edition). Cambridge University Press. 201pp

Ewa Latecka, Department of English, University of Zululand,
KwaZulu/Natal, Republic of South Africa

Dialectology has been in the spotlight of linguistic
interest for a considerable time now, and seems, albeit in a
modified form, still to be flourishing. The 'living proof'
of that is the book under review which was first published
in 1980. Since then it has had a number of reprints until a
decision has been made to give it a more up-to-date look and
offer the readers the second, revised edition in 1998.
"Dialectology" (1998), authored by J.K. Chambers and P.
Trudgill and published by Cambridge University Press, aims
at presenting fundamental issues in the study of language
variation between communities and within them. According to
the authors themselves, they "have taken pains to retain
features that have made it a staple for linguists and
students for eighteen years". At the same time, however, the
have given credit to new developments in the field, such as
the revitalization of dialect geography and the rise of
sociolinguistics. The book is divided into three major
parts, viz., "Background", "Social Variation", and
"Mechanisms of Variation". These are, in turn, subdivided
into smaller chapters, clearly numbered and listed in
"Contents". The book also features Maps, Figures, and
Tables, all conveniently included within the text for the
reader's ease of reference, as well as a general Index and
an extensive list of mostly classic, but also newer

Part one, "Background" groups four chapters, numbered from 1
to 4, which make the reader acquainted with basic concepts
of dialectology.

Chapter One, "Dialect and Language", presents the
explanation of what, according to the authors, dialectology
is. It ventures on to discuss the various definitions of
DIALECT and the problems faced by a linguist when trying to
establish the difference between a LANGUAGE, a DIALECT, and
an ACCENT. In doing so, the authors present the criterion of
"mutual intelligibility" and the pitfalls of accepting this
as the only criterion. They further introduce the concepts
of "geographical dialect continua", "social dialect
continua", as well as those of "autonomy" and "heteronomy".

Chapter Two, "Dialect Geography", starts with quite an
extensive presentation of the history of the field, followed
by the outline of the methods applied in research, viz. the
questionnaire, linguistic maps, and the selection of

Chapter Three, "Dialectology and Linguistics", is the
authors' attempt at presenting the relationship between the
two disciplines, with fields of commonality and difference.
It is stressed that, even though dialectology is perceived
by the authors as an autonomous discipline, yet modern
dialectologists are more often than not trained as
linguists. Their research is therefore a contribution to
both the disciplines. Structural dialectology and generative
dialectology are presented as examples of such "dual

Chapter Four, "Urban Dialectology", attempts to show how
dialectology, in the process of development as a discipline,
recognized its shortcomings such as the lack of inclusion of
the social dimension in its scope. Some dialectologists
stressed the fact that all dialects are both regional
(spatial dimension) and social. This seemed to have been
neglected in previous studies concentrated on the speech of
a very limited range of social groups. The new attitude
brought about the rise of urban dialectology as opposed to
previous studies of rural dialects solely. It also
encouraged the change in the selection of informants
according to the principle of representativeness, as well as
the different ways of obtaining data and classifying the

Part two, "Social Variation", contains two chapters,
numbered from 5 to 6, taking the reader further into the
'social dimension' of dialectology, previously introduced in
the last chapter of "Background".

Chapter Five, "Social Differentiation and Language", deals
mainly with various areas of linguistic variation depending
on social class, style (formal and informal), gender and
other features.

Chapter Six, "Sociolinguistic Structure and Linguistic
Innovation", takes the reader further into the discussion of
how one type of variation can be explained by another, viz.,
how a shift in style correlates to social-class variation.
In doing so the authors introduce the concept of "markers",
i.e., variables subject to stylistic variation as well as
class, sex, and/or age variation, and "indicators", i.e.,
variables not involved in systematic stylistic variation.
Part of this chapter is also devoted to mechanisms inducing
linguistic change.

Part three, "Spatial Variation", consisting of two chapters,
numbered as 7 and 8, goes back to the more traditional
understanding of dialectology as the study of regional
differences in speech.

Chapter Seven, "Boundaries", introduces the notion of
"isoglosses", lines marking the boundaries of regions
differing in some linguistic feature. It discusses the
patterns in which they can appear, their grading in terms of
their research significance, and their cultural correlates.

Chapter Eight, "Transitions", is on the one hand a
continuation of Chapter Seven in that it also relies on the
concept of "isogloss". On the other, however, it introduces
direct contrast: while an isogloss describes a 'fixed' state
of affairs, transition undermines this 'fixedness'.
Transition is here seen as a process stemming from the
constant interaction of neighbours. "Mixed" and "fudged
lects" occur in this process leading to further changes in
dialects under investigation.

Part four, "Mechanisms of Variation", is the last part of
the book and the most 'technical' one. In four chapters
numbered from 9 to 12 it presents such concepts as
variability, diffusion, and cohesion in dialectology.

Chapter Nine, "Variability", introduces the concept in
question. It presents two opposing views, viz., that of
variability perceived as fully accidental and therefore
unpredictable, and that of variability being an essential
phenomenon, and thus a structural unit equivalent to other
structural units such as the phone, the phoneme and others.
Accepting the latter leads on to the handling of
quantitative data and the problems related to it.

Chapters Ten, "Diffusion: Sociolinguistic and Lexical" and
Eleven, "Diffusion: Geographical" both deal with hypotheses
concerned with diffusion, understood as the study of the
progress of linguistic innovation. Firstly, the authors seek
to find who the innovators are. Secondly, they move on to
discuss the various vehicles of innovations. Here the
hypothesis of "lexical diffusion" is introduced which
assumes that the lexical component is the major one bringing
about change, phonetic at least. Thirdly, the authors also
look at how innovations are 'disseminated' and provide a
geolinguistic model accounting for the spread of the

Chapter Twelve, "Cohesion in Dialectology" has a double
function. On the one hand, it sums up the previous chapters,
and thus presents the origins of dialectology, its
achievements and methodological tools. On the other, it aims
at presenting a picture of what modern dialectology has
become as a result of the confluence of traditional
dialectology, with its interest mainly in the spatial
factor, and urban dialectology, or sociolinguistics, with
its strong bias towards the social factor. The authors also
mention a third stream capable of contributing to the field,
namely "human geography", which develops dynamic models of
diffusion and involves social attitude and community
networks as independent variables.

As has been said earlier, this is a revised second edition
of the 1980 book. Bearing this in mind, one can accept
keeping "traditional dialectology" and "urban dialectology"
(or sociolinguistics) apart as justified. However, even from
the comments made by the authors in both the Preface and
Chapter 12 (Cohesion in Dialectology) it follows that the
two should be brought much closer together and that the
artificial dividing line stemming from their historical
development should actually be dropped. One would hope this
happens when a new book from the authors of this volume
Nevertheless, the book can, and without doubt will, serve as
a valuable introduction to the field of dialectology, its
basic notions, methodology and lines of future development
to numerous students of disciplines related to either
linguistics or social studies.

The reviewer: Ewa Latecka originally comes from Lodz,
Poland, where she obtained her M.A. in the English Language
and specialized in linguistics. At present she is affiliated
to the Department of English, University of Zululand,
KwaZulu/Natal, Republic of South Africa. Her main interests
include language acquisition and learning, sociolinguistics,
as well as issues related to translations.


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