Using interchangeably certain terms might confuse people which would lead to a misuse of such terms. Misusing specific words can completely change the meaning of the concepts they refer to. For instance. synonyms are words used to replace other terms with same sense. However, each word has its own definition as it represents a full unique concept that even though might be close in meaning to a particular word it won’t ever be one hundred percent the same thing. Although synonyms are equivalent words that mean the same idea the misuse of such terms can create confusion among people and misunderstandings in communication. These are just some of the reasons why I would like to point out in detail the definitions of each individual term, and compare them to finally show the contrast in their misusage with their appropriate use if accurate and efficient communication is intended.
As a linguists I have witnessed even when educated people speakers of several languages misuse the words: ‘Accent’ and ‘ Dialect’. That is why I thought it would be good to highlight the correct usage of these terms based on the concepts they are attached to. Regardless of their first language, I have found people switch these two terms as proof of lack of deeper understanding of the actual concepts. It is worth mentioning that these two words are mostly related to languages and though their literal equivalents in any language might be other two pair of synonyms that might or not be misused too, here I will focus on the words in English and Spanish (Acento & Dialecto) to clarify what these really mean.
Based on the Real Academy of the Spanish language ‘Dialect’ it is only the variation of the a particular language without reaching the label of an independent language. That is to say, a dialect varies based on the region of the speakers of the same language, but these are variations of a specific language system. For instance, the Spanish language has several dialects across the Spanish speaking world. The Spanish spoken in Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, etc are nothing but dialects of a given language; in this case Spanish. Same thing happens with other languages just like English. The Australian, British, American, and African English are clear examples of dialects of English. Being that said, dialects cannot be called languages themselves because their are just variations of a language.
On the other hand the word ‘Accent’ has a lot of meanings either in English or Spanish. However, among its meanings the one to be highlighted here is the one which with is quite often exchanged for ‘dialecto’. According to Wordreference Random House Learner’s Dictionary of American English ‘Accent’ is related to the amount of prominence of a spoken sound. It is also “a way of pronouncing sounds depending on a region, country or locality”. For instance, although an accent is quite related to pronunciation it is mostly on the foreign way of pronouncing words recognized a foreign origin in comparison to the native speakers of a language. In sum, we are not talking about “Accents” when referring to speakers that have the same language as their mother tongue but their pronunciation varies because of the different regions that surrounded them.
Although this might be surprising for some, based on the definitions of the concepts discussed, it is appropriate and quite logical to say there is an American dialect of the Spanish language spoken by American Spanish speakers in bilingual states such California, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Florida, etc., just as there is a Hispanic/Mexican dialect of English. Since we are talking about neighbour countries with close relationships that has been forever there are a lot of bilingual speakers in English-Spanish or vice versa, and since these speakers use these languages on their regular basis, new dialects of their second languages has been developed. That is to say, these dialects differ from the accents in the fact that the pronunciation is not interpreted as foreign but only as different and attributed to bilingual Spanish speakers.
Learning a new communication system codes as a foreign language is not a matter of a dialect since the pronunciation will dramatically differ from those of the native speakers of a language learnt. Therefore, a dialect of a language is not exaggerating the pronunciation of that language because of difficulties to articulate words that the speaker is not used to pronounce, it would be because of region factors. Meanwhile an accent would take place when the interference of the first language affects in the pronunciation of the second/foreign language. That is to say, an Australian does not have an English accent, that person rather have a different dialect of English. Likewise, Spaniards and British do not have a better dialect than Mexicans and Americans respectively, we all just speak different dialects of the same language. Thus, the words ‘Accent’ and ‘Dialect’ can work as synonyms. Nonetheless, these terms are also misuse for discrimination purposes giving them pejorative meanings out of the real definitions.
In Mexico people used to call dialects to indigenous languages, nevertheless, each indigenous language it is an independent communication system of codes which makes them perfectly fit into the categories of languages. So, these ethnic languages have their own dialects as well.
As a conclusion, there is no better dialect over another, they are just variations of a specific language depending on regions that have evolved with time and space. All languages have developed because of the interactions with other languages and cultures than none remains intact. On the other hand, having an accent is nothing to be ashamed of, it is rather proof that those people speak another language as their mother tongue and they are communicating in a language that is not theirs. Showing respect for speakers with different dialect and accents expose a knowledgeable individual, doing the opposite would show nothing but ignorance in this matter.
By Jesús Cruz-Bautista
My Private Spanish Tutor: Jc Bautista
Real Academia Española, 2017. http://dle.rae.es/?id=DeWvE0K
WordReference Random House Learner’s Dictionary of American English 2017, http://www.wordreference.com/definition/accent