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    English Linguistics


    Acrolect, Mesolect and Basilect

    Not all speakers of a single variety speak the variety the same way. Some speakers may use features that differ strongly from the standard variety, while others select more standard features. The form of a variety which employs the ‘deepest’ features is called the basilect (Holm 1988: 54). Thus, a basilect is the form of a variety that is furthest away from the standard. When speakers use linguistic features very close to the standard, and refrain from using a number of features associated with a non-standard variety, they are said to be speaking an acrolect (Holm 1988: 54). Thus, an acrolect is the form of a variety that is closest to the standard. Between these two extremes of the spectrum, intermediate forms are possible. These are called mesolects (Holm 1988: 54). Often, there are multiple mesolects in a single variety, some closer to the basilect, some closer to the acrolect, but always intermediate to both.


    Creole languages are often nativized forms of pidgins. This means that in some cases the children (in communities in which a pidgin has been used as a lingua franca and spread into the home domain) start to acquire this pidgin as native speakers. The pidgin therefore is developed to meet the linguistic needs of native speakers: the pidgin develops into a full-fledged language – a creole. Pidgins lack many structural properties. Creoles, on the other hand, can fulfil all communicative needs of a speaker and thus can serve as a native language. However, it is unclear whether all creoles developed from pidgins directly (Winford 2003: 307). In general, as most creoles developed in colonies (such as the slave colonies in Africa and the USA), sociohistorical backgrounds are believed to be a decisive factor in the emergence of a creole language. For example, the relative distribution of demographic backgrounds (i.e., Europeans, Africans, and other groups) is considered an important factor in the formation of creole languages (Winford 2003: 310). Today, many English-based creoles can be found around the world – Jamaican Patois in Jamaica, or Tok Pisin in New Guinea, to name just a few.

    Lingua Franca

    When speakers who do not share the same native language use a third language (distinct from both native languages) to communicate, this language is called a lingua franca (Seidlhofer 2005: 339). Thus, a lingua franca can be seen as a bridge language that bridges the gap between speakers of different languages. In theory, any language can be a lingua franca. In practice, however, usually a socially dominant language is used as the lingua franca. In colonial settings, which required speakers of different languages to communicate for reasons of trade, and where workers from often had no common language, pidgins (link: pidgins) and creoles (link: creoles) fulfilled this role. Today, English is one of the most important lingua franca, as it is used for communication by native speakers of different languages all across the world (Seidlhofer 2005: 339).


    Pidgins are reduced and simplified languages in terms of structure and vocabulary, only encompassing features that enable basic communication pertaining to the contact situation speakers find themselves in frequently (Winford 2003: 268 ff.). Historically, many English-based pidgins developed in colonial settings. They arise when speakers of different languages meet, for example for trading purposes, but have no common language. In these cases, pidgin languages develop to fulfil basic communication needs. Often, one language, usually the prestigious language, supplies the lexicon whereas structural patterns are adapted from all languages involved as well as due to universal tendencies (Winford 2003: 270 ff.). Because they are only used in a limited number of situations, they lack a number of features: Their lexicon is limited to objects and ideas pertaining to the situation in which they developed (e.g. trade or maritime vocabulary). They are also considered structurally simple – one example for this simplicity is the lack of inflectional morphemes (Winford 2003: 275 ff.). Pidgins, however, are not easy to learn. Since the vocabulary is limited, one word can have a lot of different meanings.


    Rhoticity is the pronunciation of postvocalic /r/. Speakers of rhotic varieties pronounce the /r/ regardless of its position in the word. This is the case for speakers of General American, and it also used to be true for British English speakers around the time of Shakespeare (Minkova 2014: 126). The word letter, for example, would be pronounced /ˈlet̬.ɚ¹http://www.anglistik.uni-wuerzburg.de/typo3/#_ftn1/. Non-rhotic speakers, on the other hand, do not realize the /r/ in pre-consonantal position or before a pause. The word letter then is pronounced /ˈlet.ə/. This is true for many speakers of British English, but also for South African, Australian and New Zealand English speakers (among others). Consequently, there are no centering diphthongs in rhotic languages, so /ɪə/, /ɛə/, /ʊə/ and /ɜː/ are replaced with /ɪr/, /ɛr/ and /ʊr/. As a consequence, sawed and soared are homophones in non-rhotic languages whereas in rhotic languages the pronunciation differs.

    ¹Rhoticized schwa

    Standard variety

    There are standard varieties for each variety of English, e.g. there is a standard variety for American English, for British English etc. The standard variety is the dialect that is “used for certain activities or in certain situations” and it can also be one that in some degree has been standardized for grammars or dictionaries, for instance (Finegan 2008: 14). Moreover, the variety that is taught in schools is often labeled the ‘standard variety’ (Davies 2010: 427). However, the standard variety does not constitute a ‘role variety’ compared to others, thus, it is not more correct, more grammatical or in any way better (Finegan 2008: 14).


    Variety refers to different realizations of a particular language depending on certain factors such as social position, educational background, or region. Additionally, the usage of language can vary in different situations or in different mediums of language: thus, people will tend to use a different register in language when communicating with friends as opposed to the register used at a business meeting. Furthermore, their written and spoken language will differ (Chafe & Tannen 1987: 385). As this already suggests, the speakers of a particular language are able to shift between varieties, and, moreover, this shift can be performed intentionally or unintentionally (Kortmann 1999: 219).

    Varieties: Types

    Varieties of a language can be differentiated by type. Regional variety refers to varieties spoken in different regions. If a variety is distinguished from others on the basis of the social class of a majority of the speakers, this is called a social variety (Wardhaugh & Fuller 2014: 42). Ethnic varieties differ on the basis of the major ethnic group that uses the variety (Wardhaugh & Fuller 2014: 45). Importantly, these groupings are not clear cut: An ethnic variety may also be spoken by someone who does not belong to the ethnic group, but strongly associates with the group. Additionally, these different types of varieties do not exclude each other: A regional variety may also have social and ethnic sub-varieties.