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An ethnolect is a language variety associated with a certain ethnic or cultural subgroup. An ethnolect may be a distinguishing mark of social identity, both within the group and for outsiders. The term combines the concepts of an ethnic group and dialect.

The term was first used to describe the monolingual English of descendants of European immigrants in Buffalo, New York.[1][better source needed]

The idea of an ethnolect relates to linguistic variation and to ethnic identity. According to Joshua Fishman, a sociologist of language, the processes of language standardization and nationalism in modern societies make links between language and ethnicity salient to users.[2]

Ethnicity can affect linguistic variation in ways that reflect a social dimension of language usage. The way in which ethnic groups interact with one another shapes their usage of language. Dialects may be defined by phonological, syntactic, and lexical variation. Such linguistic difference may be as important as social markers for a particular ethnic group.[2]

Criticism of "Ethnolect" approach[edit]

Some twenty-first century linguists object to broader application of the term ethnolect to describe linguistic differences that are believed to reflect ethnic group affiliation. According to these scholars, this may inaccurately posit ethnicity as the central explanation for linguistic difference, when in fact there may be other variables which are more influential to an individual's speech.[3][4][5][6]

Some scholars also point out that the common use of ethnolect is used to compare the "ethnolects" of ethnic minorities with the "standard" speech of ethnic majorities, which is designated as the regional dialect instead of as a majority ethnolect.[3][4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carlock, Elizabeth; Wölck, Wolfgang (1981). "A method for isolating diagnostic linguistic variables: The Buffalo ethnolects experiment". In David Sankoff and Henrietta Cedergren. Variation Omnibus. Edmonton: Linguistic Research. pp. 17–24.
  2. ^ a b Fishman, Joshua (1997). "Language and ethnicity: The view from within". In Florian Coulmas. The Handbook of Sociolinguistics. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 327–343.
  3. ^ a b Becker, Kara. (2014). Linguistic repertoire and ethnic identity in New York City. Language and Communication 35: 43-54.
  4. ^ a b Eckert, Penelope (2008-03-01). "Where do ethnolects stop?". International Journal of Bilingualism. 12 (1–2): 25–42. doi:10.1177/13670069080120010301.
  5. ^ Brubaker, Rogers, Mara Loveman, and Peter Stamatov (2004) Ethnicity as cognition. eory and Society 33(1): 31–64.
  6. ^ Benor, Sarah Bunin (2010). "Ethnolinguistic repertoire: Shifting the analytic focus in language and ethnicity1". Journal of Sociolinguistics. 14 (2): 159–183. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9841.2010.00440.x.