Consider the area that includes Western Washington and Western Oregon. As many of us know, most English-speakers who were raised in this area speak more or less the same variety of English. Contrast this with English speakers who were raised in the area that includes New York and Boston. This area was settled for longer than the Pacific Northwest, so we have more dialect differentiation.

I'm not asking whether modern telecommunications and travel would tend to homogenize the various varieties of English that are already well-differentiated.

I'm asking whether there's any evidence that modern telecommunications would slow down dialect differentiation in areas like the Pacific Northwest west of the Cascades where the varieties of English that people raised in this area speak don't yet differ significantly.

  • Somewhat related: linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/1254/… – Otavio Macedo Jun 26 '13 at 11:24
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    It will be very difficult to track any slowdown in dialectal differentiation (when there is any) to a single cause. Besides telecommunication, there are mass media (radio, TV, film) and there is an increased mobility of people (both for temporal travel and for relocation). – jk - Reinstate Monica Aug 24 '16 at 9:25

Consider two phenomena:

Dialectal differences emerge in isolation. The more isolated a community is, from a linguistic perspective, the more likely it is that its dialect will differ from those of its neighbours. Children do not learn their dialect from their parents, but from the reference groups in their childhood, most likely peers, nannies, preschool teachers.

Taking these two into account, if a part of the linguistic peer pressure comes from say television that uses a different dialect from that of the kid's parents, and local community, as a result, the child will use a slightly mixed dialect. So in a physical sense, telecommunications does break down some of the boundaries conducive to dialectal differentiation. But... as communities will still need to strengthen their cohesion, they will isolate along different, non-physical boundaries. To name a few: age (various layers of teenage groups will use markedly different vocabularies for instance), sports(tennis players mingling with say beach-ballers), class (you are free to use the previous example to point out working class vs leisurely classes), hobbies (gamers vs surfers)...

There is an interesting article on contemporary changes influenced by television: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/521669/summary

It takes a slightly different view, arguing that television may actually play a role if the adoption of dialectal variants. I am not sure if this counts as "slow[ing] down dialect differentiation" as you put it.


Yes. There is ample empirical evidence for it; the diversity of American English is not bigger than the diversity of British English, never mind the difference in size between the US and the UK. The same goes, probably with even greater intensity, for Brazilian Portuguese versus European Portuguese. And the phenomenon isn't even greately affected by lack of political unity, as it can be seen in the case of New World Spanish compared to European Spanish.

This is quite certainly cause by the fact that the American versions of these languages were established at a time when communications were much better than at the time when their European counterparts evolved. And this was merely the difference between press and manuscript, and between fast and relatively safe sail ships with compasses and old galleys. Telecommunications certainly will increase this effect.

  • The linguistics variety tends to be larger in the area where the language "originated". This is used in historic linguistics, even for ancient times. – Tommi Sep 5 '19 at 10:43

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