Speakers may use many different English dialects to change the pitch, rate, volume, and use of pauses to achieve vocal variety.

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Learning Objective

Employ vocal variety to emphasize key points in your speech and use dialect to relate to your audience


Key Points Though the U.S. federal government has no official language, English is the common language used by the federal government and is considered the de facto language of the United States. All dialects have communicative value within the particular dialect community. When a person moves out of their home dialect community, they may encounter negative evaluations by those in powerful positions who speak a different dialect and have set a standard for others.

Dialect and Vocal Variety

A Dialect is a Variety of a Language

A dialect is a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language speakers. A dialect is distinguished by its vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation (phonology, including prosody). Where a distinction can be made only in terms of pronunciation, the term accent is appropriate—not dialect.

The term dialect is applied most often to regional speech patterns. The major native dialects of English are often divided by linguists into three general categories: British, North American, and Australasia . American English is a set of dialects used mostly in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of the world"s native speakers of English live in the United States and it is the most common language there. Although the U.S. federal government has no official language, English is the common language used by the federal government and is considered the de facto language of the United States because of its widespread use. English has been given official status by 28 of the 50 state governments.


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English Language

English is not just one language, there are three major dialects-- North American, British and Australasia


There are several dialects associated with the speech communities in different regions. You may have meet people from different parts of the country who speak a different dialect. Some of the more common dialects are as follows:

New England includes Boston and Vermont English; Inland North American includes western and central upstate New York; Mid-Atlantic includes Baltimore, New York, and New Jersey; Inland North American includes Michigan, Northern Ohio, and Indiana; North Central includes primarily Minnesota and Wisconsin; Midland American covers Nebraska to Ohio; Southern English across the Southeast; Western English includes California and Hawaiian Pidgin.

What dialect do you speak? Are you currently living in your native dialect area? What differences of words or pronunciation do you hear from others in different parts of the United States?

Since there are so many dialects of English, it is difficult to say that one dialect is better than another. Some dialects may be spoken by persons holding powerful positions in an area, so those dialects are the ones that become a standard for others. People of one dialect may view speakers with dialects from different regions, social or cultural backgrounds negatively and treat them accordingly. All dialects have communicative value within the particular dialect community; it is when the person moves out of their home dialect community that they may encounter negative evaluation.

Tips for the Speaker

If you are speaking to a national audience, you will want to make sure that your word choice and pronunciation is more widely used than that of your home dialect community.

Vocal Variety

Vocalics, or paralanguage, is one way we communicate orally, but vocalics is nonverbal. You achieve vocal variety by using any or all of the features of vocalics: the rate, pitch, volume and pauses you use to change the way you deliver your message. Here are methods to help you create variety in your delivery:

Speak faster or slower at different times; Speak at a slightly higher or lower pitch; Use more force to speak louder or softer; Pause at different points in your speech.

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Consider that emphasis allows you to compare and contrast. You might say one phrase at a faster rate in comparison to another phrase that you speak at a slower rate. You might speak louder at the end of your speech to create a contrast with the softer delivery in the preceding part of your speech. All of these vocal changes in paralanguage help you emphasize what is more important compared to another part that is less important.

Tips for the Speaker

Every speech has key points that you want to emphasize. Identify those points by changing the delivery so they stand out or contrast with the rest of the speech. Change the rate meaningfully; do not speak faster to finish the speech or to avoid talking about a main point.