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A prestige dialect is the dialect spoken by the most prestigious people in a speech community which is large enough to sustain more than one dialect. The study of prestige in language use is an important part of sociolinguistics.

Social prestige and the role of languageEdit

The most prestigious people are those with the greatest influence on the community. This influence may derive from economic, political, or social power. Prestige is not always overt; covert prestige may be significant too. There may be a tendency to align one's own use of language (idiolect) to that of a favoured dialect (positive prestige), or to move away from a dialect of low esteem (negative prestige). Studies, particularly by Labov, have shown that positive prestige is more often overt, whilst negative prestige is more often covert (avoidance of the unmentionable). Sociologically, women of the lower middle-class are more likely to notice and adopt overt positive prestige. Among working-class men, there may sometimes be a covert preference for negative prestige.

In nations with a colonial history the prestige dialect is often close to the prestige dialect of the colonising community although it may fossilise at the point of secession.

Where creolisation has taken place, the superstrate language operates as an extreme prestige dialect, which may effect great influence, including, in extreme case, the decreolisation of the creole language into the prestige language.

When a prestige dialect is prescribed as the norm by dominant institutions it is also a standard dialect. Broadcast media have been particularly effective at defining standard dialects.

Particular prestige dialectsEdit

  • French Educated Parisian French has generally been taken as the prestige dialect of Metropolitan France, though the position is less clear among speakers of international dialects such as Quebec French.
  • Hindi Among the Hindi-speaking states of India, Khariboli is the prestige dialect (of Hindi).
  • Arabic Modern Standard Arabic is the prestige dialect of the Arabic-speaking countries, although in contrast to other prestige dialects, it is not used in day-to-day conversation, but rather as a language of the media and as a written language.
  • Portuguese In Brazil, the variants from the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro may be considered "prestige dialects", especially for their being used in national news broadcasts; however, those variants used for television usually substitute the dental t and d of the São Paulo variant for the more widespread palatalised allophone and the post-alveolar fricative /ʃ/ (written s) used in Rio de Janeiro for the more usual alveolar fricative /s/.

Dialect and languageEdit

It is not uncommon for speakers of a particular dialect, especially a regional dialect which has historically not been regarded as a prestige dialect, to claim that their dialect is in fact a distinct language. This enables them to distance it from the dominant dialect, and to establish prestige and pride in their own variety of the language. Such moves have been made for Scots as distinct from English. Similar issues have affected perceptions of the language (or languages) commonly called Serbo-Croatian during the 20th century.

See Dialect


  1. ^ Wilson, Kenneth G (1993). The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Labov, W. (1982). Objectivity and commitment in linguistic science; the case of the Black English trial in Ann Arbor. Language in Society '11': 165–201.
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