I was reading the biography Georgiana, by Amanda Foreman, and came across a description of what she calls the Cavendish drawl, an accent of sorts that was spoken by the Cavendish family. One blog refers to it as a patois and wrote that:

the Foreman biography quotes various examples of the phenomenon called variously ‘Cavendish drawl’ and ‘Devonshire drawl’ both of which terms, even taking into account her mention of “bal-cony, con-tem-plate” and “cow-cumber”, are no doubt less appropriate than the third one ‘Cavendish patois’.

He goes on,

In the OED Murray remarked in 1885 “Till c1825 the pronunc. was regularly bælˈkəʊnɪ; but ˈbælkənɪ..., ‘which,’ said Samuel Rogers, ‘makes me sick,’ is now established.” ... OED dodgily gives the con`template stressing in second place (as an allegedly current usage) even tho retaining Murray’s century-plus-old comment that it “begins to have a flavour of age”.

On cowcumber it gives his 1893 remark that such a pronunciation was “still that recognized by Walker; but Smart 1836 says ‘no well-taught person, except of the old school, now says cow-cumber ... although any other pronunciation ... would have been pedantic some thirty years ago”. Other items of the patois Foreman quotes are yellow, gold and spoil presumably pronounced as /jӕlə, guːld/ and /spaɪl/ and a “baby-talk” style you pronounced with its yod dropped.... Except for this last item, these were all probably merely old-fashioned. For example Wyld's History of Modern Colloquial English (1920/36 p. 239) sed of goold that “It was a very usual though by no means the only pronunciation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries among good speakers.”

Whether or not this way of speaking was old-fashioned, it was (according to Foreman) used in the Cavendish household, and was at least partially adopted by people of that social circle. Wikipedia says that a dialect is:

a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers.[1] The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors, such as social class.

A patois, again per Wikipedia, is:

any language that is considered nonstandard, although the term is not formally defined in linguistics. It can refer to pidgins, creoles, dialects, and other forms of native or local speech

So how would the "Cavendish drawl" be linguistically categorized? Is it a dialect? A cant? Something else?

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    I do not know the exact answer... But wouldn't it be considered a dialect if it is spoken locally? If it is only spoken by a family and its social circle, I don't think it would be considered as dialect. Aug 9, 2011 at 18:15
  • Voting to close on the grounds there can't possibly be a single answer as to how many speakers are needed to promote highly localised "idiomatic usage" to recognised "dialect". Aug 9, 2011 at 18:19
  • ...though I will just say google only gives 15 hits for "cavendish drawl". And one of those, obviously, is for this very page. So this one definitely doesn't qualify as a recognised dialect. Aug 9, 2011 at 18:23
  • @FumbleFingers -- You object to one part of my question, but not the crux of it. I am looking for someone with knowledge not received by a mere Google search (which I did) to explain whether this might be a dialect
    – user10893
    Aug 9, 2011 at 20:01
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    @simchona: Yes indeed. But most relevant terms don't have absolute definitions, and there's considerable overlap. If you'd asked about one specific difference (between pidgin and creole, for example), that would be fair game, because it can be answered. Asking how many speakers you need sharing a language variant before you call it a dialect is simply an invitation to open-ended discussion. Aug 9, 2011 at 22:11

2 Answers 2


What about a minimal dialect:

A dialect spoken by one individual is called an idiolect. Everyone has small differences between the way they talk and the way even their family and best friends talk, creating a minimal dialect.

Source: Sociolinguistics lecture slides

  • I'll accept because of "minimal dialect" and how @fumblefingers explained it in a comment.
    – user10893
    Aug 9, 2011 at 23:01
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    +1 I like the idea that this "Cavendish drawl" is nothing more than a slightly extended idiolect! Aug 9, 2011 at 23:04

Slang, jargon, and cant are terms used to refer to words used by small groups or sections of population. The Devonshire drawl was more like Valleygirl speak than a dialect. They were a group with their own jargon used to keep outsiders out.

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