I've heard people use the terms:

American English

British English

Australian English

I understand that all of them are English. However, sometimes when people use them, it's almost like they refer to them as different languages.

My question is:

Is it proper to call these dialects? Or do we use another term for classification like "variation"?

Are they technically classified as their own languages?

I originally thought of a dialect on a smaller scale. For example, Southerners in the U.S. use different words for some things and have different accents from people in the North (i.e. New Yorkers). So, I thought those would be dialects of American English. Then American, British, and Australian English would be dialects of English.

  • 2
    I'd say "dialect" always implies [non-standard] deviation from an original [mainstream] language, so if you were going to apply that to country-wide variants, you'd probably have to say American / Australian / Canadian / etc. English are all "dialects" of British English. Aug 30, 2018 at 13:26
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    Australian English can be described as a regional dialect of English. But I kinda doubt most Australians would want their speech to be described as "dialectal", and Americans even less so. Aug 30, 2018 at 13:28
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    There's a lot of flexibility in the term dialect when you get down to it. As well as being 'super-dialects' (or something like that), AmE, BrE and AuE are also spelling and punctuation standards. Dialect is often used to refer to (regional) language groupings that are primarily spoken and, as FumbleFingers says, that are notable in their deviance from a reference standard. (When speaking standard AmE, BrE or AuE, mutual intelligibility is effortless and the variation in punctuation and spelling is minor; I don't think a serious case could be made for their being separate languages.)
    – tmgr
    Aug 30, 2018 at 14:09
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    Words like "dialect," "variety," "register," etc are all nebulous with ill-defined boundaries. Plus usage differs between lay folk and (socio)linguists. I think a great answer to this question is possible Aug 30, 2018 at 17:59
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    @Fumble Dialect may sometimes be somewhat condescending (implying ‘non-standard’, which again implies ‘inferior to the gold standard’), but it’s also frequently used neutrally. BrE is a group of dialects of English, as is AmE; AmE is not a dialect of BrE any more than Californian English is a dialect of New York English: they are paratactic, not hypotactic. Ultimately, there is no proper definition of dialect or language, except to the extent that neither can exist without the other. A language is just a collection of dialects, and any dialect is a dialect of a language. Aug 31, 2018 at 14:33

2 Answers 2


First of all, it is to note that English is a language that has its own dialects [variants] across the world; just like other languages, such as Mandarin, Arabic, French, Spanish, etc. The dialects of English can be British or American; Australian or South African; Indian or Pakistani . . . and the list goes on here on Wikipedia.

So here, you might want to ask:

Are American, British, Australian and Indian English languages or dialects?

I would regard them as both, languages as well as dialects. It all depends on the situation wether you refer them as languages or dialects. Note that the dialects of English language have hundreds of sub-dialects of their own. English is a language, of which American and British are its dialects. But in terms of putting the British English aside from the American, then both can be regarded as languages (in such conditions). That's all because the duo languages have their own distinctive sub-dialects being spoken or written in a distinctive geographical region(s). For instance, British English is a kind of language spoken widely in the UK (also in the Republic of Ireland as per the comment of GEdgar left beneath this answer), whereas the Scottish, the Welsh and the Northern Irish are the sub-dialects of it, in terms of linguistic, ethnic, regional, and social lines.

Similarly, American English is a kind of language that has its own sub-dialects. See how people living in southern parts of the USA speak American English differently as compared to the North-USA-English-speaking people.

Besides, the Wikipedia site has something to say about the layout keyboards:

"The United Kingdom and Ireland use British layout keyboards, while Australia, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S.A use American layout keyboards. In continental Europe English as a second language is nowadays sometimes even taught in American English, except perhaps in Scandinavia and the Netherlands." Link

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    Just the Northern Irish? ;-)
    – S Conroy
    Aug 30, 2018 at 17:52
  • @SConroy, yes it is Northern Irish. Look at the edited form now.
    – Ahmed
    Aug 30, 2018 at 17:57
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    @Ahmed I know. I meant that your parenthetical sounds like you're implying those languages don't have dialects. I would just suggest editing a little bit to clarify why you mention them Aug 30, 2018 at 18:04
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    @Ahmed. It's kind of complex. The dialect doesn't just stop at a political border. That's all I was trying to say. In the link you provided, Ulster English (Northern Irish English) is listed under Irish English. Elsewhere you can read it's a variety of Hiberno-English influenced by Ulster Irish and the Scots language
    – S Conroy
    Aug 30, 2018 at 18:23
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    Thanks everyone! I've gained a lot of insight from the answer and the responses. You've given me a good kick-off point to look into the topic in more detail. Aug 31, 2018 at 12:49

The term "dialect" is appropriate in both cases. It simply refers to the differing semantics of a particular language used by different groups of people.

The English language itself is just a vocabulary and some general grammatical rules. Anything that conforms to that is technically English, but within those rules there is a lot of variation that can occur with pronunciation, inflection, word choice, slang, idiomatic expressions, etc.

Dialect specifically refers to differing semantics (the words that are chosen and the way they are used together). Differences in pronunciation or inflection by themselves are just accents and don't necessarily represent different dialects, although they are usually paired together.

Also remember that within British English, they have Cockney, Scottish English, and Welsh English, which are all distinct dialects within the UK, just as Texans, New Yorkers, and Cajuns are dialectically distinct in the US.

The bottom line is that if the words being used are strange and different, but are otherwise mutually intelligible, they are simply different dialects of the same language.

  • Welsh is a "real" language, it is totally incomprehensible to the English. Likewise, Gaelic which some Irish people speak is another foreign language. Scotch is not a dialect. Scotsmen and women (or the Scottish) speak Scots, and then there's the Scottish English (dialect). On the other hand, Texans and New Yorkers speak English and can understand one another perfectly well.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 30, 2018 at 21:53
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    @Mari-LouA; I meant that when Scots and Welsh speak English, they do so with a distinct dialect; just as Cajuns do in Louisiana (many of whom speak French).
    – Wes Sayeed
    Aug 30, 2018 at 22:15
  • That is probably what you meant, but Celt, Gaelic, the Scots language and the Welsh language are not dialects they are unique languages. Many of the people who live in these regions and nations do not know how to speak their region/country's national language, but almost everyone speaks English, and it is the official language of the UK. And by the way, Scotch is an acceptable adjective for whisky, or a type of candy/sweet, but the people of Scotland are not called "Scotch"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 30, 2018 at 23:05
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    @Mari-LouA; I know :-) I wasn't trying to argue. I added some references to the Cockney, Scottish, and Welsh English Wikipedia pages to my answer to make it more clear (all of which use the word dialect BTW). Also good catch on the Scotch thing. That was a typo on my part.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Aug 30, 2018 at 23:23

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