Linguistic Varieties – Concept, Classification and Examples

We explain what are the linguistic varieties and the characteristics of the diatopic, diastratic, age and more varieties.

linguistic varieties
Every language materializes through its different linguistic varieties.

What are linguistic varieties?

In linguistics, it is known as linguistic variety or linguistic modality to each of the different forms that a natural language or language takes, depending on the context geographic, social and age in which its speakers use it. That is, we are talking about the significant variations that a language undergoes depending on the objective conditions of each speaker.

These language variations are manifested in their vocabulary, intonation, pronunciation or even more central features still, and they are reflected mainly in orality, less so in writing. In this way, by hearing someone speak, it is possible to obtain information regarding their geographical background (that is, listening to their dialect), their social class and educational level (their sociolect) or their approximate age (their chronolect).

The term variety is used to refer to any of these cases, understanding that they are uses that differ from the ideal norm, which exists only as an abstraction or a generic pattern, since no person speaks in “neutral”, but rather expresses itself through through the variant that corresponds to it according to the geographical, social and cultural relations that determine its place of enunciation, that is, from “where” it speaks.

Thus, from a concrete point of view, every language or language is materialized through a more or less large and more or less disparate set of linguistic varieties that are its own.

Diatopic or geographic linguistic varieties

Just as the same species diverges over the centuries if it is geographically separated, until it gives rise to two totally different species, something similar happens with the language. Commonly dialects are these significant variations of the same language that take place in specific geographic regions, and that they do not (yet) consist of differentiated languages, but rather different ways of speaking the same language.

However, if we take into account that every speaker of a language necessarily belongs to a geography, and therefore speaks a dialect, we can conclude that in reality the sum of the dialects is the only concrete, material, possible manifestation of a language. That is, no one speaks the “universal” language, unrelated to dialect features in its pronunciation or its lexicon.

Thus, there are dialects that are closer to each other (which present less differentiation) and are therefore easily understood from each other, while there are others that have already become so far from each other that it is impossible for their respective speakers to understand each other completely, having They often turn to more “universal” “loans” to reach common ground.

This is what happens, for example, among the immensity of variants of Spanish, which differ substantially between what is spoken in Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Puerto Rico and Spain, to name just a few extreme cases.

Although the changes are substantial and recognizable, a group of speakers made up of people from each of these countries could be understood without too much difficulty, albeit with occasional stumbling blocks. On the other hand, the distance between Italian dialects is so great that in many cases they are practically separate languages.

Diastratic or social linguistic varieties

If the language varies from one geography to another, it is also true that it does so in the same location, but depending on the social sectors to which it refers, since not everyone who lives in the same region, for example, speaks of identically.

Factors such as social class and educational level, ethnic origin, profession or belonging to certain specific social circuits influence the latter. Thus, each of these variants can be considered a sociolect, that is, a specific way of speaking of a social circuit or a stipulated group.

These sociolects tend to be quite different from each other, although they are always inscribed in some way in the regional variant of the language, that is, they are compartments within the geographic variant, which refer to a very specific and local area of ​​society. For example, an urban tribe can manage its sociolect, or the popular class can also do it, or even the prison community (what is called “criminal jargon”).

Age or chronolect linguistic varieties

linguistic varieties age chronolects
The Internet can homogenize the linguistic age variety between different geographies.

From a certain point of view, the chronological varieties of a language are actually a type of sociolect, that is, a specialization of the previous category, since people of one age range tend to speak similarly, but only if they belong to the same geographic community and to the same social circuit.

This is what happens when talking about “the way young people talk”, for example, or when a certain mode of speech is identified with a specific generation. Each of them is considered a possible chronolect.

This more specific classification It tends, however, to present certain homogeneous features from the massification of the Internet and social networks, which by overcoming enormous geographical distances through virtual and telematic communities, allows the construction of a more uniform chronolect among young users of certain types of applications or certain circuits of the so-called 2.0 culture. Memes are a good example of this.

Other types of linguistic varieties

There are other more specific forms of linguistic variants, generally useful for the professional study of language or societies, by linguists, anthropologists or sociologists. Some of them can be:

  • Diachronic varieties, those that are related to linguistic change over time, that is, that allow the study of how the language has been mutating over time, as the use is imposed on the norm. This is what you do when you study medieval Spanish and compare it with modern Spanish, for example.
  • Minority varieties or ecolects, those that are practiced by a very small group within a linguistic community, such as a family or a group of friends, or colleagues.
  • Personal or idiolect varieties, those that are reduced to the speech of a single individual, whose linguistic manifestations are different from those of his linguistic community in some way.
  • Technological varieties or technolects, those that are linked to professional language and technology, as the appearance of new references forces the language to create new words and meanings for its speakers.