In yesterday’s post, I talked a bit about Jonathan Ross’s famous pronunciation of “r,” and how I believe this is actually a dialect feature rather than a speech disorder or impediment. It’s worth taking a look at the overlap between the two.
I have usually thought of a speech disorder as a condition created by some kind of physical or psychological condition. A dialect feature, on the other hand, is something that appears to be created by external factors (i.e. peers, family, media, etc.).
Where these two phenomena overlap is when person x is exposed to dialect group y, and dialect group y either stigmatizes certain features of person x’s dialect or has difficulty understand person x’s dialect.
A few years ago a Canadian friend told me a story about working as a speech therapist in her home province of Alberta. One of her cases was a young boy who had recently moved from a rural part of Newfoundland. To clarify for the unacquainted, the Newfie accent is the largest North American dialect group that is discontinuous from the speech of the rest of the continent; it sounds to outsiders a bit like an Irish accent. This young boy was sent to my friend not because he had an intrinsic defect in his speech, but rather because his accent was so different from Standard Canadian English that he was hard to understand in his newly adopted province.
So it seems there are some vaguaries when distinguishing between genuine disorders and regional quirks. But I’m no expert on the ins and outs of speech pathology. Are there any linguists or speech professionals who can enlighten us about the difference?