This exercise gives you an impression of what is involved in taking a verbal guise test and how to evaluate its results:
Attitudes (verbal guise test)

Developed by the Humanities E-learning Team for The University of Manchester



Languages, dialects and accents

This exercise explores the difficulties in practically differentiating between the concepts of language and dialect.

1. Conduct a quick survey. Ask at least two people the following questions, and try to organize their responses in a systematic way with the aim of uncovering how non-linguists use terms like language, dialect and accent.

  1. Which languages do you speak? Which is your native language?
  2. Do you speak a dialect of English/your native language (X)?
  3. Where is the best English/X spoken?
  4. Do you speak English/X with an accent? If so, what accent?
  5. How do you define English/X, accent, dialect, language?

How do non-linguists understand and evaluate the terms under discussion? How is their understanding different from how linguists use them?

2. Watch the two videos below. They both concern varieties to which the label language has occasionally been applied: Scots and African American Vernacular English (AAVE, sometimes called Black English or Ebonics). Whereas the language label is increasingly applied to Scots, this is not the case for AAVE.

The first video reports on the Scots language project, a project conducted at a primary school in Scotland. Engagement with and learning of this variety is clearly promoted here. Note that some people assert that Scots is a language in its own right, whereas others consider it simply a northerly dialect of English, and that there is a continuum ranging from 'Broad' Scots to Standard Scottish English (SSE).

Scots video:


The second video reports on an initiative by an American teacher to do the exact opposite of what is happening in the Scottish school. He has started an initiative to correct 'incorrect' AAVE grammar and pronunciation. Just as is the case for Scots, AAVE varies along a continuum from 'broad' AAVE (this is what the term Ebonics is often restricted to) to Standard American English with an AAVE accent. Linguistically, some AAVE varieties are probably as different from standard English as are some Scots varieties. And in fact, Ebonics was recognized as a separate language in 1996 by the Oakland School Board, a decision still regarded as very controversial. Regarding this variety as a language can have educational consequences, as it could be considered a foreign language, and speakers of this variety would have to be taught like other students who speak a foreign language. You can find out more here:

AAVE video:

When discussing these videos, consider the following questions:

  • What varieties are spoken in these videos?
  • How do the concepts of descriptivism and prescriptivism relate to what’s happening in these videos?
  • How are Scots and AAVE evaluated?
  • Why are these varieties evaluated differently and why, do you think, is the term language more easily applied to Scots?
  • Is it beneficial to speakers who speak varieties along the Scots or AAVE continua to regard Scots or AAVE as languages? What social implications may this have?
  • Is it beneficial to speakers who speak varieties along the Scots or AAVE continua to include Scots or AAVE varieties in the curriculum (not necessarily as a language)?