Definition of vernacular: Vernacular refers to ordinary, common, and casual speech—rather than the formal use of language.
What is Vernacular?
Vernacular refers to the everyday, common language of the people. It is differentiated from formal and sometimes standard forms of language.
Example of Vernacular:
In science, it is important to be precise and exact, and there are many formalized terms to indicate species and classification. Where an everyday speaker might simply say house cat, a scientist would say Felis Domesticus.
- Felis Domesticus = house cat
- Fagus Grandifolia = Beech tree
This is a rather extreme example to demonstrate the point. Vernacular is the local language of common speech. No one is running around in society using the scientific names of animals. Instead, they use their everyday names.
By using vernacular, the writer has the ability to connect to a larger audience. Many writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer and Mark Twain were known for using vernacular language in their writings.
Vernacular vs. Dialect
At times, people may confuse the terms vernacular and dialect, which both deal with a type of casual, everyday language, but there is a difference between the two.
Vernacular is more widespread in its use throughout a language speaking community. Think of vernacular as simply being the colloquial use of a language.
A dialect, on the other hand, is peculiar to specific regions or social classes, and it is often unrecognizable by those outside these areas.
Dialect also deals with differences in pronunciation, where vernacular is usually limited to word choice or word meaning, not necessarily pronunciation.
Examples of Dialect:
In Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, she utilizes dialect in her dialogue to show the social status and setting of her characters:
- “Hand me dat wash-rag on dat chair by you, honey. Lemme scrub mah feet.”
This line of dialogue includes dialect such as:
- Dat = that
- Lemme = let me
- Mah = my
In the same novel, she uses vernacular in the narration in order to set the tone as common, everyday to match the region in which the story is being told:
- “Old Nanny sat there rocking Janie like an infant and thinking back and back. Mind-pictures brought feelings, and feelings dragged out dramas from the hollows of her heart.”
The Function of Vernacular
The purpose of using vernacular is to allow readers to understand the language of a work. It is important to connect to readers, and if the language being used isn’t understood, this will not be possible.
Therefore, it is important to identify the audience for which the work is being written in order to determine if vernacular is the appropriate language to be used in the work.
Examples of Vernacular in Literature
In the young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, he writes using vernacular that connects to his audience when the narrator describes his best friend:
- “He’s a big, goofy dreamer, too, just like me. He likes to pretend he lives inside the comic books. I guess a fake life inside a cartoon is a lot better than his real life.”
In John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, he utilizes vernacular when describing the cartoon of a character Ignatius J. Reilly in order to add humor to the novel:
- “A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once.”
Define vernacular: Vernacular is the use of everyday language when speaking or writing. When writing, it is important to identify the intended audience in order to determine the appropriateness of using vernacular versus formal, technical language.
- Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird utilizes vernacular to connect to a large audience:Our mother died when I was two, so I never felt her absence. She was a Graham from Montgomery; Atticus met her when he was first elected to the state legislature. He was middle-aged then, she was fifteen years his junior. Jem was the product of their first year of marriage; four years later I was born, and two years later our mother died from a sudden heart attack.