A dialect is commonly considered to be a variety of a language used by people from a particular geographic region or social group. For example, according to this definition British English is a dialect of English, while Austro-Bavarian and Ripuarian both are German dialects. The study of dialects is known as dialectology.
However, it is not always easy to determine whether a given way of speaking, writing or signing is a language in its own right, or one of many closely related systems. Furthermore, since dialects tend to blend into each other over distance, and the differences between dialects can be more than that between two separate languages, whether the term is valid at all is open to question. Linguists would argue that what counts as a dialect and what counts as a language is a largely social or cultural issue, as linguistic criteria to label any variety as a 'language' or a 'dialect' are disputable.
Generally, there is a tendency for dialects to lose their particular features and approximate the standard language of which they are considered variants. For example, this development is rapidly taking place in Flanders, where it is also relatively new.