What is Standard English?

Ethan Xu

The charm of class discussion is that through brainstorming and collision of thoughts, we are able to quickly make connections with the knowledge and its reference; moreover, when you have time for reflection, it will lead your mind to wander even further from the topic.

The discussion about mutual intelligibility was an interesting one. Linguists use this criterion to determine whether people are speaking the same language. In real life, however, things seem to be much more complicated. When you speak to a Scot, as mentioned by my classmates, it is often not very easy to reach the sort of mutual intelligibility. I’ve made several acquaintances with some Scottish friends and couldn’t agree more. However, there is a fine line between the two terms ‘Scottish accent’ and ‘Scots language’.

Actually, many Scots speakers separate Scots and Scottish English as different register depending on social circumstances. Some speakers code switch clearly from one to the other while others style shift in a less predictable and more fluctuating manner.

That being said, Scottish English is regarded far from being a standard form of English by most of the English language speakers (excluding the Scots). So what kind of English is standard? Many people may then refer to the Queen’s English (actually Received Pronunciation is a less misleading term). This phrase came into use some time in the 16th century. “Queen’s English” is found in Nash’s “Strange Newes of the Intercepting Certaine Letters” in 1593. However, the Queen, in reality, speaks an almost unique form of English. On the other hand, RP is an accent, not a dialect, since all RP speakers speak Standard English. In other words, they avoid non-standard grammatical constructions and localized vocabulary characteristic of regional dialects. RP is also regionally non-specific, which means it does not contain any clues about a speaker’s geographic background. But it does reveal a great deal about their social and/or educational background.

And this explanation makes it even more interesting. So the way you speak a same language does imply your social status, educational background and even more. But isn’t it somewhat politically incorrect in this era?

I would like to quote from Carlyle on this topic of discussion, “words will harden into things for us.” Words are not themselves a reality, but only representations of it. But still, perhaps it is just worthwhile to try to speak a standard form of English and sound like Stephen Fry or Carey Mulligan?

Reference

Henry F. (1979). Pub Talk and The King’s English. the Washington Post. retried from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1979/04/08/pub-talk-and-the-kings-english/ed9f9ee5-d81a-4ee2-9c90-504aab0efc81/?utm_term=.e6ba3d24e354

 

 

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5 thoughts on “What is Standard English?”

  1. Emmanouela Tisizi: Dear Ethan, I found your post very interesting! I agree with you in that there are many Englishes and many language variations, even among people who share the same first language. However, I do not believe that the so-called Standard English should be the one and only goal for ESL learners. In my mind, it is far more important for ESL learners to strive towards improving their ability to communicate and engage in conversations with others in any given type of English.

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    1. Thanks for your reply Emmanouela. I can’t agree with you more and that’s the reason why I wrote this piece of blog. However, you have to admit that there is still some kind of bias against certain English accent. I remember that my one of my professors at college urged us to imitate the so called standard English. He said that the more standard we sound, the more likely we would find a job.

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      1. Emmanouela Tisizi: That is absolutely true! There are in fact researches which show exactly what you describe: students identifying Standard English as ‘pure’ and superior to other Englishes (and thus more likely to land you a good job). In my mind this is also the hardest thing to confront when trying to validate alternative varieties in the ESL/EFL class, while students have been focusing for so many years on just one type of ‘correct English’. Implementing such changes is probably not the easiest task but it is still worth trying! Besides, the point is not to change what they know but to validate and make the students aware of other alternatives.

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  2. Interesting post! Defining standard English is something I’ve reflected on a lot since becoming an ESL teacher. Of course, one could argue that the standard is dictated by how the majority speak the language in any given geographical area. On a global level, in terms of education and how second language speakers learn English, it’s still not totally clear. Do we lean towards Received Pronunciation, or American English? As language instructors, I feel like we should be targeting the acquisition of an English that can be understood across borders. However, there’s also a time and place for incorporating different varieties of English. For example, if the context is immigrants learning English to integrate into society, the local variety of English should be acknowledged and taught.

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  3. I found your post about about Scots and Scottish language very interesting as I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Glasgow four years ago. Basically, I expected to hear accents such as those of James McAvoy or Doctor Who and was taken aback when I landed at the airport. Understanding was a strain and I was often asking for clarification. However, at the conference, seminars held by Scots were comprehensible. On the other hand, the vernacular in neighborhood pubs was not. In addition, locals at the conference certainly did code switch when out of the academic setting, especially after a few beers. when I had to strain to understand again. What I found most surprising was that the Scots from Edinburgh sometimes had difficulty understanding those from Glasgow. Then I went to Edinburgh and had no difficulty understanding the locals, which says a lot about regional variation.

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