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Standard English

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English

Standard English is the form of English widely recognised and accepted as 'correct'. It is often used in formal situations (e.g. in an exam) and when we are being polite (e.g. speaking to your headteacher).

It is important to remember that there isn't just one 'Standard English' as different English-speaking countries have slight variations in their standard. For example, we have standard British English, standard American English, and more. We will discuss these further in the article!

Each variety of Standard English follows specific, regularised grammar rules that we learn in school. This includes rules such as the correct use of punctuation, spelling, forms of verbs, etc.

Let's look a bit further into the characteristics and conventions of standard British English, its uses, and the difference between standard and non-standard English.

Examples of Standard English

Let's take a look at some examples of standard English in context:

Context - You're speaking to an elderly neighbour

'Good morning Jim. How are you? What are your plans for today?

Context - You receive an email from the headteacher

'The football game is postponed until tomorrow due to severe weather conditions.'

But what exactly makes these examples the standard? Well, the best way to understand standard English is to compare these same examples to the opposite type - non-standard English:

Context - You're speaking to your best friend

'Alright mate? What you up to today?'

Context - You receive a text from your brother

'The footy is put off til tomo bc of the rain :( '

As you can see, the standard and non-standard have a completely different tones and are used in different contexts. The non-standard examples include less formal language ('alright mate'), abbreviations ('til', 'tomo'), and emoticons ' :( ', whereas the standard presents more formal, standardised language ('how are you?', 'postponed').

Let's look a bit deeper into the differences between standard and non-standard English.

Standard vs Non-Standard English

Non-standard English refers to all other varieties of English. It often contains slang and is used in more informal situations.

The main areas of difference between standard and non-standard English are:

  • Formality - Standard English is used in formal, official, and situations where we are expected to be polite (e.g. speaking to authority, in emails, in law and politics, speaking to a neighbour or relative you haven't seen for years, etc.). We are more likely to use non-standard English in informal situations, such as speaking to our best friends or siblings, writing funny text messages, memes, etc.
  • English grammar - Standard English maintains a standard through regularised grammatical rules and conventions. We are expected to use the 'correct' spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. Non-standard English is much freer in terms of grammatical rules and is open to change. For example, some non-standard dialects use the plural second-person pronoun 'yous', meaning 'you lot'.
  • Slang - Standard English avoids slang and colloquial language, whereas non-standard English uses lots of slang words and regularly innovates new words. We also use abbreviations in non-standard English, especially in text messages, e.g. 'ttyl' meaning 'talk to you later' and 'lmk' meaning 'let me know'.

Think about how you speak to respected people and authority (e.g. your headteacher) compared to how you talk with your friends. What are the main differences in language that you use? Why do you think you use such a different form of language?

Regional differences in English

Standard English is pretty uniform throughout the UK due to the standardised grammatical rules and conventions. Non-standard English, however, varies according to region. There are many regional dialects, and each has variations in terms of the lexicon (e.g. use of slang), grammar, and accent.

An example of this is Scouse. The Scouse dialect uses lots of slang such as 'webs' (shoes), uses the plural second-person pronoun 'yous', and has its own pronunciation of words (called the Scouse accent). This differs from the cockney dialect that has its rhyming slang such as 'one and twos' (shoes), uses double negative (e.g. 'I didn't do nuffin''), and has its distinct accent.

Let's test out your knowledge of Cockney Rhyming Slang! Guess what this sentence means: 'I'm going to Captain Kirk to earn some bread and honey to bring home for my trouble and strife and our basin of gravy.'

Got it?... The answer is: 'I'm going to work to earn some money to bring home for my wife and baby.'

The Characteristics of Standard English

Standard English can be defined by specific features that have been standardised over the years.

  • Phonology- Certain accents are seen as standard in certain countries. In the UK, this is the Received Pronunciation accent (RP) or 'Queen's English'. RP is the accent spoken by the Queen, Harry Potter, and David Attenborough, and we often hear it as the stereotypical British accent in films. It is the accent taught to many English language learners worldwide (along with the standard 'General American' accent). Other standard accents include 'General Australian' and 'Standard Scottish English'.

  • Grammar - Standard English maintains a standard of grammar that is seen as 'correct English' by prescriptivists. We often learn these grammatical rules in school, such as using the 'correct' tenses (e.g. 'we were going' not 'we was going') and 'correct' verb agreements (e.g. 'the dogs are cute' not 'the dogs is cute').

  • Vocabulary (Lexis) - Standard English consists of more formal, Latinate vocabulary (words with Latin origins), e.g. 'precede' rather than 'come before'. SE avoids slang. For example, the word ‘friend’ is standard, whereas the word ‘mate’ is considered slang.

  • Spelling - Standard English consists of standardised spelling that we'd find in the dictionary. It is important to remember that different countries have different spelling conventions. For example, British people use the affix -ise (‘recognise’) but Americans use the affix -ize (‘recognize’).

It is important to note that there is no official governing body that maintains the standard rules and conventions of Standard English. Instead, there are organisations that are seen as the 'gatekeepers' of the English language. These include the Oxford English Dictionary which keeps records of standard English and the Cambridge University Press which publishes materials in the standard.

These organisations hold a prescriptivist viewpoint. Prescriptivists believe that Standard English is the correct, pure form of language which is superior to others. The standard follows the set 'rules' which are mentioned above. Descriptivists, however, don't believe that any form of language is correct or incorrect. They believe that each form is used for different purposes in everyday life.

The Conventions of Standard English

Along with standardised grammatical rules and spelling, there are other conventions used in writing that are regularised and seen as 'correct' in standard English. These conventions include the 'correct' use of:

  • Punctuation- we should use punctuation in the correct place and for the correct purpose (e.g. using commas to separate words in a list or after an introductory phrase).
  • Capitalization- we should capitalise words at the beginning of a sentence and proper nouns.
  • Paragraphing- we should start a new paragraph for new information or events. These paragraphs shouldn't be too long or short.

Varieties of Standard English

It is important to recognise that there is not just one, uniform standard across the world. Different English-speaking countries have slight variations of standard English.

Examples of different varieties of standard English include:

  • Standard British English
  • Standard Scottish English
  • Standard American English
  • Standard Australian English

There are many other standard varieties of English and each variety has slight variations with regards to vocabulary, grammar, spelling and accent. However, as the variations are so small, each standard variety can be understood by all other English speakers.

British EnglishAmerican English
VocabularyBiscuitCookie
Car parkParking lot
SpellingColourColor
RealiseRealize
GrammarMonday to FridayMonday through Friday
I haven't seen her for weeksI haven't seen her in weeks

Why do we Use Standard English?

Let's look at a few reasons why we use Standard English.

  • Neutral - Regional dialects are associated with particular regions (e.g. Scouse is associated with Liverpool). This isn't the case for standard English. It is a fairly neutral form of English meaning that it is less likely to be associated with any stereotypes or face bias.
  • Uniform - Due to standard English being quite uniform throughout the world, it is important for international communication. People can understand the language as it is regularised and follows set grammatical rules.
  • Teachable - Due to the standard being uniform, it is also teachable. Standard English is the form that English speakers learn in school and that non-English speakers learn when studying English as a foreign language. Setting a standard is therefore important for language teaching and in learning materials such as textbooks.

We can see that standard English is important for communication both across the country and worldwide. Specific rules and conventions define the standard and, whilst it may vary from country to country, standard English can be understood by all English language learners.

Standard English - Key Takeaways

  • Standard English is the form of English that is widely recognised and accepted as 'correct'.
  • It is often used in formal situations or situations where you have to be polite.
  • Standard English follows specific, regularised grammar rules that we often learn in school.
  • Non-standard English refers to all other varieties of English that are not standard English. It often contains slang and is used in more informal situations.
  • There are many non-standard regional dialects that have variations in slang, grammar, and accent.

Standard English

Standard English is the form of English widely recognised and accepted as 'correct'. It is often used in formal situations or situations where you have to be polite

Standard English can be defined by specific characteristics in phonologygrammar, vocabulary, and spelling.

Non-standard English refers to all other varieties of English that are not standard English. It often contains slang and is used in more informal situations. 

Standard English is the regularised and standardised form of English that is widely recognised and accepted as 'correct'. Non-standard English consists of every other dialect of English that isn't standard. It is typically used in less formal situations.

Final Standard English Quiz

Question

What was Standard English originally based on?

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Answer

Standard English was built based on the grammar and the spelling of the different dialects and accents that characterise London.

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Question

 True or false: Standard English is the same in every country.

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Answer

False! Standard English is different for every English-speaking country. It changes based on the grammar, spelling, and punctuation used in a specific country.

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Question

True or false: “You’ll pass the test” is an example of Standard English.


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Answer

False! Standard English does not use contractions, unlike Non-Standard English.

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Question

True or false: “He can’t afford it” is an example of Non-Standard English.


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Answer

True! This is because Non-Standard English use contractions.

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Question

When was the English language created?


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Answer

English was created in England during the Anglo-Saxon period.

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Question

True or false: “I wanna eat” is an example of Standard English.


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Answer

False! Standard English does not use abbreviations, unlike Non-Standard English.

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Question

True or false: Standard English is regularised and standardized English.


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Answer

True!

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Question

What type of English is referred to as Standard English in Australia?


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Answer

In Australia, Standard English refers to General Australian.

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Question

True or false: Standard English uses a lot of slang and abbreviations.


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Answer

False! Non-Standard English uses a lot of slang and abbreviations, unlike Standard English which follows set spelling rules of the English language.

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Question

What are examples of contexts where you use Standard English?

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Answer

all of them

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Question

In which contexts do we use Non-Standard English?

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Answer

We use Non-Standard English for most of the informal situations, like a talk with a friend or family member.

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Question

True or false: When we talk about Standard English, we discuss also the regulation of the grammar, spelling, and use of the English language.


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Answer

True|

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Question

What type of English is referred to as Standard English in England and Wales?


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Answer

In England and Wales, Standard English refers to British English.

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Question

True or false: Non-Standard English follows the grammatical rules of the English language.


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Answer

False! Non-Standard English deviates from the set grammatical structure of a sentence in English.

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Question

When was Standard English developed?


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Answer

Standard English was first developed between the 15th and 16th centuries.

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