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Variety vs Standard English

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English

With around 1.35 billion people speaking English around the world, it is no surprise many different ways of speaking the language have developed. In the UK alone, there are an estimated 30-40 regional variations of English, meaning that you can often hear a different way of speaking just 30 minutes down the road!

These different ways of speaking are called ‘varieties’. One variety that you'll probably recognise already is called Standard English. We use this variety in school and in formal situations. It's pretty standard, you could say.

Let’s learn more about Standard English and varieties. We will consider their usage, key features, and include plenty of examples along the way!

Standard English

Standard English is a form of English that is a widely recognised and accepted form of English. It is used in domains such as education, the media, and in official organisations (eg. in Government). Standard English is often used in situations where you need to be formal and polite, such as when you are speaking to your headteacher or sending an important email.

Standard English follows specific grammar rules (remember all of those spelling tests!) and that we use in exams. It is also the form that you are reading right now!

People studying English as a foreign language are taught Standard English. It is the form that is recognised by English speakers around the world and is used for international communication. Standard English is not associated with a particular place and is a uniform form of language throughout the world.

Variety vs Standard English Types of Standard English StudySmarterDifferent varieties of English are spoken all over the world, but generally, Standard English is taught to second language learners, Pixabay

Types of Standard English

Each of these types of English is considered a 'Standard English' as they are widely recognised, accepted, and used:

  • Standard British English
  • Standard American English
  • Standard Scottish English
  • Standard Australian English
  • Standard South African English

Notice how these standard varieties come from native English-speaking countries. This is because native English-speaking countries tend to set the norms for the use of English around the world.

All standard varieties are similar to each other, and are generally understood by all English speakers. For example, Standard American English has some different features to Standard British English, including slightly different spelling eg. ‘color’ (American) vs. ‘colour’ (British) and some different vocabulary eg. ‘soccer’ (American) vs. ‘football’ (British). However, both varieties are understood by English speakers globally.

Features of Standard English

Standard English has some specific features:

  • Phonology - Certain accents are seen as the standard for certain countries. For the UK, Received Pronunciation (RP) or the ‘Queen’s English’, is seen as the standard accent. It is considered typically British and is the standard accent taught to English language learners around the world. There are also other standard English accents, such as ‘General American’ and ‘General Australian’. Despite this, there are many unique and different English accents spoken across the globe.
  • Syntax - Standard English follows certain rules concerning word order. For example, sentences in English follow the sequence subject, verb, object (SVO) eg. I (subject) play (verb) tennis (object).
  • Grammar - Standard English maintains a standard of grammar. We are expected to use ‘correct English’ such as correct tenses and verb agreements. Language such as ‘we was going’ is not considered to be Standard or indeed ‘correct’, but it is a feature of some non-standard varieties of English.
  • Vocabulary (Lexis) - Standard English tends to avoid slang. For example, the word ‘friend’ is standard whereas the word ‘mate’ is considered to be slang.
  • Spelling conventions -Standard English consists of standardised spelling (ie. the spelling that we find in the dictionary). This may differ between countries. For example, British people use the affix -ise (‘recognise’) but Americans use the affix -ize (‘recognize’). There are also rules concerning punctuation, which we are expected to use in particular ways. We are also expected to capitalise the first word of a sentence and all proper nouns (i.e. the names of people, places, and things).

Standard English is also very diverse in register. It may be used in a variety of situations, including in both spoken and written English and in formal and informal situations.

Examples of Standard English

Let’s now look at some examples from everyday life:

Non-standard English
Hello. How are you today?

Hiya, y’alright?

She isn’t going to go to work today.

She ain’t gonna go to work today.

Look at those birds!
Look at them birds!
We were watching the football.
We was watching the football.

In these examples, we use full-length sentences in standard English as well as more formal language (eg. ‘how are you today?’), and standard grammar eg. ‘we were’ instead of ‘we was’. We also see plenty of contractions in the examples of non-standard English, like ‘ain’t gonna’.

Variety vs Standard English Examples of Standard English StudySmarterWe often use more non-standard forms when we're chatting to friends, as opposed to more formal situations, Pixabay

What is a variety of English?

A variety in linguistics is a specific form of language. This can include different registers, dialects, sociolects (social dialects), styles, and accents.

Regional dialects are varieties of English spoken in a particular region. Dialects are characterised by their own lexis (words), grammar rules, and accents. For example, Geordie is a variety of English from the region around Newcastle. It consists of its own words (eg. ‘howay, man’ meaning ‘come one, hurry up’) and its own accent (eg. ‘going out’ is pronounced ‘gannin oot’).

Standard English is seen as a variety of English, often referred to as the ‘standard variety’. It is a specific form of English, characterised by its own lexis, grammar rules, and the RP accent. All other varieties are considered non-standard (basically any variety that isn’t the standard is considered to be ‘non-standard’).

It is important to remember that ‘variety’ is quite a general term, which can be used to refer to any specific form of English. Varieties of English may include a larger, general population such as ‘American English’. This variety can then be split into specific varieties, like a ‘Southern American’ dialect, or even further into specific regional varieties such as ‘Texan English’.

Even your own way of speaking is a variety as you have a unique choice of words, grammar rules, and accent. This is called your idiolect.

Standard and non-standard English examples

Examples of varieties of English in the UK include more general varieties, such as Scottish English and Irish English, and more specific regional varieties associated with specific areas. For example:

  • Geordie (associated with the Newcastle/Tyneside region)
  • Mancunian (associated with the Manchester region)
  • Brummie (associated with the Birmingham region)
  • Glaswegian (associated with the Glasgow region)
  • And many, many more

There are also plenty of varieties of English outside the UK:

  • Australian Aboriginal English (a variety specific to the indigenous population of Australia)
  • Indian English
  • African American Vernacular English (a variety spoken by Black Americans in typically urban, working/middle-class communities)
  • Canadian English

All of these varieties share the same basic characteristics and can generally be understood by all English speakers. However, each variety has its own specific features, including specific lexis, grammar, and accents.

Can you think of a specific variety where you live? What recognisable features does this variety have?

Case study: the Scouse variety

Let’s look at some features of a UK variety of English called 'Scouse'. Scouse is a dialect from the Liverpool region and is a recognisable accent. It is spoken by the likes of footballer Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, and the Beatles.

Key features include:

  • Phonology - People from Liverpool (Scousers) have a recognisable accent. For example, the /th/ sound (eg. ‘there’) is often pronounced as /d/ (eg. ‘der’). The /t/ sound at the end of words is commonly pronounced /h/ eg. ‘not’ would be pronounced ‘noh’.
  • Vocabulary- Scouse has plenty of its own words. For example, ‘you webs are boss la’ means ‘your shoes are nice/cool’. You will often hear the word ‘sound’, meaning ‘cool’ or ‘good’.
  • Grammar- Scousers often say the second person plural ‘you’ as ‘yous’ eg. ‘are yous going out?’. The pronoun ‘my’ is often replaced with ‘me’ too.

Variety vs Standard English Standard English Case Studies StudySmarterThe Beatles were from Liverpool and therefore would have used some non-standard language features typical of the Scouse dialect, Pixabay

Have a look on YouTube for Scouse accents (Steven Gerrard is a great example). See if you can notice any of these features. How does this variety compare to Standard English?

Importance of different varieties of English

Let’s consider two key differences between standard and non-standard varieties of English, and look at how each has its value:

Use in different situations

Think about the following situations:

  • You are having a conversation with your headteacher about how exams are going.
  • You are writing a formal letter to the Mayor.

What kind of language would you use in these situations?

Now compare the following situations:

  • You’re chatting with your friends after school about the latest TV drama.
  • You’re writing a funny text to your best friend.

What kind of language would you use in these situations?

Can you think of any differences between the language you would use in the first set of examples compared to the second set?

Typically, we would use Standard English in the first set of situations as these are formal contexts and involve people we respect. We would use non-standard English in the second set of situations as these are less formal and involve people we know well. In Non-standard English, we often use slang (eg. ‘that’s sick!’ meaning ‘that’s cool!’), contractions (eg. ‘ain’t’), and we may not always follow standard grammar rules (eg. ‘we was there’).

Flexibility

The form of Standard English is pretty fixed. It follows specific rules. While this standard isn’t officially governed by anyone, there are organisations that are seen as the ‘gatekeepers’ of the English language. This includes the Oxford English Dictionary which keeps a record of the language, as well as Cambridge University Press which publishes both academic and educational materials in Standard English. Cambridge also offers qualifications for teaching (standard) English that are recognised worldwide. Both are seen as prestigious, and maintain the standard through their materials.

Non-standard varieties are more flexible in their use of new vocabulary and grammar. We see brand new slang words coming into our language all the time, as well as non-standard grammar. Language can therefore be used in a more flexible and creative way.

Neutrality

We do not associate Standard English with a particular region in the same way that we do with regional varieties. This means that it can be seen as a more neutral form of language and is less likely to face stigma or bias.

Attitudes towards Standard English and Non-standard varieties of English

Different people have different attitudes towards different forms of English. For example, someone may associate Standard British English and the RP accent with being well-educated while another person may associate it with being pretentious.

Other people may associate varieties of non-standard English with positive traits. For example, people may associate the Yorkshire accent with being friendly and trustworthy while RP may be seen as pretentious and untrustworthy.

Prescriptivist and descriptivist viewpoints also reflect attitudes towards Standard and non-standard English. Prescriptivists view Standard English as superior to other varieties and believe that it is the correct, pure form of English. Descriptivists look at how language is used in everyday life and do not believe that any specific forms of language are correct or incorrect.

These attitudes towards language have developed over time and are often influenced by social and political factors.

Variety vs Standard English Attitudes to English Varieties StudySmarterDescriptivist and prescriptivist approaches to language will have different attitudes towards non-standard varieties of English, Pixabay

Variety vs. Standard English - Key takeaways

  • Standard English is a form of English that is widely recognised and accepted as the ‘correct’ form. It is used in domains such as education, the media, and official organisations. It is also used in situations where you need to be formal and polite.
  • Standard English follows specific grammar rules.
  • A 'variety' in language studies is a specific form of language. This can include different dialects, styles, and accents. Examples of English varieties include American English, Scouse, and Standard English.
  • People can have different attitudes towards varieties of language depending on various social and political factors.

Variety vs Standard English

A variety in linguistics is a specific form of language. This can include different dialects, styles, and accents. Examples of varieties include Mancunian, American English, Cockney, and Standard English. 

Standard English is the form of English that is widely recognised and accepted as the ‘correct’ form. It is often used in situations where you need to be formal and polite, such as when you are speaking to your headteacher or sending an important email. Standard English maintains a standard of language and maintains this standard through certain grammatical rules. Non-standard English consists of all other varieties of English. It is often used in less formal situations involving people we know well. We often use slang, contractions, and non-standard grammar rules in non-standard English. 

An example of Standard English is ‘Hello, how are you today?’ whereas the same example in Non-standard English could be ‘Hiya, y’arlight?’. Another example of Standard English is ‘She isn’t going to work today’ whereas the same example in Non-standard English would be ‘She ain’t gonna go to work today’ which contains the contraction ‘ain’t’. A final example of Standard English is ‘We were watching football’, whereas the non-standard would be ‘We was watching football’ which does not use standard grammar. 

Standard English is a variety of English, often referred to as the ‘standard variety’. It is a regularised variety that is used in education and other formal settings. It is a specific form of language characterised by its own lexis, grammar rules, and the RP accent. 

Examples of varieties of Standard English include British English, American English, Scottish English, and General Australian. Different countries identify ‘Standard English’ in different ways, however, all of these Standard varieties are very similar and are understood by all English speakers. 

Standard English is characterised by its own phonology, syntax, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling rules.


Certain accents are seen as the standard such as RP which is considered to be ‘typically British’. Standard English also follows certain rules of word order (e.g. the Subject Verb Object sequence), tends to avoid slang words, and has specific ways of spelling words. There are also rules concerning capitalisation, punctuation, and abbreviations in Standard English.

Final Variety vs Standard English Quiz

Question

Standard English is the form of English that is widely recognised and _________ as the ___________ form. Fill in the blanks.

Show answer

Answer

Standard English is the form of English that is widely recognised and accepted as the ‘correct’ form.

Show question

Question

We use Standard English in what domains?

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Answer

It is used in domains such as in education, in the media, and in official organisations (e.g. the Government).

Show question

Question

Standard English is used in situations where you have to be formal and polite. True or false?


Show answer

Answer

True

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Question

Standard English does not follow any grammar rules and is a flexible form of language. True or false?


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Answer

False

Show question

Question

What form of English are we taught in school?


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Answer

We are taught Standard English at school

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Question

Name 3 features of Standard English.


Show answer

Answer

Standard English is characterised by specific phonology, syntax, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling rules. Standard English follows certain rules of word order (e.g. the Subject Verb Object sequence), tends to avoid slang words, has specific ways of spelling words, and there are certain accents considered Standard (e.g. RP). There are also rules concerning capitalisation, punctuation, and abbreviations in Standard English.

Show question

Question

There is only one Standard of English across the world. True or false?


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Answer

False. Different countries identify ‘Standard English’ in different ways. Varieties of Standard English include British English, American English, Scottish English, and General Australian.

Show question

Question

Which of the following are examples of Standard English?

  • S'appening fella? Y’alright?

  • Good morning Lizzie. How are you today?

  • Was you playing footy yesterday lad?

  • Would you like to play tennis tomorrow afternoon?

Show answer

Answer

The examples of Standard English are ‘Good morning Lizzie. How are you today?’ and ‘Would you like to play tennis tomorrow afternoon?’. They consist of full sentences that contain the correct grammar and no abbreviations.

Show question

Question

A variety in linguistics is a __________ of language. This can include different dialects, styles, and accents.


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Answer

A variety in linguistics is a specific form of language. This can include different dialects, styles, and accents.

Show question

Question

Indian English, Geordie, Scouse, and Canadian English are all examples of what?


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Answer

They are examples of varieties, both within the UK (Geordie and Scouse) and worldwide (Indian and Canadian English). They are specific forms of language. 

Show question

Question

Standard English is a variety of English. True or false?


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Answer

True. It is a specific form of language characterised by its own lexis, grammar rules, and the RP accent. 

Show question

Question

Would you use Standard English or Non-standard English in the following situation: You’re playing video games with your sister.


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Answer

You are more likely to use Non-standard English as it is an informal situation and you know the person well. 

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Question

Would you use Standard English or Non-standard English in the following situation: You’re presenting a speech to your teacher as part of an assessment.


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Answer

You are more likely to use Standard English as it is a formal situation and you are speaking to a respectable person that you may not know as well. 

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Question

Which variety of English is more flexible? Standard or Non-standard English?


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Answer

Non-standard varieties are more flexible in their use of new vocabulary and grammar whereas Standard English follows specific rules.

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Question

What is the difference between a variety and Non-standard English?


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Answer

A variety is any specific form of language characterised by its own lexis, grammar rules, and accent. Standard English is a variety of English. All other varieties that aren’t the Standard are considered Non-standard varieties of English.

Show question

Question

What is Standard English?

Show answer

Answer

Standard English is a form of English that is a widely recognised and accepted form of English.  

Show question

Question

Which variety of English is generally taught to second language learners and is spoken by international English language users?

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Answer

Standard English

Show question

Question

Name three varieties of Standard English.

Show answer

Answer

Any from this list:

  • Standard British English
  • Standard American English
  • Standard Scottish English
  • Standard Australian English
  • Standard South African English

Show question

Question

Why do most Standard Englishes originate from countries that are native speakers of English?

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Answer

Countries that speak English natively usually set the norms for English use around the world. 

Show question

Question

In which situation are you more likely to use non-standard English?

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Answer

Hanging out with friends

Show question

Question

What is African American Vernacular English?

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Answer

A variety of English spoken by Black Americans in typically urban, working/middle-class communities. 

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Question

Non-standard varieties of English are more neutral than Standard English. True or false?

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Answer

False. Non-standard varieties tend to be closely associated with a particular geographical region or social demographic whereas Standard English is more wide-spread. 

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Question

What is a descriptivist approach to language?

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Answer

People with a descriptivist approach to language do not see any forms of language as superior or inferior, or correct or incorrect. The descriptivist approach is more concerned with how people use language in different ways. 

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Question

What is a prescriptivist approach to language?

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Answer

Someone who has a prescriptivist view of language believes that there are correct and incorrect varieties of language and that some forms are superior to others. 

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Question

True or false: Attitudes towards language use are often influenced by social and political factors. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

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