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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translator Education  »  Standard English & English Varieties

Standard English & English Varieties

By Claudia Coja | Published  04/21/2011 | Translator Education | Recommendation:
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Standard English

It is not very hard to realize that, during the last few decades, English has come very close to being the single international language - lingua franca - a language with a greater world spread than any other language in recorded history.
According to Marckwardt, the most important dialect in the English-speaking world from a social, intellectual and cultural point of view is Standard English. Standard English, further referred as SE, is that form of the language which has acquired prestige from its use by those educated persons who are carrying on the affairs of the English-speaking community (Marckwardt 2003: IX).
Trudgill defines SE as being the dialect which is normally used in printed books and newspapers, in the educational system, in dictionaries and grammar books (Trudgill: 2004:5). Although he admits the higher prestige of SE among all English dialects, he insists in emphasizing the linguistic equality between the former and the lasts.
Standard English also comes in a number of different forms around the world: English SE slightly differs from American SE, but also from Scottish SE, Irish SE, Caribbean SE or Australian SE (Crystal: 1995:111)
Linguists claim that Standard English, like all the other Standard languages, is consciously created and deliberately planned and that the process of the standardization of a language can never be regarded as complete. Thus, the process may span centuries and is generally caused by various political, social, cultural and sometimes religious motivations. As Woolard (1998:3-49) points out, the socially powerful have the most important role in defining, using, and controlling a standard language.
Standard English is promoted in various ways, typically through the written form, although spoken language norms are sometimes modeled on the written standard and over time, the differences between the written standard and the spoken forms may become substantial. Standard language –claim linguists- should be regarded more than an idea rather than a reality, as a set of abstract norms to which actual usage may adhere to various degrees. The ideology of standards and language standardization is a process rather than a fait accompli. The process of standardization implies converting one language variety into a standard through the process of fixing and regulating its grammar, syntax, spelling etc. Grammars and dictionaries represent the “authorities” in prescriptive teaching the language to both native and non-native speakers. In Romaine’s view (2007: 708), the linguistic standards establish a social hierarchy which confers authority and prestige on those who write and speak properly.
Blommaert (2007: 125) claims that a standard language is a language characterized by a single set of norms: a single set of grammatical rules, and a finite repertoire of vocabulary. Standardization always equals singularization of language norms and the function of these norms is denotational clarity: the production of clear, unambiguous meanings.
The linguistic norm of the Standard English is a complex function of grammar, vocabulary and transmission, most clearly established in the written means of transmission and least clearly in pronunciation (Quirk 1972:30). In other words, there is a single standard for the written language in spelling but not for the spoken language in accent. As Stubbs (1990:128) points out, the aspects of English which are most codified, and therefore standardized, are written English lexis, grammar and spelling.
Deutscher (2009: 248) defines grammar as being a very complex notion, essentially represented by a limited set of device for expressing certain kinds of necessary meaning that cannot be conveyed by referential vocabulary alone, a drawn set of supposedly regular patterns, whose delineation depends on the descriptive theory, on the desired level of resolution. Linguists agree that no language can be called a language without grammar, and that without grammar a language simply does not make sense.
Finegan (2001:361) shows that the grammar of any language is commonly approached in two different ways, both at the heart of the study of grammar and usage over the past two centuries: A descriptivist, usually based on a systematic analysis of a large text corpus and describing grammatical structures thereupon; and a prescriptivist, which refers to a way of speaking or writing that is to be either preferred or avoided. From Quirk’s point of view (1985:14) since there is no such thing as an Academy for the English language and thus there is not any set of regulations that could be considered “authoritative”, prescriptive grammar is represented by a set of regulations that are based on what is evaluated as correct or incorrect in the standard varieties.

English varieties

Every language differs to some extent from place to place and from group to group, varying according to social characteristic of groups, their cultural background, geographical location, social class, gender or age. People who share important cultural, social and regional features commonly speak similarly (Adger: 2007:1) Hence, a dialect is a variety of a language typical of a given group of speakers and is characterized by the presence of certain phonetic, morphological, syntactic and vocabulary features.
Although admit that Standard English is the dialect with the greatest prestige among other dialects, linguists and dialectologists point out that none of the dialects is linguistically superior to another and the differences between Standard English forms and the other varieties should not be regarded as “mistakes” (Trudgill:2004:1, Wolfram:2006:2)
In other words, if a person speaks the English language, that person necessarily speaks some dialect of the English language and the variation between these dialects should be regarded as a matter of difference and not one of deficit.( Adger:2007:17-20, Wolfram: 2006:1-6)
The speaker of the standard language is frequently tempted to consider himself as the dialect-speaker superior, unless he has already acquired some elementary knowledge of the value of the science of language or has sufficient common sense to be desirous of learning to understand that which for the moment lies beyond him (Skeat: 2008:4).
Distinctive varieties of English are spoken by Indigenous peoples in former British colonies around the world. Starting out with Europe and ending with Oceania, English dialects are also present in North, Central and South America, Africa and Asia.


Adger, C., Wolfram, W., Christian, D. (2007) Dialects in schools and communities. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Biber, D., Johannson, St., Leech, G., Conrad, S., Finegan, E. (1999) Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.: 327-355
Blommaert, J. (2007) “Linguistic diversity: Africa” In Blackwell, Handbook of Language Standardization and Communication: Diversity and Change, Vol.9. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyer: 123-149
Deutscher, G. (2009) “Overall complexity: A wild goose chase?” In Samson G, Gil D. Trudgill P. (eds.), Language Complexity as an Evolving Variable. New York: Oxford University Press: 246-251
Finegan, E., (2001) “Usage” In Algeo J. The Cambridge History of the English Language: English in North America volume VI. Cambridge: Oxford University Press: 358-418
Quirk, R. (1972) “What is Standard English?” In Cashdan A. et al Language in education: a source book. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul: 25-30.
Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G., Svartvik, J. (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, London: Longman.
Skeat, W.W., (2008) English Dialects from the Eighth Century to the Present Day , Charleston: BiblioBazaar
Stubbs, M., (1980) Language and literacy: the sociolinguistics of reading and writing, London: Routledge
Romaine, S. (2007) “Linguistic diversity and language” In Blackwell, Handbook of Language Standardization and Communication: Diversity and Change, Vol.9. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyer: 685-713.
Trudgill, P., (1984) Language in the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge Unity Press
Trudgill, P., (1999) The dialects of England, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers
Trudgill, P.& Fisiak, J., (2001) East Anglian English, Cambridge D.S Brewer
Trudgill, P,. (2002) Sociolinguistic variation and change, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd:16-169
Trudgill, P., (2004) Dialects. New York: Routledge
Wolfram, W., Schilling-Estes, N.,(2006)American English: dialects and variation. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing
Woolard, A. K. (1998) “Introduction: Language Ideology as a Field of Inquiry”. In Schieffelin R., Woolard A.K., Kroskrity P. (eds.), Language ideologies-Practice and theory. New York: Oxford University Press: 3-49.

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