Standard language

< Previous | Next >

cuchuflete

Senior Member
EEUU-inglés
Over the past few years a number of threads have had fascinating and passionate side arguments, or even hijackings, over the use of labels such as "standard English". Things get even more heated when somebody takes exception to the use of terms such as "sub-standard" or "non-standard".

Those arguments often pit people at cross purposes, with the linguistic brigade striving to define terms, while others (I'll keep my characterizations to myself) do that funny two-step I'll call the prescriptivist straddle. While condemning the supposedly prescriptivist use of such terms—which, by the way—are constantly employed by descriptivists as well as the general public, those who declare themselves against such terminology often try to assume a proscriptivist (is that prescriptivist to an exponent?) stance, and rail against the use of such classifications.

By now I imagine I've made enough enemies to win the New Hampshire primary elections for any unworthy opponent, so I guess it's time to state a thread topic:

When we use descriptive terms, including "Standard English", precisely what do we mean to mean by them? Of course the use of such a commonplace and oft ill-defined
term as standard English not only allows for, but directly implies the existence of non-standard English. That too needs clarification, to allow us to precisely employ, or to avoid, if we so choose, terms such as sub-standard English.

It would be useful to begin with the terms mentioned above, and then array them against or ally them with common terms for register (which also needs a consensus definition) such as colloquial, formal, and whatever else is in between or beyond those.

Good dictionary definitions are invited as a starting place in the discussion.

Please do not use this thread to advocate for or against the use of classification terminology. Grammarians and lexicographers of all persuasions use them, and they are unavoidable for students of English. Those who think that words such as colloquial
or dialect are pernicious impediments to the well-being of human kind are invited to open their own threads in an appropriate forum.


Standard English: the English language as written and spoken by literate people, in both formal and informal usage, and that is universally current while incorporating regional differences.
Random House Unabridged Dict., print edition,
copyright 1966


As a participant, I will not moderate this thread, and of course the moderators are welcome to delete the thread if they find the topic inappropriate.
 
  • JazzByChas

    Senior Member
    American English
    Well…I must admit, Sir Cuchu, that you are most likely opening a Pandora’s Box to have a discussion on what “standard language” or more precisely, "Standard English” is. But, with the knowledge that I stepping into the proverbial quicksand, I will venture my input on this topic.

    First, according to the American Heritage Dictionary,
    "Standard English" is defined thus:
    (noun)
    “The variety of English that is generally acknowledged as the model for the speech and writing of educated speakers.”

    According to Merriam-Websters:

    Standard English
    (noun)
    Date: 1836
    : the English that with respect to spelling, grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary is substantially uniform though not devoid of regional differences, that is well established by usage in the formal and informal speech and writing of the educated, and that is widely recognized as acceptable wherever English is spoken and understood

    Now, the common theme in the two aforementioned definitions, is “…the speech and writing of [the] educated…”

    Now, taking into account a language that is used by the educated, i.e. that which is taught in educational institutions from grammar school through colleges, language that is “a model” or “…as acceptable…” would indicate that some sort of standard had been agreed upon in that language, and that if a word (or group of words) makes logical sense in their use and application, they would be acceptable standard speech.

    That which has been incorporated into the “vulgate” or common language used informally is defined as such:

    Vulgate:
    “The speech of the common people and especially of uneducated people.”

    Now, we can argue that some terms are modern interpretations of older terms, like “cool” being used to mean something or some state of being that is desirable, which in previous times might have been said, “Auspicious” or “favorable” or something of that ilk.

    I believe the trouble comes, not when you come up with descriptive terms; rather, when you break the rules of grammar. A classic example would be that thread where we try to decide whether “try and” or “try to” would be more appropriate. I believe the answer here is that we must measure the use of the words against the rules of grammar, and not whether or not these are terms which are adjectives, or nouns, or whatever part of speech.

    I could say more, but I might venture into dangerous water, and might be deemed "elitist," so I would say, in summary, come up with all the creative words or phrases you desire, in whatever region of your country you may originate, just don’t break the rules of grammar to use them, especially if your sentence becomes illogical in the use thereof.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Dear Cuchuflete, I'm still working my way through the question:eek:.
    I'm not sure what you mean by proscriptivist ... I know the de- and pre- versions, but not this one.
    ~ewie
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    I could say more, but I might venture into dangerous water, so I would say, in summary, come up with all the creative words or phrases you desire, in whatever region of your country you may originate, just don’t break the rules of grammar to use them, especially if your sentence becomes illogical in the use thereof.
    Thanks for being brave Chas, and for being clear. I suspect we won't have too much trouble agreeing what "standard English" is, with its noted regional variations. The fun will begin when we delve into the "other than-standard" terminology. Some of it is
    apt to be uncontentious, such as slang and argot.

    I wonder what we should do with set phrases that begin as slang, or as common expressions that include a grammatical error or two, and then over an extended time become common idioms that by usage alone join the ranks of "standard" language.

    We should also note that standard English may be 'correct', and at the same time be lousy writing! Here is Dave Wilton, a fine student of our language, on a sentence that breaks no rules of grammar, yet is difficult for other reasons:


    Does the sentence quoted conform to the standard rules of English grammar? Yes.

    Is it "good" English? No. Often the problem with double negatives is that the construction is convoluted and confusing. Readers have to stop and deliberately parse out what the meaning is. And often even then the meaning is not clear.

    The sentence he refers to is written in standard English.


    source:
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    Cuchuflete quoted from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary:

    Standard English: the English language as written and spoken by literate people, in both formal and informal usage, and that is universally current while incorporating regional differences.
    I'd like to note that the idea that Standard English encompasses formal as well as informal speech goes back to at least 1927. From the introductory pages of A Comprehensive Guide to Good English, by linguist George Philip Krapp:

    Manifestly standard speech is not all of one type, for a usage may be standard colloquial, like He isn't, or standard literary, as in those constructions peculiar to the style of writing in prose and verse.
     

    JazzByChas

    Senior Member
    American English
    As an example of my previous point, I could use AAVE (African American Vernacular English) as an example. As implied in its title, is is a "vernacular" or a language of the vulgate. Aside from some of its more "colorful" or 'unusual' ways of referring to things, or terms, a lot of the language is usually spoken by people who regularly currupt the grammar of the English upon which the vernacular English is based. So one could debate that the terms used in AAVE may be unconventional, but are perfectly fine as far as grammar is concerned. Some of the grammar, however is flawed. As an example.

    "Ya boy jus' ain't right...boy whack!"

    A lot of misused (or not used) verbs are seen above. You may or may not know what "whack" means, or think it desirable to use such terms, but that is immaterial. I only find incorrectness (therefore non standardness) in the grammar.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Dear Cuchuflete, I'm still working my way through the question:eek:.
    I'm not sure what you mean by proscriptivist ... I know the de- and pre- versions, but not this one.
    ~ewie
    Question? Was there a question hidden in that opening rant? Oooops!

    Proscriptivists are the Thou shalt not brigade. I come across them frequently, telling people not to put prepositions at the ends of sentences because some supposed rule
    bluntly declares that to be wrong.

    WR EN dict.: proscribe A
    verb
    1 forbid, prohibit, interdict, proscribe, veto, disallow

    command against; "Mother vetoed the trip to the chocolate store"
    Harrumph! You call that motherhood?

    OK, so maybe there is no such thing as a proscriptivist, and the wagging fingers in our
    infinitive splitting faces belong to something else. Do we have a word for those who cite often non-existent rules to justify their attempts to impose stylistic preferences?
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    As an example of my previous point, I could use AAVE (African American Vernacular English) as an example. As implied in its title, is is a "vernacular" or a language of the vulgate. Aside from some of its more "colorful" or 'unusual' ways of referring to things, or terms, a lot of the language is usually spoken by people who regularly currupt the grammar of the English upon which the vernacular English is based. So one could debate that the terms used in AAVE may be unconventional, but are perfectly fine as far as grammar is concerned. Some of the grammar, however is flawed. As an example.

    "Ya boy jus' ain't right...boy whack!"

    A lot of misused (or not used) verbs are seen above. You may or may not know what "whack" means, or think it desirable to use such terms, but that is immaterial. I only find incorrectness (therefore non standardness) in the grammar.
    There are some assumptions in what you say which deserve answering, although this may constitute straying from the topic.

    You are assuming that vernacular is based upon Standard English. It is not so. Standard English is just one dialect of English, and a relatively recent one at that. Appalachian English, to use another example, is not "based upon" Standard English. Rather, it evolved along with other varieties of English, including standard varieties. While there is controversy surrounding the history of AAVE, there is no reason to believe it derived from a standard dialect of English.

    AAVE has its own grammar, and an AAVE speaker can be judged as being either grammatical or ungrammatical in that grammar. (For example, very young speakers of AAVE make the same sort of mistakes that very young speakers of other dialects make, such as using regular plurals where irregular plurals are called for.) As it happens, a great deal of the criticism directed against AAVE uses examples which are not correct according to actual AAVE rules, because the critic is ignorant of such rules.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Good points, mplsray, which may lead us back to the frightening part of the thread topic:
    what to call things that are not standard?

    I agree with you that dialects are parallel, rather than subsets or supersets or "inferior" versions of a standard form. Another thread (sorry, I can't remember which it was, but it had some deliciously sharp disputes between two senior foreros) gave attention to
    "sub-standard" and "non-standard" as frequently used labels for language that is not dialect, nor slang, nor standard English.

    Both terms are valid in pointing out that usage doesn't fully comply with the expectations we have for standard English, but the 'sub-' term gets some people upset.
    That may be because they choose to superimpose ideology on terminology, because the terminology is tainted with a contrary ideological slant, or simply because they don't know the objective definition of 'sub-standard'.

    Random House Unabridged ( the 2006 edition, online at dictionary.com) fudges nicely
    with its definition:

    substandard: noting or pertaining to a dialect or variety of a language or a feature of usage that is often considered by others to mark its user as uneducated; nonstandard.
    If we take the italicized part as observation, it may be accurate at times, while failing to
    describe the use of other-than-standard language by educated speakers and writers. The green definition seems more accurate to me. Standard language = X. Other use of the same language (not including related dialect) = non-X.

    Oxford ALD:
    sub•standard adj. not as good as normal; not acceptable Syn- inferior: substandard goods


    No weasel wording there. "Not acceptable".

    Compact OED: adjective below the usual or required standard.

    Cambridge ALD: below a satisfactory standard

    Amer. Heritage Dict.: Linguistics
    1. Of, relating to, or indicating a pattern of linguistic usage that does not conform to that of the prestige group in a speech community or to that of the standard language.
    2. Not in accord with notions of good English; nonstandard.
    There is a directive to see the usage note for nonstandard, which the same work defines thus:
    not conforming in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, etc., to the usage characteristic of and considered acceptable by most educated native speakers; lacking in social prestige or regionally or socially limited in use: a nonstandard dialect; nonstandard English.

    Here is a portion of that usage note:

    Nonstandard is not simply a euphemism but reflects the empirical discovery that the varieties used by low-prestige groups have rich and systematic grammatical structures and that their stigmatization more often reflects a judgment about their speakers rather than any inherent deficiencies in logic or expressive power. Note, however, that the use of nonstandard forms is not necessarily restricted to the communities with which they are associated in the public mind. Many educated speakers freely use forms such as can't hardly or ain't I to set a popular or informal tone.

    · Some dictionaries use the term substandard to describe forms, such as ain't, associated with uneducated speech, while reserving nonstandard for forms such as irregardless, which are common in writing but are still regarded by many as uneducated.
    source

    While I prefer nonstandard for its neutrality, it seems vague, at least as described above, including both substandard usage and dialects, which are neither above nor below standard.

    Taking all of those definitions together, one gets the impression that sub-standard/substandard is just a synonym for nonstandard, and that the latter word can refer either to a subset of standard, or things outside the standard, or both.

    This waffling and imprecision seems like an invitation to a more specific term. Unstandard, anyone?
     

    JazzByChas

    Senior Member
    American English
    Well...

    In order to figure out what "non-standard, sub-standard, or 'un-standard' " are, we must first come up with what is standard.

    According to Dictionary.com,
    Standard: (noun) something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; an approved model.

    Now, I may be wrong in assuming there is a "standard English", and that all dialects/vernacular expressions are languages all thier own.

    That would, I would suppose, beg the question again as to what "standard english" is. How many (American) Englishes are there? What do we teach our children in school? Assuming no form english is inferior to another, how would we define terms...i.e. by what do the dicitionaries we quote base thier definitions?

    And since grammar is the main issue here, what rules do we use to define what is common, and accepted usage?

    My fear (according to my own personal prejudice) is that there really is no "standard," but the rules seems to change all the time. As Cuchu has mentioned, common use seems to over-rule what has been accepted as "standard"

    The only conclusion I can come to is, "Whether you aim at nothing or you aim for something, you will achieve just that."

    So irregardless of what y'all say, I'm supposin' I learned y'all purt' good...:cool:
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Standard is easy: read any of the dictionary definitions, and assume that usage will
    change over time, not in response to a momentary fad. What is standard will come to incorporate some currently nonstandard usages, if these survive and spread for many decades. That's fine with me.

    I disagree with Chas's characterization of non-, sub-, un- standard as "inferior". Different, yes. Not in accord with the standard, yes. Not to be used in settings that have a reasonable expectation of standard usage, of course.

    Streetcorner colloquial language is not standard, but it communicates perfectly clearly and effectively in its own setting. Ya dig?

    I don't wear cutoffs to a symphony concert hall performance. I don't wear a tux to go to the beach. Neither uniform is 'inferior' to the other; each has its place. Pushing this sartorial metaphor a little too hard, a military uniform is to civilian clothes as a dialect is to standard English. Each is appropriate to its own group and activity.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I don't wear cutoffs to a symphony concert hall performance.
    To continue the metaphor, what would you do if cutoffs were the only clothes you had?

    You could:

    1. Start a revolution and declare that cutoffs are formal attire.
    2. Spend the rest of your life on the beach.
    3. Expand your wardrobe.

    The reality of language is that (so far) those of us who are educated and speak what we've been calling "standard" English control society and the economy of the developed English-speaking world. If one cannot speak the language, one cannot participate.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    I've not got time to read all this, at the moment, but I had to do a little chuckle of recognition at myself as a likely contender for your linguistic 2-step straddle (It'll be on Strictly Come Dancing next year!)

    My students like to debate this with me, how can I take a red-pen to their work, yet claim to be a descriptivist? Aye, good question.

    I usually manage some sort of defense, without sitting on it too much - generally along the lines of "You need to know" what is considered the norm, especially in WRITING as distinct from speech, for social inclusion reasons, whilst being aware that language is organic and constantly evolving at the margins!
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Cuchu, you raise important questions. Here are my comments, in no particular order:

    (1) I disagree with you that "Standard is easy". To quote from the entry in The Oxford Companion to the English language, Standard English is a widely used term that resists easy definition but is used as if most educated people nonetheless know precisely what it refers to;

    (2) I like the definition of "standard" given in the glossary to David Crystal's The Cambridge Encycopedia of the English Language: A prestige variety used as an institutionalised norm within a community;

    (3) I wish definitions of "Standard English" would avoid defaulting to the idea that standard = educated. Some people grow up speaking Standard English; others learn it because the education system obliges them to (because it is the "prestige variety); still others, while recognising that the education system requires "Standard English", prefer on occasion to retain their identity by using non-standard variants;

    (4) the debate raises important issues regarding the the role of WRF. Are we here to explore the *enormous* variety that exists in English? Or are we here to advise questioners what is the norm in "Standard English"? Or both?
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    (4) the debate raises important issues regarding the the role of WRF. Are we here to explore the *enormous* variety that exists in English? Or are we here to advise questioners what is the norm in "Standard English"?
    Really deserves its own thread, but quickly-

    We have many discussions here about regionalisms, dialects, chatboard language, and other terms that are clearly not standard, whether they are very low register colloquial, slang, or something like the language of adolescents.

    We often point out what is and is not standard, without judgments. See the dozens of threads with cautions about 'wanna', 'gonna/gunna' and such. They are explained; they are classified; the standard equivalents are offered.
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Well, well, well - what a thread. :D

    Standard language?
    It's impossible to define it properly, especially not for the English speaking world where so many different standard languages are spoken in different countries and where there are such huge differencies in the attitudes toward the local "standard" and "non-standard" varieties (whatever you'd prefer to call them).

    I once did write a seminar paper on standard language and my fellow students did not like it very much because I tried to be as unbiased as possible (which made my work rather boring, I fear); my findings were:

    - standard language is institutionalised, whereas non-standard language usually is not (at school & university & court, etc.); however, it is possible for non-standard languages becoming institutionalised besides a standard language (e. g. if a minority speaking an unstandardised linguistic variety is granted the right to use it's language at school or in court; but even then it's likely that this non-standard language will become standardized in the near future)
    - standard language has to be standardized at least to a degree (it could be a spoken norm only, no need for a standard language being written), whereas non-standard language could be standardized, but there certainly is no need for it
    - as the concept of an institutionalised standard language only is met by a society where there are institutions at all one could say that the concept of a standard language would not apply for a hunter-and-gatherer-tribe (or at least not for a very small tribe as there certainly did exist kingdoms of hunter-and-gatherer-cultures in history who had at least some institutions, most notably religious ones)

    A more precise definition of standard language would be very difficult:
    - standard language certainly is not necessarily more elaborated (even if it would turn out that in many cases a certain standard language would be more elaborated than a certain non-standard variety: but this is not intrinsic to the concept of a standard language)
    - certainly a standard language is not better or worthier than any non-standard language in terms of linguistic or cultural worth; it's just that with standard language there could be (and often is) attributed an economical value (and oftentimes a cultural one too), but again this is not intrinsic to the concept of standard language
    - standard language not even has to be the variety with the most prestige in a certain community; even if this would be the case for most English speaking communities Jamaica alone shows that this is not so (where the Jamaican non-standard varieties have national prestige while English standard language has economical value)

    But I would describe standard language simply as follows: standard language is the linguistic variety in a speech community by which the rulers of the country - rule.
    (And yes, it could be more than one standard language!)
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    (4) the debate raises important issues regarding the the role of WRF. Are we here to explore the *enormous* variety that exists in English? Or are we here to advise questioners what is the norm in "Standard English"?
    I couldn't agree more. I have been in a conundrum more than once here because I have given the questioner an answer based on (my definition, granted) of "standard English". I have even been chastized for being "pedantic" by other forum members who are of the "if you understand it, it's not wrong" theory. We have all, however, seen "non-standard" English used that would be perfectly acceptable in casual conversation but not at all acceptable in the business/educational/professional world. I try to point out the difference when I answer but many others don't and my greatest fear is that someone who receives an answer stating that something non-standard is "just fine", will use it in their CV or a business letter. As SDGraham intimated, it could be the difference between getting that precious job/promotion/scholarship, etc. or not.

    In keeping with Suzi's post - you need to know standard English. In my opinion, you need to know it before you can possibly venture into the realm of non-standard English which is much more fluid but which must be distinguished by its differences from standard English, by the individual.

    There is also the perception of what is standard and non-standard. To me, the word "chesterfield" (in AE, "couch") is perfectly standard English but to a younger generation Canadian, it is not understandable and would, therefore, be considered non-standard in their eyes.

    "Sub-standard" to me does mean uneducated (even if I can understand it). If it is considered a vernacular or dialect by a certain culture but does not conform to the "rules" (there I go being pedantic again!) of grammar, spelling and punctuation, there are only two assumptions to make... either it is being deliberately "created" or the user doesn't know better.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    But I would describe standard language simply as follows: standard language is the linguistic variety in a speech community by which the rulers of the country - rule.
    (And yes, it could be more than one standard language!)
    That's reasonable, so long as people do not confuse standard grammar with burrrrocratic neolgisms, atrocious style, and sometimes appalling pronunciation.
    Standard English allows for bad writing. Didn't Bulwyr-Lytton teach us that?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    To my mind, at least, "Standard English" has nothing to do with aesthetics, or with "good" or "bad" writing.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Glad we agree.

    Back to the tough stuff?

    We have at least a general consensus on what standard language is. At least nobody has yet proposed anything radically different from the core of the dictionary definitions.

    That said, what should we call language that is neither dialect nor standard?
    It is often useful to make the standard<>other distinction for the benefit of non-native learners, and also for some native speakers.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Cuchu, you've lost me. What do you mean by 'neither dialect nor standard'?

    L
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    What is generally called either sub-standard or substandard or nonstandard...

    The first suffers from the implicit hierarchical view of 'inadequate' or even 'bad', while the definitions of nonstandard usually include dialect, which exists in a parallel universe, and is not a sub-set of standard language.

    The usual terms for register don't work either, as there is formal standard English, and standard forms of colloquial English.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I've been thinking about the "tough stuff" overnight, with the following conclusions.

    I don't use the three-way split you're postulating between "dialect", "standard" and "non-standard/sub-standard/substandard".

    The three-way distinction I draw is between:
    1. standard English
    2. other dialects or varieties of English - for which I use the term non-standard, not uneducated or sub-standard
    3. constructions not found in any variety of English eg :cross:On the is John floor - for which I use the term incorrect.
    I don't use uneducated for 2 because I think the equation standard = educated, non-standard = uneducated is false.

    I don't use sub-standard for 2 because I don't think there is a hierarchy of language varieties with standard English at the top and other varieties beneath it. Each variety plays a particular role in particular contexts.

    That's not to say the distinction "standard"/"non-standard" is unimportant - as suzi br says to her students:
    "You need to know" what is considered the norm, especially in WRITING as distinct from speech, for social inclusion reasons, whilst being aware that language is organic and constantly evolving at the margins!
     

    cirrus

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I agree that how we call language which is non standard is a sensitive point. Lots of politics lie behind it, particularly in BE where standard English was in effect (and to some extent remains) a dialect used by a social class. When race comes into the picture, the temperature also goes up a notch.

    I am encouraged that the balance of opinion appears to be against labelling non standard forms as uneducated. I find that persistent WR contributors progressively become describers as opposed to regulators. Given the global reach of English, this seems to me perhaps the most logical approach precisely because there is no single standard form. Admittedly we use AE and BE as shorthand but I am sure we are all aware that both of these have considerable variations within them.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    We agree, mostly. I'm not at ease discarding 'educated' entirely as part of the definition of standard language. While I can't accept educated writing, speech = standard language, I'm afraid that suppressing the association between 'adhering to a norm' and 'educated' entirely errs too much on the side of pulitical kerrectitude. For better or worse, people have to learn a set of norms, whether in a classroom or by osmosis. The problem is that this invites the use of 'uneducated' for 'not in accord with the norm', and that is not true.


    I've been thinking about the "tough stuff" overnight, with the following conclusions.

    I don't use the three-way split you're postulating between "dialect", "standard" and "non-standard/sub-standard/substandard".

    The three-way distinction I draw is between:
    1. standard English :)
    2. other dialects or varieties of English - for which I use the term non-standard, not uneducated or sub-standard ...Thereby lumping together dialects and other varieties. It's the lack of precision that makes this a problem for me. It calls for a single term that encompasses both Cajun dialect and Maine loberstermen's daily conversation. The former is a language unto itself, while the latter is a variant of standard English. My entire objection to 'non-standard', as you and my dictionaries define it, is that it takes everything that is not standard English and throws it all into the same big cauldron. That leaves me with (1) Standard English and (2) Anything and Everything that is not (1).
    3. constructions not found in any variety of English eg :cross:On the is John floor - for which I use the term incorrect. :tick:
    I don't use uneducated for 2 because I think the equation standard = educated, non-standard = uneducated is false. :tick:

    I don't use sub-standard for 2 because I don't think there is a hierarchy of language varieties with standard English at the top and other varieties beneath it. Each variety plays a particular role in particular contexts. :tick:

    That's not to say the distinction "standard"/"non-standard" is unimportant - as suzi br says to her students:
     

    cirrus

    Senior Member
    UK English
    We agree, mostly. I'm not at ease discarding 'educated' entirely as part of the definition of standard language. While I can't accept educated writing, speech = standard language, I'm afraid that suppressing the association between 'adhering to a norm' and 'educated' entirely errs too much on the side of pulitical kerrectitude.
    My point about educated or otherwise is that someone may well be educated but on occasion use language which sounds otherwise. For example someone in London might say "I don't want nobody in here" even though they are aware of the rules, it's just they choose to not follow them all the time.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    My point about educated or otherwise is that someone may well be educated but on occasion use language which sounds otherwise. For example someone in London might say "I don't want nobody in here" even though they are aware of the rules, it's just they choose to not follow them all the time.
    Absolutely right! An educated person may choose to use standard English or something else. It will be a choice available to them as a result of having learned the norms, and knowing the differences between one form of the language and another.

    That's what SuziBr teaches her students to do. Learning a standard, whether to use it or to recognize it, does not demean the non-standard language forms. It simply tries to associate a spoken or written form with the appropriate context, or to specify that one form is appropriate to a context, while other forms either are not, or should be used for emphasis.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Back again:D

    Cuchu, just to make clear, the reason I don't like "educated" as part of the definition of "standard" is not to do with political correctness. It's to do with the fact that the logic is the wrong way round. The education system uses standard English because it's the prestige variety; standard English is not the prestige variety because the education system uses it. It's also true that some people with little formal education speak Standard English; while people with many years of formal education may choose, as cirrus says, to use non-standard varieties for particular purposes. That said, I have no problem with the idea that Standard English is "associated" with educated speakers - it undoubtedly is (and thereby hangs the "tough stuff" difficulty).

    As to lumping dialects and varieties together - actually, I prefer the looser term variety. If it's difficult to distinguish, linguistically, between languages and dialects (as the man said, "a language is a dialect with an army and a navy"), how much more difficult is it going to be to distinguish between dialects and other varieties?

    All in all, though, I think we're "violently agreeing":D

    I also, non-violently and wholeheartedly, agree with cirrus' post 26.
     

    JazzByChas

    Senior Member
    American English
    On this issue:

    non standard =uneducated

    I don't think this implies that those who speak "standard" language need be educated...as Cuchu said, they could learn by osmosis...

    As to whether or not learning a "standard" language is a matter of social class...that would probably be another thread entirely, but suffice it to say that you can learn "standard" language no matter what class you're in, given the proper tools and motivation.

    Television and movies can also be amazing teachers. Some immigrants do this...now, that being said, I will concede that language used in movies from the 1930's and 1940's differs a lot from language in movies from the 1960's on..in fact I have heard that a lot of the actors were coached to speak a certain way...i.e. to sound like they were in "high society!"

    So, I think the main idea behind "standard" is what is AGREED upon as that which is the most commonly used across a population, and which could be understood by the majority of the speakers. This tends to most often be passed on in places of learning (i.e. schools), but doesn't necessarily need be that way. One can be educated outside the realm of the ivory walls... Even a regional dialect must be learned. Someone teaches you the way you talk.

    In the end, any society must have a way in which its inhabitants can communicate with each other. Although I could not prove this, I would say, that that rules of grammar and those expressions which are understood by most people in a society {EDIT: as a whole, and not just the interests of a certain group within that society} (and end up in a dictionary or encyclopaedia) are usually agreed upon by those in that society and are called the "standard."

    That "standard," meanwhile is always subject to change (perhaps to the consternation of those of us who are older and used to the "old school" ways...myself included :eek: :D)
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    As the terms for varieties which are not standard seem to be very much disputed: why don't you go with the linguistic terms? They're ment as a means of description only, without any attitutes attached to them:

    - dialect: a dialect is a linguistic variety definied by the region in which it is spoken: so, a dialect is defined geographically

    - sociolect:
    a sociolect is a linguistic variety defined by social group or class in which it is spoken: so it is defined socially

    Of course, in any society each linguistic variety is both dialect and sociolect at once; nevertheless, one of them is dominant, if you take Britain:
    - standard British English, RP is a sociolect as it is defined by their group of speakers rather than the region; however, it is a dialect too insofar as it's spoken only in the UK (and not in the US)
    - Cockney, Geordie and Scots are dialects of English (BE region), they are defined first and foremost by the regions in which they are spoken; nevertheless, to a degree they, too, are sociolects, especially Cockney, as and insofar they are only spoken by a certain social group (Cockney at least is spoken only by lower class and, partially, middle class)

    So, why not use:
    - standard language = standard English for the institutionalised linguistic variety of the country concerned (BE in the UK, AE in US etc.)
    - dialect and sociolect to describe the use of varieties (which includes standard language too, of course, as it could be both sociolect and dialect)
    - vernacular if one would like to explicitely point out that a variety is the native dialect or sociolect of a certain region or social group (or considered being native, which in essence is the same: as would be New York dialect - this being a dialect which grew from influences of several immigrant groups - and AAVE = African American Vernacular English - similarly a sociolect which was influenced by the original African American native tongues)

    So that's my proposition: use whatever term is considered appropriate in a certain context.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    @ sokol - It would be sweet if one could be so certain of how to classify a variety of English from a short sentence in here, which is what we are usually commenting on. Because in here the context is short and time maybe short too, I prefer to use the short hand "non-standard" as a practical umbrella term ...

    If it is relevant some debate about the precise nature the usage might follow in a thread but by then it often seems to me that discussion is of more interest to native speakers than the learner who originally posed the question! (Not wishing to diss the very advanced learners who are also interested in broadening their education!)

    I think your system is fine in theory, but even then it still can boil down to OPINION about how to classify any particular item. Take my use of diss in the last paragraph. Is it street verncular, is it part of a sociolect, is it an abbreviation that has been aroudn since the 18th century?

    Your system also poses problems with regard to the creative uses of langauge which we often get in here, from poems, play, novels and even songs ... which might be representations of a dialect etc but might be done for comic effect and / or inconsistently.

    Hmm -- musing now --- What do we call a deviant representation of a dialect?
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    In 1966 while studying for my journalism degree, I earned an "automatic 'F'" grade for using the word "interface" as a verb. (Incorrect words got you an automatic 'F' or Failure grade.)

    Later that same year I got another "automatic 'F'" for using the word "gender" to refer to a person, instead of using it to refer to a part of speech.

    I do believe that both of those usages would be considered "standard" today. I will petition to have my papers' grades upgrades.

    I believe repeated usage makes words or phrases "standard", and though we try mightily to slow down the changes, some will get through nonetheless.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Hmm -- musing now --- What do we call a deviant representation of a dialect?
    Buh Jeezum, Suzi, yuh cahn't know how happy yuh question leaves me.

    What sociolect do we use to categorize non-standard, non-dialect speech by a highly educated user of the norm? We have had plenty of examples in this thread, in which people who normally write and speak standard English consciously choose to change variants as well as register.

    I had the pleasure of an hour on the phone with one of my sons last night. We mostly used standard English, and also spoke in non-standard English as well as another language. The only dialect used was standard English, unless, heaven forbid, non-standard is also a dialect, rather than a variant of another dialect.

    This is turning my head into a pretzel. Is that an improvement?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Fun post, cuchu (no 35):D

    But unless I greatly misunderstand you, still with a serious underlay?

    You know I don't share your three-way categorisation between standard, dialect and "other", and I prefer a three-way categorisation between standard, non-standard (encompassing many varieties) and incorrect.

    But I'm always willing to be persuaded (stubborn? moi??)

    What was it you were talking when you and your son weren't speaking standard English or the second language. Was it a local dialect? Was it Pig Latin? Was it deliberately "non-standard" but not identifiable with any particular speech community - "breaking the rules just for fun?"

    I think I'd use different 'labels' for each of these.

    Loob

    PS. Regardless of the shape of your head, *please* don't turn your avatar into a pretzel...
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    You know I don't share your three-way categorisation between standard, dialect and "other", and I prefer a three-way categorisation between standard, non-standard (encompassing many varieties) and incorrect.

    But I'm always willing to be persuaded (stubborn? moi??)
    I am willing to be persuaded. What's the difference between non-standard and
    incorrect? Non-standard can include very common and ugly words like gonna/gunna and wanna, which contort spelling and pronunciation without committing heinous affronts against other rules of grammar. Is it useful to categorize as follows:

    Non-standard: I'm gonna go to the beach.
    Incorrect (?): Less go beach! (I've heard this said, but am not sure about the spelling
    of "Let's" with the t sound intentionally suppressed.

    Is the second example just juvenile slang, hence a subset of standard English? Is it also incorrect? Is it non-standard and incorrect?

    Help me understand the differences between something that is neither dialect nor standard and incorrect, something that is all of the above and non-standard, and something that attempts to be standard, but is flawed.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Cuchu, this is tougher than what you earlier referred to as "the tough stuff" (what nomenclature to use for things which don't comply with a standard).

    Deciding whether something is standard English or not is a judgement call, and it changes year-on-year, as the language itself changes.

    Whether something is "non-standard" or "incorrect" also changes year on year. I haven't heard "less go beach" but I'm happy to accept - if native speakers of English say it - that it is non-standard English, rather than incorrect English.
     

    AWordLover

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Hi All,

    This issue of "standard language" is tricky business. One of the amazing properties of a language in use is that if enough people use it a particular way to refer to a particular thing that makes it correct and standard. As usual this can be contrasted with say arithmetic where no matter how many children decide that 2 + 2 = 5 it remains wrong. This lack of timelessness in language makes it unwise to take a firm stand and label some usage as forever incorrect. Fortunately, we're rarely asked to predict the future just to give our view on the meaning of something now.

    A common and useful tactic in argumentation is an appeal to authority. In the WRF the authorities cited are usually dictionaries and grammar texts. If we look at how the dictionaries decide to label words we find a variety of strategies. Some use a panel of experts to decide what is standard or not and I believe some refuse to label the words. I expect in the future we will rely more on computer based reasoning as systems like google can scan and catalog vast amounts of printed material many of the sources having been classified by their prestige and likelihood of using "good" English. It is also true that many rules of grammar are of dubious quality. An example is the prohibition on ending a sentence with a preposition which I understand derives from the fact that in Latin it is never done. Well, English isn't Latin and attempts to make the grammar match haven't faired very well.

    Despite biblical prohibitions on judging others I believe that we judge each other all the time. Part of what we judge is how appropriate another's language use seems for the given context. These complex judgements that take circumstances into account are something that people do very well, but not perfectly. An example of a situation were conforming to expected standards is important is in CV or cover letters. If someone makes spelling or grammatical errors in these documents they will often fail to accomplish their aim of going to the next stage and getting an interview. In the preceding sentence what I mean by errors is only not doing what the reader expected. I think one of the valuable services provided by WR is to help people know what the contributors would expect. If enough native speakers suggest that some sentence or word is inappropriate in business correspondence I expect the people asking the questions will draw the right conclusion and avoid the offending construct in the future.

    To understand where I stand on the prescriptivist scale, sign me up in the group that might be willing to correct a child or willing student's use of English if I believed they made a mistake.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Yes, Loob, it is tuff stuff.

    I haven't heard "less go beach" but I'm happy to accept... that it is non-standard English, rather than incorrect English.
    I'm not sure what it is. The mispronunciation of "let's" is intentional. The omission of "to the" is intentional.
    I've heard it mostly from people with Californian credentials of one kind or another. It
    may be a weak attempt to ape non-native speech. Would you call the original being imitated or mocked non-standard or incorrect or both?

    Sorry to be such a persistent pest, but I cannot accept your three bucket classification system if I don't know what is supposed to be deposited in each bucket.
     

    cirrus

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I wonder whether the difficulty here is that we are trying to impose objective, absolute categories when what we are dealing with is relative and subjective. We know that language is in constant flux. How many people need to use something for it to become standard, and for how long? Once a standard form becomes less used, does that make it non standard?
     

    JazzByChas

    Senior Member
    American English
    Cuchu said:
    Non-standard can include very common and ugly words like gonna/gunna and wanna, which contort spelling and pronunciation without committing heinous affronts against other rules of grammar
    I believe, that the point has been made several times, that 'non-standard' is usually an affront to the grammar, and not corruptions of words (e.g. 'gonna'), or slang.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    Ha. It's funny how my own wishy-washiness, my shall we say, "timidity," and my reluctance to take proscriptive stances form a background or context for my comments below. (My answers can be overloaded with descriptions like "it would be understandable in everyday speech, but I would not consider it common," "I would not find it odd, but others might find it confusing," or "I would not use it in a formal or academic context," so perhaps the "background" or "context" would be more accurately described as a "mire" or "miasma.")

    1. Perhaps we have achieved a rough consensus for Standard English, but I would add that we should really speak of Standard British English, Standard American English, Standard Indian English, etc. In my mind, it could almost make sense to follow the utilitarian spirit of the standard Standard English definitions and, in admittedly rarefied contexts, utilize even finer distinctions: Standard American Business English (I shudder to think), Standard American Academic English, etc. This approach would be helpful to students, I'm sure.

    2. "pie with fork" (with apologies to Mr. Heinlein): Standard could be treated, in my opinion, as a de-facto qualifier, though I am loathe to arrive at such a Politically Correct point. Any Standard English is not qualitatively different from any other variant of English. Whatever will get you treated seriously and accepted is a standard. By extension, what makes others judge you as uneducated or illiterate should be considered either colloquial or ungrammatical. While it may be an incorrect judgment, it is a natural one. If you show me a stick-figure drawing, I could be forgiven for assuming that it is a child's drawing or, at most, outsider art, even if it was drawn by a skilled artist.

    3. Non-standard English outside of dialects and regional variants or others like AAVE: In theory, one could construct a classification system with phrases like lingo, argot, slang, pidgin, netspeak, chatspeak, techspeak, shop-talk, jargon, etc. However, a descriptive approach seems more sensible (mpslray's quote earlier showed a very interesting example, "standard colloquial"), and assigning special definitions to each would seem counterproductive (unless we adopt the formal terminology of dialect, sociolect, idiolect, etc.).
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I agree with bibliolept, I think (he may not agree!).

    The three-way distinction I use provides scope for finer differentiation (eg headline-writers' English; sports commentators' English; language play). It also allows for the existence of standards within non-standard varieties: coming, as I do, from the south-west of England, I would make huge errors if I tried to speak Cockney or Jamaican English.

    I really like the point made by suzi br earlier in this thread:
    @ sokol - It would be sweet if one could be so certain of how to classify a variety of English from a short sentence in here, which is what we are usually commenting on. Because in here the context is short and time maybe short too, I prefer to use the short hand "non-standard" as a practical umbrella term ...
    If we can in WRF, I think we should point questioners to particular language varieties in which their example would be valid (or invalid). But for the most part, time and energy will only permit a distinction between standard and non-standard.

    Finally...

    JazzByChas and I are about as far apart as two human beings can be in our definition of standard/non-standard.

    But I do agree with him that standard/non-standard has nothing to do with pronunciation. Standard English can be spoken with many different accents.
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Because in here the context is short and time maybe short too, I prefer to use the short hand "non-standard" as a practical umbrella term ...
    Well, you know, personally I do not object at all against the term 'non-standard', but as some people (obviously) do I tried to suggest something more neutral.
    But I realize that my approach does not provide the 'simple-one-and-only-term-for-not-standardised-language-without-any-attitutes-attached-to-it' that many users would like to have for their use. ;)
    I think your system is fine in theory, but even then it still can boil down to OPINION about how to classify any particular item. Take my use of diss in the last paragraph. Is it street verncular, is it part of a sociolect, is it an abbreviation that has been aroudn since the 18th century?
    Honestly, I have no idea at all. The only one I could come up with is 'diss' short for 'dissertation' which is not the meaning in this paragraph, obviously. Meaning: I do not know what 'diss' means here. But I guess it could be short for 'dissuade' too, which would fit perfectly.
    In this case (and if this abbreviation were one used especially by students at university, or by foreros, for example) it would be part of a linguistic variety specialised according to use - and this would then something completely different, namely:
    - linguistic variety according to use: this would be registers, and the registers could range from a variety of choices (certain specialised words) up to dialects/sociolects/vernaculars/standard language; in this case I would suggest that 'diss' is only a choice of word and not much more (certainly not determining the switch to a certain dialect or sociolect), and this would count as jargon (a jargon could be both technical language and argot/slang: jargon only means that there are special words according to the use of a variety, and in this case therefore, probably, special words & abbreviations used at university, or alternatively forum talk)
    - linguistic variety according to user: this would be dialects, sociolects, vernaculars and standard language
    Of course, as mentioned, it's always possible that dialects, sociolects etc. take over the role of a register, as above mentioned: all these linguistic terms only describe language from a different point of view.
    Hmm -- musing now --- What do we call a deviant representation of a dialect?
    Here I think we have to be careful: a standardised linguistic variety has a rather strict norm and most of the times it is very easy to tell if it is correct or incorrect.

    With dialects, sociolects and vernaculars which are not standardised it is not always so easy as there is considerable variation and mix of dialects (etc.) is not the exception but the norm.
    So one always has to allow for more diversity and accept that there is variety mix.
    Nevertheless it's of course clear that there certainly do exist ultimately false realisations of dialect. In this case, simple, it's plain grammatically incorrect speech.

    And for those who are still with me ... (sorry, I know I should keep my postings much, much shorter):
    What sociolect do we use to categorize non-standard, non-dialect speech by a highly educated user of the norm? We have had plenty of examples in this thread, in which people who normally write and speak standard English consciously choose to change variants as well as register.

    I had the pleasure of an hour on the phone with one of my sons last night. We mostly used standard English, and also spoke in non-standard English as well as another language. The only dialect used was standard English, unless, heaven forbid, non-standard is also a dialect, rather than a variant of another dialect.
    I am not quite sure about the situation you described, but I think it's as follows:
    - you used standard English: in this case, it's clear: we're speaking of standard language
    - sometimes you did switch to varieties which you do not consider standard English; there is no such variety as a 'non-standard' English, the term could only be used as a hypernym for all linguistic varieties which are not standardised (but as sometimes foreros seem to object against use of this term I personally would have no problem not using it at all): if it were only some words which weren't 'standard proper' it's rather a register choice you took and not exactly a code switch
    - when you did use the other language (French I guess?) you made a code switch which is something completely different; some people (especially perfect bilinguals) often switch even before finishing the sentence, e. g. something like 'j'irais home and what did I see?': most of the time it's a key word (here 'home') that triggers the switch, and sometimes it's only one word in the other language (in which case it's not a proper code switch any more)

    This is turning my head into a pretzel. Is that an improvement?
    I have no idea at all :D don't know how your head looks like now at all :) (no offense meant ;-).

    Whether something is "non-standard" or "incorrect" also changes year on year. I haven't heard "less go beach" but I'm happy to accept (...) that it is non-standard English, rather than incorrect English.
    Well, one should never mix up 'non-standard' and 'incorrect' because both are totally different concepts.
    'Non-standard' really is only a hypernym for everything that's not standard and not a variety of itself.
    If you use words not considered standard in speech when else using standard speech this is a register choice or (probably) code-switch (also possible with dialects and sociolects, of course!).

    Yes, Loob, it is tuff stuff.
    Well, as for the 'tuff stuff', this is not exactly not standard at all (as in speech you wouldn't hear the difference) but just a violation of standard writing rules on purpose. (Nice one, though. :))
    I'm not sure what it is. The mispronunciation of "let's" is intentional. The omission of "to the" is intentional.
    If I may, although you didn't ask me specifically?
    I would think: if 'less go beach' is part of the youth culture in California I'd say it's jargon - so, a specialised register used from a special group and probably imitated on some occasions by other groups; probably youth jargon if my suggestions are correct.
    This is a very common appearence and happens all the time when adolescents think they have to be cool.
    Nevertheless (I think) the people using this phrase (be they adolescents or not, doesn't matter) will use the dialect or sociolect of their region or class, so no special variety according to user - only special according to use, thus a register. I don't think this would qualify as sociolect and/or dialect (and the term 'non-standard' wouldn't be precise).

    But certainly it's not incorrect speech if it is part of the linguistic behaviour of a certain group (and very well accepted there).
     

    Violet Green

    Senior Member
    English. Ireland
    AAVE has its own grammar, and an AAVE speaker can be judged as being either grammatical or ungrammatical in that grammar. (For example, very young speakers of AAVE make the same sort of mistakes that very young speakers of other dialects make, such as using regular plurals where irregular plurals are called for.) As it happens, a great deal of the criticism directed against AAVE uses examples which are not correct according to actual AAVE rules, because the critic is ignorant of such rules.
    I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. / Mrs. Mplsray. However, it's very common to judge different forms of English against what are considered "standard" forms of English. It's hard to avoid this phenomenon. I speak Hiberno-English (a name for English is spoken by many people in Ireland) with my family. To be precise, we speak South Tipperary Hiberno-English. But I don't use it much when I translate documents from French to English. Otherwise, I don't think I'd get much work. And I'm not writing it now.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top