Standard English

1 January 2017

In contemporary society the Standard variety of English is the most commonly used as it is respected and associated with a higher prestige. Its usage is also advocated by prescriptivists who believe that it is the ‘correct’ and only variety that should be used. Standard English is usually seen in formal settings, where its usage is necessary for official and public purposes. However, contextual factors play a vital role in determining the most appropriate variety to be used, which is supported by the Principle of Appropriateness.

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Certain contexts where a non-standard variety is necessary are in social media settings and in communities of different ethnicities, where they are undeniably required to create solidarity between speakers. Standard English is the variety that has been codified; therefore it is esteemed and accepted as the language of the educated, financially comfortable groups. Its usage is employed in formal occasions such as in an occupational group, political settings or other formal events, to provide a sense of authority and credibility. For example, a doctor….

For this question to be answered well, students needed to have a clear understanding of Standard English. By appreciating that this variety has prestige, no geographical base and is codified in dictionaries and style guides, students were able to construct relevant responses. Most students understood that by using non-Standard English it was still possible, depending on the appropriateness, to communicate effectively.

A range of examples and usages was provided by students in supporting their contention, with many coming from the following varieties: • slang ethnolects • the language of teenagers and youths • Aboriginal English • ‘netspeak’. Most students recognised that by using a non-Standard variety of English a close rapport and distinct identity can be created. Conversely, some students recognised the importance of Standard English as a world language used for international communication. Some students erroneously wrote of the cultivated accent being a feature of Standard English and ‘the correct way to speak,’ without recognising that Standard English can be spoken in any ccent. A number of students also tried to make the contention that Standard English was not necessary, without appreciating the irony they were discussing the topic using Standard English.

Standardisation and codification were often not well understood. Few students explored the importance of orthography and grammar in maintaining a Standard English and why these combine to create a variety of English that is understood by most of the population.

The following extract provided a broad range of relevant and contemporary examples that enabled the student to provide strong evidence in support of why other varieties of English have a value and place in Australian society. There is good use of metalanguage and the paragraphing is structured and cohesive. There are many people in society, especially those with a prescriptivist attitude, who strongly believe that the Standard is ‘intrinsically superior to other varieties’, as stated by K Burridge.

It is clear however that this is not true, when one considers the ability of ethnolects and Aboriginal English to express identity and finer nuance. Ethnolects occur when features of someone’s first language or ‘mother tongue’ are adopted into their second language, in this case English. Features can include the phonological addition of vowel sounds to the ends of nouns e. g. bread /_/ (common to Greek and Italian); the incorporation of foreign lexemes e. g. ‘habib’ to mean ‘mate’ (Lebanese ethnolect) and syntactic ellipsis of prepositions e. g. ‘a box matches’ (common to many ethnolects).

These non-standard features reflect the foreign heritage of their users, which could not be achieved as well by the Standard. Similarly, Aboriginal English can be used to express someone’s indigenous roots and ultimately reflect the joining of Aboriginal and English cultures in our history. Whilst many of the features here are non-Standard, they are often rule governed. For example, many Aborigines use ’bin’ to mark a completed action but ‘was’ to show an ongoing action. Hence these dialects are not inferior to the Standard, they are simply different.

Ethnolects and Aboriginal English are powerful tools for creating identity and so have a right to be used in place of the Standard. The following extract showed an awareness of how register can be changed depending on the context and audience. By providing examples and quotations from the same speaker, the student was able to show clearly why it is not always appropriate to use Standard English all the time. Standard English certainly is effective when used in formal situations. It has long been associated with power and prestige, being taught in schools and used in court.

When Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave his speech on bushfire mourning day, he avoided deviating from the Standard, as his Prime Ministerial roll and the context dictated that only Standard English was appropriate. However, when meeting with bushfire survivors, Rudd was aware that the context meant Standard English was not the best suited variety for his purpose of communication, and as such used the fairly informal greeting, ‘Hi, I’m Kevin! ’ and slang such as ‘I don’t give a bugger. ’ These lowered the social distance which was obviously ap3434 propriate in this context… Clearly, Standard English is not always the most appropriate variety.

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