What is 'Standard English'?


It's relatively easy to define standard forms of other languages:

Standard French = l'Académie Française
Standard Italian = l'Accademia della Crusca
but:
Standard English = ?????
- no Academy
- much more English spoken outside England than in England
- many local 'standard' varieties

Unofficially, 'standard British English' (and the standard form for much of the Commonwealth) is the form used by "educated people in the South East of Britain".

It is often described as:

The 'standard form' of pronunciation in Britain is known as Received Pronunciation or R.P. However, estimates suggest that only 3-4% of British speakers use R.P. and the figure is probably on the decline!

The main traits of R.P. are:

- "a stiff upper lip",
- no open vowel sounds,
- a non-rhotic pronunciation (the 'r' sound is not sounded at the end of words)

What can we say about 'standard English'?

"One important factor [emerges] in the notion of a standard: it is particularly associated with English in a written form, and we find that there are sharper restrictions in every way upon the English that is written (and especially printed) than upon English that is spoken.
"Standard English is basically an ideal, a mode of expression that we seek when we wish to communicate beyond our immediate community with members of the wider community of the nation as a whole, or with members of the still wider community, English-speakers as a whole.

Randolph Quirk in 'The Use of English'

But if only 3-4% of British speakers use R.P., what about the other 96-97%?

© Nigel J. Ross, 2003


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