Five things people make mistakes about standard English

When I was just explained why teaching grammar in elementary school is still important, I was invited by Radio 4’s Today program mag debate the importance of standard English. My opponent was Nevile Gwynne, a British private educator, author and, as presenter Nick Robinson put it, a “stickler for the right kind of grammar”.

Robinson asked me to explain my position, which was as follows: standard English should not be shown in the national curriculum as the only valid form, but what is it, which is the most prestigious form. Saying this is the only right way to speak puts children who don’t speak that way from birth to a control.

How so So, if your teacher tells you that “I’m going to the stores” is the only right way to say it, and if you always say that, you’ll have an easier time than any other kid who, at home, always said, “I’m going to the shops”, and had to change the way they spoke when it came to school.

“Does it matter,” Robinson asked Gwynne, “if I say, ‘I’m going to the stores’?”

It was perfectly done, came Gwynne’s reply. “If you say,‘ I am ’, you’re just not thinking well”.

This position is absurd because it is misguided. This indicates that 85% to 88% of the UK population who speak non-standard forms of English, yet to be placed millions of people elsewhere in the world who speak non-standard variations of English, are unable to think clearly.

And that’s before you dig into the history of language. Is that really a claim that anyone wants to level against, well, every English speaker before 1400, which when do we first think that common English in Britain first appeared?

Ang op-eds have been since then followed go further in showing widespread misunderstanding of what standard English is. Here then, a debunking of the five major myths.

Beowulf, the medieval epic, is written in a non -standard form of English.
The Art Photo Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

1. Grammar and standard English are identical

Despite what some will do argue, it is not contradictory to advocate for grammar to be taught and for standard English to be presented simply as a variation.

It is just as accurate to tell a child that “is” in the non-standard clause “I am” is a verb, as it is to point out “is” in the standard “I am” clause. The same observation will help the child figure out what a verb is, as opposed to a noun.

Discussing non -standard forms without being judgmental can also help many children and parents feel less. intimidated in and around the school. Teachers can explore opportunities for non -standard inclusion. They can explain, for example, that some speak in Lancashire use “was” instead of “was”, while others say “was” instead of “was”. The key here is for the teacher not to label Lancashire (or any other variation) wrong but simply as another dialect.

2. There is only one standard English

English is a global language. And precisely because of the spread around the world, there is many, different standard forms, including standard Scottish, Australian and American English.

A New Yorker, for example, who moves to London may be said to be “acquired” rather than the English Standard English being “acquired”. The notion that there is a single, monolithic English standard – whether worldwide, in the UK or in England – is a fiction.

Standard English is best characterized as the most prestigious dialect in those countries where it is spoken as a first language. It is highly coded in grammar books and dictionaries and used primarily in formal writing.

Unlike regional dialects, it is not tied to a particular part of the country but to one segment – the upper segment – of the social level. Like other dialects, though, it persists change.

School children line up to get on a yellow schoolbus in New York City
Students in New York, Adelaide and Vancouver are taught slightly differently in English language standards.
Richard Levine / Alamy Stock Photo

3. Standard English and Received Pronunciation are the same thing

Standard English is not about speaking in a luxurious accent. Linguists agreed that anyone who speaks in the accent known as received pronunciation (RP) will also use the words and grammar that make up standard English. However, not all speakers of standard English have the same tuldik.

In the UK population, only 3% speak RP, while standard English is the home dialect of 12 to 15%. The expressions “I was” and “I am” do not represent variation in terms of accent but between standard and non-standard English.

4. Standard English is the only variation with clear rules

Some critics have defended standard English by saying, essentially, that its rules are important for the people. understand each other. However, non-standard variations of the English language also have grammatical rules.

I have written about Lancashire speakers saying “I gave it to him” rather than “I gave it to him” or “I gave it to him”. For them, that’s the rule. Following it will not lead to an ambiguity.

In fact, non-standard variations can provide more clarity. Get the word “you”. English uses the difference between “thou”, to meet someone, and “you”, for communicating with two or more. Modern versions of many other languages, including French, Polish and Punjabi, still make this difference. Common English, in contrast, only has “you”, which is uncertain. Many non-standard variations are more obvious: they exist plural form such as “yous”, “y’all” or “yins”.

5. You need Standard English to be able to think properly

Elitist and classical, this fifth legend in standard English perfectly wraps up why it is important to treat all dialects non-judgmental. It is important to teach this as part of the national curriculum, specifically for use in formal writing. But many educational linguists agree that presenting it as the only right way – and by extension, telling a child that they are speaking in an incorrect or wrong way – is embarrassing. It can be discouraging from them engaging entirely in education. And that can only be hurt both the individuals concerned and society in general.

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