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Is there a Standard English?

Admin - Oct 03 2015

An interesting paper was published in Japan questioning the existence of a standard form of English amid the many linguistic variants in different locations around the world. Ina research entitled Communicating in English: Flexibility Within a Norm, Mark Offner concluded that a “standard” English could simply not exist since there is no consensus on the subject and there are a wide variety of English dialects that are currently being used. The research went on to question whether whether it will be beneficial in the long run to favor some dialects of English (such as those used in London or New York, for example) as “superior” over some other dialects (such as those used in Jamaica or Australia, for example). Furthermore, the attempt to define a standard English is essentially futile since language is organic and continues to evolve through usage and communicability, two factors that are essentially beyond control.

English Dialects Galore

English is a truly global language. What started as English in a small part of the British Isles is now being used in many countries. But its usage has been appropriated by native speakers who have realigned the language to suit their own socio-linguistic contexts. The English used in America and that used in England have telling differences and even within the U.S. and the U.K. pockets of differences delineate how English is being used in regions, cities, suburbs and sub-linguistic groupings.
That said, requiring non-native speakers to view things as a native English speaker would is an unreasonable, if not an impossible demand. This is because language needs to be closely associated with the speaker’s heritage and culture. Moreover, one of the main incentives for learning a second or a foreign language is to be able to articulate one’s views as understood in one’s cultural context, and not to be transposed into an entirely new context that inevitably messes up the meaning of what was originally being communicated.

The Need for a Standard

It is understandable that there are proponents at the other side of the language divide who call for a standard form of English, waving the troubling “tower of Babel argument” to gain adherents to their cause. Academics and linguists who espouses this idea believe that tolerating the use of different forms of English with stark variations in grammar, pronunciation and expressions will eventually water down the communicability of English, turning it into a highly fragmented language.

Finding the Norm: Solution for the Dilemma

Out of necessity, basic boundaries do exist that limit how English can be intelligibly communicated while allowing for slight variations in its localized use. These boundaries may be defined as the “norm” as opposed to the “standard.” Accepting the normal bounds of English instead of strictly establishing standards that disregard the evolutionary development of dialects represents a viable solution for the dilemma ESL and EFL teachers face. Accepting this view allows for linguistic flexibility, which is something integral to a dynamic, living language.

Here’s a related video discussing the impact of the Internet in the evolution of global English:


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