Standard English

In an English-speaking country, Standard English (SE) is the variety of English that has undergone regularization and is associated with formal schooling, language assessment, and official print publications, such as public-service announcements and newspapers of record, etc.[1] "Standard" should be understood to refer to this process of regularization and not to minimal desirability (e.g., a standard of care) or interchangeability (e.g., a standard measure).[2] For example, there are substantial differences in the varieties that countries of the Anglosphere identify as "standard," as their different names suggest: in England and Wales, the term Standard English identifies British English, the Received Pronunciation accent, and the grammar and vocabulary of United Kingdom Standard English (UKSE). In Scotland, the variety is Scottish Standard English; in the United States the General American variety is thought of as the spoken standard; and in Australia, the standard English is General Australian.[3] Sociologically, as the standard language of the nation, Standard English is generally associated with education and sociolinguistic prestige, but is not inherently superior to other English dialects used by an Anglophone society.[4]


Although a standard English is generally used in public and official communications and settings, there is a range of registers (stylistic levels), such as those for journalism (print, television, internet) and for academic publishing (monographs, academic papers, internet). The distinction among registers also exists between the spoken and the written forms of SE, which are characterised by degrees of formality; therefore, Standard English is distinct from formal English, because it features stylistic variations, ranging from casual to formal.[5] Furthermore, the usage codes of nonstandard dialects (vernacular language) are less stabilized than the codifications of Standard English, and thus more readily accept and integrate new vocabulary and grammatical forms. Functionally, the national varieties of SE are characterized by generally accepted rules, often grammars established by linguistic prescription in the 18th century.[6]

English originated in England during the Anglo-Saxon period, and is now spoken as a first or second language in many countries of the world, many of which have developed one or more "national standards" (though this does not refer to published standards documents, but to frequency of consistent usage). English is the first language of the majority of the population in a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Republic of Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas and Barbados and is an official language in many others, including; India, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa and Nigeria; each country has a standard English with a grammar, spelling and pronunciation particular to the local culture.

As the result of colonisation and historical migrations of English-speaking populations, and the predominant use of English as the international language of trade and commerce (a lingua franca), English has also become the most widely used second language.[7] In countries where English is neither a native language nor widely spoken, a non-native variant (typically English English or North American English) might be considered "standard" for teaching purposes. [8] Typically, English English is taught as standard across Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia and North American English is taught as standard across Latin America and East Asia. This does, however, vary between regions and individual teachers. In some areas a pidgin or creole language, blends English with one or more native languages.


Although the standard Englishes of the anglophone countries are similar, there are minor grammatical differences and divergences of vocabulary among the varieties. In American and Australian English, for example, "sunk" and "shrunk" as past-tense forms of "sink" and "shrink" are acceptable as standard forms, whereas standard British English retains the past-tense forms of "sank" and "shrank".[9] In South African English, the deletion of verbal complements is becoming common. This phenomenon sees the objects of transitive verbs being omitted: "Did you get?", "You can put in the box".[10] This kind of construction is infrequent in most other standardized varieties of English.



With rare exceptions, Standard Englishes use either American or British spelling systems, or a mixture of the two (such as in Australian English, Canadian English, and Indian English spelling). British spellings usually dominate in Commonwealth countries.

See also


  1. Carter, Ronald. "Standard Grammars, Spoken Grammars: Some Educational Implications." T. Bex & R.J. Watts, eds. Standard English: The Widening Debate. Routledge, 1999: 149-166.
  2. Williams, Raymond "Standards", Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society 2nd Ed. (1983) Oxford UP, pp. 296–299.
  3. Smith 1996
  4. Sidney Greenbaum; Gerald Nelson (2009). An Introduction to English Grammar. Pearson Longman. p. 3. ISBN 9781405874120.
  5. Rodney Huddleston; Geoffrey K. Pullum (2005). A Student's Introduction to English Grammar. Cambridge University Press. pp. 2–3. ISBN 9780521848374.
  6. Smith 1996
  7. "Oxford Dictionaries Online". Retrieved 2013-06-15.
  8. Trudgill and Hannah, International English, pp. 1-2.
  9. Burridge and Kortmann 2008
  10. Mesthrie 2008


  • Bex, Tony; Richard J. Watts (1999). Standard English: The widening debate. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-19162-9.
  • Blake, N. F. 1996. "A History of the English Language" (Basingstoke: Palgrave)
  • Burridge, Kate and Bernd Kortmann (eds). 2008. "Varieties of English: vol 3, The Pacific and Australasia" (Berlin and NY: Mouton de Gruyter)
  • Coulmas, Florian; Richard J. Watts (2006). Sociolinguistics: The study of speaker's choices. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-83606-9.
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