JESSICA HOLMES discusses the pros and cons of using Standard English in education

The debate over the use of Standard English is a continual topic amongst linguists and the general public One of the central issues is the use of Standard English in education and whether it is entirely necessary.

So what is Standard English? Standard English is defined by Swann et al. as a ‘relatively uniform variety of a language which does not show regional variation’ (in Culpepper et al, 2009: 224). Kerswill (in Culpeper et al, 2009) describes Standard English as being ‘subject to how the observer views the matter’ making it a ‘social judgement’ (2009: 238).  When defining Standard English, Crowley (in Bex and Watts 1999: 271) states it is a phrase which ‘shifts in its meaning between ‘uniformity’ and ‘level of excellence’ ’.  Trudgill refers to Standard English as ‘purely a social dialect’ and states it is ‘no longer a geographical dialect’ (2002: 164). From these quotations, it is clear to see the differing opinions portrayed simply through their attempts at defining the term Standard English.

The Elementary Education Act was introduced in 1870 which led to basic education being provided for children up to the age of ten. This movement led to the English language being taught to children within school environments at a very basic level. However, at the turn of the twentieth century, English became established fully within schools meaning its scope was broadened.  Honey states, ‘in 1988 the Conservative Government  imposed a national curriculum, for the first time in British history, making English one of three core subjects for all pupils ages 5-16’ (1997: 174). Monaghan highlights, ‘this widening of the English curriculum has led to intense debate about the relative importance of the various components’ (2007: 152).

Many people have negative opinions towards the idea of teaching Standard English in education. This may be due to the uniqueness of an individual’s regional variety being reduced in speech.  Through speaking Standard English, often people believe their individuality may become lost or reduced, whilst Bex and Watts claim, learning Standard English can lead to ‘devaluation of other dialects’ (1999: 14).

Along with the negatives, there is also a wide range of advantageous aspects to be made for the inclusion of Standard English on the National Curriculum amongst schools. Standard English is described by Kerswill and Culpepper as the ‘gold standard’ and by this they are referring to what other types of English may be measured against (2009: 224). Honey clarifies how Standard English ‘reinforces cultural, economic and social privileges’ (1997: 37), whilst Kerswill and Culpeper say it allows people of ‘different walks of life to communicate more easily than if only regional dialects were available’ (2009: 224).

Through my own experience of entering the education system in the 1990s, Standard English and its grammatical rules and regulations were of imperative importance in my education. I do not recall being corrected for my spoken form of English, however, there was much emphasis placed upon the written form. It is very difficult to have an opinion on the subject as there is so much more to be said for both viewpoints. However, I believe my personal education was fairly strict when concerned with the Standard English rules taught, and I do not feel my regional variety has been lost or reduced in any way.

JESSICA HOLMES, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK.


Bex,T. Watts, R. (1999) Standard English: The Widening Debate. London: Routledge.

Culpepper, J. et al (2009) English Language: Description, Variation and Context. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Honey, J. (1997) Language is Power: The Story of Standard English and its Enemies. London: Faber and Faber.




LAURA BUCKLEY asks: ‘Why should Standard English be the language of education? And what about speakers of local dialects?’

Standard English is the variety employed by the education system in every English-speaking country in the world (Trudgill 2002: 160). Despite Standard English being taught in schools, there is still some controversy on whether or not it is advantageous to teach the standard form.

According to (Carter, 1997: 8) one view of Standard English is that it is ‘correct English and must be uniformly enforced in all context of use and that children not drilled in the rules of standard grammar are both deviant and disempowered.’ This shows that children are at a higher advantage in some aspects of their lives (perhaps academically or socially) if they are taught in Standard English. Since the standard language is perceived as the variety of highest prestige, status and power and the ‘property of the privileged’ (Honey 1997: 53), it is thought that using Standard English provides ‘connotations of perfection’ (Bex and Watts 1999:). This suggests that a Standard English speaker may be perceived as well-spoken and well-educated. Holborow (1999) describes the usage of Standard English as a ‘social ladder’ and an ‘indispensable tool’, suggesting that if a speaker uses the standard form they are able to climb the social scale and support the individual towards a higher status. Speaking and writing in Standard English can also reinforce cultural, economic and social privileges (Honey 1997: 52) and therefore, as Carter (1997: 8) implies, another view is that working class children can gain linguistic power by learning Standard English. It is also claimed by some that if standard grammar is not taught, then communication may break down. So could this mean that speakers are put in a more privileged position of status and power? And if we have no standard form to teach to children and foreign speakers then will communication collapse?

On the other hand, there are many controversial arguments against the standard being the language taught in education. Bex and Watts (1999: 14) believe that there is stigma attached to using the ‘incorrect’ forms and this can cause social discrimination (usually between social classes). Therefore, individuals who may not speak in the standard form are perhaps perceived as lower in status or power. It is also believed that other social dialects of English may be devalued when Standard English is taught (Bex and Watts 1999: 15) and as a result of this, dialects which can represent culture and society may be seen as unworthy in comparison to the Standard English. If speakers are brought up with the standard form as their variety, some believe that they have an unfair advantage to speakers who speak with a local dialect. This makes me concerned that if speakers use their local dialect, then are they discriminated against and perceived as non-educated?

Taking all these arguments and questions into consideration, personally I believe that there will always be one standard form, which is perceived as the most privileged and therefore used in education. However, the usage of different local dialects should also be viewed as a privilege, which can represent culture and diversity. I am interested to see what the effects of a dialect taught in a school instead of the standard variety would be and if we could ever see a dialect /dialects used as a medium of education?

LAURA BUCKLEY, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK



Bex, T. & Watts, R. (1999) Standard English: The Widening Debate. London:  Routledge.

Carter, R. (1997) Investigating English Discourse: Language, Literacy and Literature. London: Routledge.

Honey, J. (1997) Language is Power: The Story of Standard English and its enemies. London: Faber and Faber.

Holborow, M. (1999) The Politics of English. London: Sage Publications.

Trudgill, P. (2002) Sociolinguistic Variation and Change. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

JAKE THOMAS asks ‘Could a little more education in Standard English be useful before it is taught?’

The Standard English debate is one of the great debates of the linguistic world. Whether it is the daily complaints received by newspapers concerning mistakes in the publication of this ‘sacred’ dialect, or the mud slinging style debates that highly skilled linguists have resorted to, they are all contributory factors in this volatile dispute. This is expected as ‘there seems to be considerable confusion in the English speaking world, even amongst linguists about what Standard English is’ (Bex and Watts 1999: 117). So, with this in mind, while its very definition is still somewhat disputed, should Standard English be taught? And if so, can Standard English really be taught with any great success? Or does the linguistic world need a little more education in Standard English before it can be?

Carter states that ‘There is little doubt that standard written English should be taught in schools’ (Bex and Watts 1999:163). With Standard English being the language of newspapers and other published works that you may read on a day to day basis, this seems a fair point. Peter Trudgill certainly agrees as he describes Standard English’s position in written education as ‘unassailable’ (Bex and Watts 199: 127). While linguists are mostly agreed upon Standard English’s place in written education, to what extent should its unassailable position be the case? There could be a suggestion that the emphasis on using the correct ‘dialect’ when constructing writing for younger age groups of the curriculum could have negative consequences. Could the importance focused around using the correct grammar for example, negatively impact on a child’s confidence and creativity when writing?

The debate surrounding spoken Standard English is rather more varied than its written counterpart however. Stubbs believes that ‘it is very much more doubtful whether children should be explicitly taught spoken SE’ (1986: 95) and this feeling is shared by Perera who believes that ‘any assessment of spoken English gives undue weight to Standard English (1993: 10). These views however are criticized by Honey where he explains that these views are efforts from linguists ‘to deny or reduce access to this especially valuable variety for British children’ (1997: 192). Is it right to deny children this valuable variety as Honey believes linguists are trying to do? Or would it be more beneficial for example for children to master their own dialects, rather than give ‘undue weight’ (Perera 1993: 10) to Standard English?

Where do I stand? Well the use of a single dialect in a written means of communication is clearly useful. It allows an understanding of literature to be understood much more quickly by users of all dialects. However with this heightened importance, it does beg the question: Could it diminish a child’s spoken dialectal individuality and identity? When even the most linguistically educated minds cannot even agree upon its correct meaning, how can children be expected to comprehend what is correct? I believe that only when a greater understanding of Standard English is reached should it be taught explicitly, then just maybe the linguists of the future may be able to agree on a thing or two.

JAKE THOMAS, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK



Bex, T & Watts, R, J. (1999) Standard English: the widening debate. London: Routledge.

Honey, J. (1997) Language is Power.  London: Faber and Faber. 

Perera, K (1993) ‘Standard English in attainment target 1: Speaking and Listening’, Language Matters Centre for Primary Education, 3:10. In Bex, T & Watts, R, J. (1999) Standard English: the widening debate. London: Routledge.

Stubbs, M (1986) Educational Linguistics, Oxford: Blackwell.