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
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.