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.





One thought on “JESSICA HOLMES discusses the pros and cons of using Standard English in education

  1. Lewis Carter says:

    I agree with you, Jessica; Standard English has not robbed me of my regional individuality.

    I think the way people communicate is always going to be influenced by context. We adjust our language based on who we are talking to and in what environment; people ‘unconsciously influence each other so that their speech converges or diverges’ (Crystal, 1996:38)

    When speaking with someone whose first language is not English, my idiolect adjusts; I will be more formal, more exact, less reliant on idioms and slang. In this situation I am speaking Standard English. However, this is just a temporary adjustment. I agree with Crystal that people ‘do not need to replace their local dialect […] they should see Standard English as a valuable addition to their repertoire.’ (Crystal, 1996:40) This ‘addition’ is valuable because it creates a medium for mutual communication, not just in writing but in speech; not just between somewhere like Chester and Dudley, but on a global scale. It does not dilute regional identity, it merely bypasses it, temporarily, just as me speaking French requires bypassing English. Do we worry about teaching French?

    Simply put, to not have Standard English in education would be denying children the amazing opportunity of shared discourse with people of multiple diverse cultures and experiences. And that is a real cause for concern.

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