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

 

References

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.

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

  1. Charlotte Kinouchi says:

    This is an interesting and informative blog Laura. I agree with your belief that there will always be a standard form of English used in education and that dialects provide diversity. I think it is necessary for all British citizens to be educated in the same form of English to enable easy communication between each other. Proof of this need can be found in Britain’s past when people in the northern regions of England struggled to understand people in the southern regions due to the difference in dialect without knowledge of a mediating standard form. Take the ‘eggs’ vs. ‘eyren’ situation for example (Caxton 1490).

    It is, however, an unfortunate case that because a standard form exists, other forms of English are deemed less prestigious by some. Perhaps rather than replacing the standard form in schools with the local dialect as you suggested, the two forms could be somehow taught together? That might allow children to see local dialects as being more equal with Standard English, thus allowing them to choose which form they wish to use without education making them overly biased towards just one. Of course this may still lead to some stigmatisation unless perhaps all forms of English were equally taught in schools which would be impractical. Clearly it is a situation which cannot be easily resolved.

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