About a week ago, while watching television with my housemates, a programme called Rocket City Rednecks (IMDB, 2014) was advertised, explaining that the people involved were extremely intelligent rocket scientists with a strong southern accent, making them appear unintelligible and ‘idiotic’. As a house of girls, this then led to a heated discussion on which accents make people sound more ‘unintelligent’ than others. The victor for most intelligent was RP (Received Pronunciation), which when you consider the stereotypical characters of an RP speaker (the queen, newsreaders, teachers, upper-upper middle class background (Trudgill, 2011:118)), almost all of them supposedly use Standard English.
But what exactly is Standard English? Crowley (1999:271) states “Standard English is the medium of writing in the English Language, grammatically stable and codified.”, while Trudgill (1992, as cited by Trudgill, 2011:117) describes it “as consisting of the processes of language determination, codification and stabilisation.” In reality, nobody is actually able to define Standard English, only describe it through its characteristics. So why does everybody care about whether or not people or children use this way of writing/speaking that cannot be defined?
John Honey, a professor in education, was adamant that children should be using Standard English in schools for both spoken and written pieces (Honey, 1997). He also believes that accents do not affect people’s usage of Standard English, claiming ‘Standard English can be spoken in any accent of English, though in practise it is seldom (indeed perhaps never) spoke in the broadest forms of regional accent’ (Honey, as cited by Crowley 1999:271).
Because Honey was deemed such an extremist in regards to the Standard English debate, there are few people who can say they wholeheartedly agree with him. Trudgill (2011), for example agrees with Standard English being the dialect of writing in education while Cheshire (as cited by Crowley, 2003:263) disagrees with The National Curriculum’s lack of understanding about both written and spoken Standard English.
While it is clear Standard English is important for several linguists in one form or another, there are others who believe it is simply used for control by the ‘self-serving élite’ (Leith & Cameron as cited by Crowley, 2003) and there is not actually any need for Standard English. Crowley (2003:249) states that there has been a 1000 years of literature and only 100 years of literacy, proving that we do not need the language standardising or one dialect that is superior to all others. An alternative opinion is proposed by Kingman (as cited by Crowley, 2003) explaining that whilst Standard English is great for the education process, spoken speech should be natural.
The Standard English debate, like many other debates within the English Language, has multiple issues, factors and opinions connected with it, but one of the most important issues within this debate is the inability to define the issue. When asking our language debates class who thought Standard English was important, nobody raised a hand, and yet when asked if it had a place in our education system, everyone believed it did. How can people debate and believe something is so important within education, literature and a child’s development if technically the thing does not exist? If a definition existed would anything change? What is Standard English?
HANNAH WAUDE, English undergraduate, University of Chester (UK)
IMDB, (2014). Rocket City Rednecks. [Online] [Accessed 9 April 2014] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2101137/
Trudgill, P. (2011) Revised version of Standard English: what it isn’t. [Online] [Accessed 26 March 2014] Available at: http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/dick/SEtrudgill2011.pdf