John Honey’s opinion on the English Standard Debate is one that has caused much controversy amongst some of the most well-known of linguists. From reading his book, Language is Power: The Story of Standard English and it’s Enemies, it is evident that Honey believes that there is an English Standard that is a better form, which should be taught in schools, known and used across the world. He believes that it is a dialect that should be used to create linguistic equality that would enable everyone to communicate and understand each other universally. He also believes, and presents in his book that this dialect has many enemies, such as other linguists like Chomsky and Pinker – from whom it should be protected. Honey dedicates a whole chapter in his book to the exploration of these enemies and openly attacks their viewpoints by, from what I personally felt was forcefully and persuasively, presenting his own thoughts and ideas, as the ones that are correct. In a review written in response to Honey’s book, Peter Trudgill recognises himself as being one of the linguists that Honey is targeting and arguing against regarding this debate, along with other considered influential linguists, such as; Milroy, Crystal, Halliday, Labov and Aitchison. This is how much of an impact Honey’s view has had, and suggests that much controversy amongst linguists must have been caused with him targeting the work of these named linguists.
So what is Honey’s view on the English Standard Debate? Well in his book, Honey talks about Standard English being a dialect that is spoken as well as written, but is best represented by the language that is written in books and newspapers and used all over the world. He also writes about there being subtle differences in terms of vocabulary, spelling and grammar in, for example, American Standard English and British Standard English (1997: 1). It is this dialect that should be taught in schools and protected from the ‘enemies’ Honey establishes in his book.
In his review published arguing against Honey’s opinion, Trudgill notes that Honey’s claim of other linguists being enemies of the English Standard based on the fact that they imply Standard English is not in any way superior, because they suggest that all dialects of English are structured, grammatical, rich and viable linguistic systems. Therefore they are discouraging people who are non-native speakers from learning it (p3). Trudgill argues his case by pointing out that Honey does not give a valid reason for his claim against the other linguists, as ‘Honey remains suspiciously silent’ (p3). Trudgill then goes further to describe how Honey is viewed to be more of a scholar, rather than a linguist, based on Honey’s knowledge and limited research in comparison with the other linguists. This suggests what the general opinions on Honey’s proposal is on the English Standard Debate. It is not one that is favoured amongst other, more well-known researchers in this field, and is not deemed as viable as theirs.
My own personal opinion on this matter? Well, I think that having an English standard is beneficial, for the same reason that Honey claims – to create linguistic equality and so that everyone around the world can understand and communicate universally. However, I disagree with Honey in saying that the English Standard is a ‘better form’. I don’t think that any dialect is better than another.
MIA DERMAWAN, English undergraduate, University of Chester (UK)