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Jun 2007, Volume 4, No.6 (Serial No.


Sino-US English Teaching, ISSN1539-8072, USA

Definition of Standard English and its enlightenment on English teaching
ZHANG Yong-lan
(Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, Huaiyin Teachers College, Huai’an 223001, China)

Abstract: Standard English is defined not as a language, a style, an accent, but as standardized grammar and vocabulary with different accents. And from a linguistic point of view, Standard English is no more correct than any other form of English. Yet it is most prestigious, and a desirable educational target. However, different varieties of English should also be taught for international communication. Key words: Standard English; regional varieties; EFL teaching

1. Background: English as a Global Language
Today we are living in a “Global village”. English plays a central role in this “globalization” and it has become the common language choice for communication among various nations of the earth. In Crystal’s book English as a global language (1997), he assesses that a total of 670 million people use English with a native or native-like command of the language, increasing to approximately 12,000-1,500 million if vague criteria are adopted. However, more than 50 years ago, the number was not so large. Since 1950, many chief international organizations have been founded. Usually a small number of languages have been designated official languages for an organization’s activities: for example, the UN was established with five official languages—English, French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese. There is now a widespread view that it makes sense to try to reduce the numbers of languages involved in world bodies, if only to cut down on the vast moment of translation and clerical work required. The need for a global language is particularly appreciated by the international academic and business communities, and it is here the adoption of a single lingua franca that is the most in evidence, both in lecture-rooms and board-rooms, as well as in thousands of individual contacts being made everyday all over the world. At this moment, English is in charge for its elastic vocabulary and its democracy (Crystal, 1997).

2. Varieties of English
It is known that since 1950s, English has changed a lot. In another word, it has been globalized. Another obvious characteristic of it was the birth of many regional varieties. If you travel throughout a wide geographical area in which a language is spoken, and particularly if that language has been spoken in that area for hundreds of years, you are almost certain to notice differences in pronunciation, choices and forms of words, and syntax. There may even be very distinctive local colorings in the language which you can notice as you move from one location to another. Such distinctive varieties are usually called regional dialects of the language. The term dialect is

ZHANG Yong-lan, associate professor of Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, Huaiyin Teachers College; research fields: language teaching, sociolinguistics, western culture. 4

and Wales English and so on. Scottish English. Poland. the patois may be used to describe the variety (Wardhaugh. Australian English. from upper-class and upper-middle-class backgrounds. and English. p. in all sorts of ways: it is spoken by educated people and used by mass media to communicate to a wider non-regional public audience (Crystal. South Africa. English being used around the world is divided into three groups: inner circle. Malaysia. Canada. Standard English is thus not the English language but one variety of it. UK. that speakers are “sociolinguistic automata” (Giles. On the contrary. though. second language and foreign language (MacArthur. on which most linguists. such as India. Thirdly. 40). 1989) speaks Standard English with some form of regional accents. Standard English is not a language. Japan.e. Australia and New Zealand. It is true that in most cases Standard English speakers do not have “broad” local accents i. 5 . when we use so-called “the English language. Canadian English. the reverse is not the case. speakers are able to influence and change the degree of formality of a social situation by manipulation of stylistic choice. Secondly. or at least in England. 1973) who respond blindly to the particular degree of formality in a particular social situation. and what its characteristics are. 1967). 1985). Standard English No matter how we call these varieties. 3. As Denning & Leben (1995) say. Styles are varieties of language which can be ranged on a continuum ranging from very formal to very informal. Perhaps 9%-12% of the population of Britain (Trudgill & Cheshire. Ireland. It should be reasonably clear that which variety of English is the one that has been subjected to the process of standardization. The inner circle refers to the countries where English is a native language: the USA.” Firstly.” it actually refers to American English. Singapore. Trudgill characterizes styles as varieties of language in terms of formality. Standard English is often referred to “the Standard Language”. that while all RP speakers also speak Standard English. Standard English may be the most important variety of English. and the expanding circle involves EFL countries like China. From a British perspective. Formal styles are employed in social situations which are formal while informal styles are employed in social situations which are informal—which is not to say. According to the theory of concentric circles (Kachru. since it is only one variety of English among many. Whatever it is. etc. outer circle and expanding circle. Standard English is not a style. Another division is divided as native language. can be described (Chambers & Trudgill. we have to acknowledge that there is in Britain a high status and widely described accent known as Received Pronunciation (RP) which is socio-linguistically unusual when seen from a global perspective in that it is not associated with any geographical areas. nothing can deny that English does not belong to a country or nation. There is one thing about Standard English. Greece. Standard English is not an accent. Old English and to a lesser extent Middle English had dialects in this sense. Israel. or at least British linguists do appear to agree that it has nothing to do with pronunciation. 1997) as consisting of an autonomous standardized variety together with all the nonstandard varieties which are heteronymous with respect to it. In the absence of such a tradition of writing. 1998. It is widely agreed. however. 1998). it is less than a language. Peter Trudgill (1999) characterizes Standard English in his paper “Standard English: what it isn’t. But most native speakers of English in the world are native speakers of some nonstandard varieties of the language.Definition of Standard English and its enlightenment on English teaching sometimes used only if there is a strong tradition of writing in the local variety. 1995). like other Ausbau language (Kloss. former English colonies). being instead a purely social accent associated with speakers in all parts of the country.g. the outer circle denotes EFL countries (e.

for the USA has its own General American prototype. as it is most prestigious. Trudgill (1999) argues above that it cannot mean “vocabulary associated with formal styles.” Is it supposed to mean “vocabulary associated with academic or technical registers”? If so. and the Australians would hardly want to assess their national varieties in terms of a POM-prototype. there are bound to be changes out in the periphery. There is. taught to native speakers and foreign learners alike. notably the register of law. standardized.Definition of Standard English and its enlightenment on English teaching accents with large numbers of regional features which are phonologically and phonetically very distant from RP. he is always despised. It is important to stress the distinction between RP and Standard English because RP serves various purposes. It is of course true that it is most usual in English-speaking societies to employ Standard English when one is using scientific registers—this is the social convention. while RP is in a sense. so much can be conceded. Besides. Kachru also tells us (1992) that English spoken by inner-circle is norm-providing. teachers need to evaluate how important learning standard and/or idiomatic usage is for their students. EFL Teaching Besides the theory of three circles.” Obviously. are known to have special syntactic characteristics. 379) says: “As the language spreads. medicine. In many cases. Back to Babel. although some registers. But these changes must be seen not only as peripheral but also as radial and traceable back to the stable center of the standard. no necessary connection between the two. Standard English is connected with grammar and vocabulary but different from accent (Trudgill. Crystal (1995) also gives his opinion that Standard English is a “minority variety (identified chiefly by its lexical. just as Shanghai dialect in China. and it goes without saying that they speak this variety with different non-RP accents depending on whether they come from the USA or Australia or wherever. This point becomes even clearer from an international perspective. Standard English speakers can be found in all English-speaking countries. subject matter or activity. but it is clear that in principle we can say that. 4. If this center does not bold. We use the term register in the sense of a variety of language determined by topic. such as the register of mathematics. Facing this problem. But one can certainly acquire and use technical registers without using Standard English. but it is spoken by educated people and used by mass media to communicate to a wider. At this point. non-regional. this would not make sense either. it is a desirable educational target. Still. In English. 1999). Accent prejudice is the typical phenomenon. once again. it is a standardized accent of English and not Standard English itself.” It is not at all clear what this can mean. Fourth. We can find the importance just as Widdowson (1994. mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. just as one can employ non-technical registers while speaking or writing Standard English. It must be stressed that from a linguistic point of view it is no more correct than any other form of English (Akmajian). since the question of register and the question of standard versus nonstandard are also in principle entirely separate questions. p. or pigeon fancying. Standard English is not a register. we might say. things fall apart. The British National Curriculum document for English talks frequently about “Standard English vocabulary. people who speak English as a foreign language use English as a lingua franca in order to communicate with other people who also speak English as a foreign language. If a person in Shanghai whose accent conceals that he is from northern Jiangsu rather than local Shanghai. students often wonder what kind of English they are learning. Standard English may be spoken with any accent. if we are 6 . by expanding-circle is norm-dependent and by outer-circle is norm-developing. public audience. this is almost exclusively a matter of lexis. grammar and orthography) which carries most prestige and is most widely understood”.

During the debate over Standard English. “Do my students need to read about US or UK cultural traditions? Does this serve their objective for learning English? Should idiomatic usage be included in my lesson plan? What are my students going to do with their English? And. teachers can become developers of sensitivity toward many varieties of language rather than pedantic linguistic enforcers (Mckay & Hornberger. In the 21st century. According to Trudgill’s theory. in different communicative contexts. materials. Conclusion So far. educators are also charged with developing learners’ active mastery of the standard language in oral and written modes. however. Standard English does nothing with accent. such as. teachers may view their principal linguistic responsibility as one of inculcating “correct language” without realizing that. 7 . we find that Standard English is especially important for us to learn because it is the first step when we want to use English to communicate with different people from different countries. and purpose. 1993. English teachers should be able to make clear the differences between varieties in expression. the debates on those questions will benefit EFL teaching. Besides sensitizing students themselves to language variability. As LIU (1998) says. It makes the comprehension of culture become important. English learners face the problems of not only inner-circle English. the point of learning culture in teaching EFL is to make target language learners be capable of using English appropriately according to the contexts and necessity. natural and correct language includes a variety of language forms. the accent can be chosen when we learn Standard English. Pedagogically. each chosen according to communicative contexts. Teachers need to carefully take into consideration their students’ needs when deciding on the syllabus. this diversification is equally important in second language (Swain. L. If it is allowed that many regional verities should be the medium of communication. Swain & Lapkin. So-called CLOCAL is the combination of “global” and “local”. and activities which allow use of many language varieties. while the communication among different countries and communities is increasing quickly. Of course. specific types of Standard English and idiomatic usage should be taught. it requires teachers to design and implement methods. 1988. 1985). & Milroy. Heath. even for educated native speakers. but also outer-circle English and expanding-circle English..Definition of Standard English and its enlightenment on English teaching teaching students English as a second language for them to integrate into an English speaking culture. a new view is that it considers English as “CLOCAL” language (Pakir. That is to say that English should keep existence and development of varieties as it serves as an international language. 1994) and native language literacy settings (Farr & Deniels. including but not necessarily limited to the standard. if a businessman from China wants to do a deal with a businessperson from Germany. with whom are my students going to communicate with?” From what is discussed above. 1996). 1983). or they will fail to evaluate students’ output. They need to ask themselves questions. audience. This is a pedagogical as well as a social and political challenge. For example. many debates have appeared concerning the relationship between Standard English and EFL teaching. not a single variant (Beebe. what difference does it make if they speak either British or American English? With a firmer understanding and appreciation of the multiplicity of language forms and functions. Milroy. 1999). 1986. Along with community members such as learners and parents. J. 5. it surely arouses the problem of how the varieties and the usage conform to each other. it is difficult to give satisfying answers to these problems. situation.

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