Glossary: Standard English

Explanation

Standard English can be recognised by the use of a very small range of forms such as those books, I did it and I wasn’t doing anything (rather than their non-Standard equivalents); it is not limited to any particular accent. It is the variety of English which is used, with only minor variation, as a major world language. Some people use Standard English all the time, in all situations from the most casual to the most formal, so it covers most registers. The aim of the national curriculum is that everyone should be able to use Standard English as needed in writing and in relatively formal speaking.

  • I did it because they were not willing to undertake any more work on those houses. [formal Standard English]
  • I did it cos they wouldn’t do any more work on those houses. [casual Standard English]
  • I done it cos they wouldn’t do no more work on them houses. [casual non-Standard English]

Note that standards change, and that Standard English in Shakespeare's time, or in Dickens's time, was different from Standard English today. Likewise, Standard English in 200 years will be different from Standard English now.

Likewise, standards vary around the world. American English and British English do have some significant differences, such that what is standard in America may be non-standard in the UK.

Standards and variation in Singapore English

English is used in remarkably different ways around the world. Exploring that variation is an extremely effective tool towards understanding our own use of English. This lesson looks at some features of colloquial Singapore English.

World Englishes debate

This is a challenging lesson that can be a fantastic springboard for discussion with more able students. How do we decide whether regional, non-standard English is acceptable or not, and what role does context play?

World Englishes debate: Activity

In 1991, Professor Randolph Quirk and Professor Braj Kachru published articles in English Today debating the value of World Englishes.

Prof. Quirk argued that we must have a strong standard for English that does not allow for incorrect vocabulary or grammar.

Prof. Kachru argued that English must serve different purposes for millions of people around the world, and therefore, because a single standard is impossible, we must appreciate the variation in English worldwide.

Where do you stand?

Double negatives

Since the 17th century, English grammarians have spoken out against constructions with double negatives. Before the 17th century, double negatives were considered perfectly acceptable in English, like in present-day Spanish, French and many other languages of the world. Even today we're often taught to avoid a double negative.

The idea is that we should try to avoid saying something like:

  • He didn't not get the prize.

This is because in logic, two nots cancel each other out. So the statement above would logically mean:

Grammar

We define grammar as the study of the structure of words and sentences. As such it is an abstract system, worthy of study in its own right. However, we also see grammar as a system that is used in a range of contexts to unlock meaning. We want to look at grammar not only in written language, but also in spoken English, in a range of multimodal forms, and in all its rich variety.

Grammar: What grammar isn't

One of the big misapprehensions about the word grammar is that it is all to do with getting things right or wrong. Grammar teaching in the past has often taken a prescriptive turn, and for many people of older generations the memory of grammar tests at school is often a painful one.

Pronouns

Pronouns are one of the eight word classes in the National Curriculum. Some linguists would treat pronouns as a subclass of nouns, and there are some good reasons for that, but we adhere to the National Currciulum specifications.

Pronouns can sometimes replace a noun in a sentence:

Spoken language: Dialect and slang

[Amended from Dan Clayton's Teaching English Grammar in Schools blog]

The history of grammar teaching has often been associated with prescriptive models in which the "correction" of perceived faults in language has been paramount. While linguists are careful these days to talk about what is 'grammatical' or 'ungrammatical' and 'standard' or 'non-standard', rather than what is 'right' or 'wrong', there is still a tension at the heart of the teaching of English.

Word classes: Interjections

Interjections are a group of words which are commonly used in spoken language to express emotions, reactions and so on. It is generally difficult to categorise them into one of the eight major word classes.

Examples include the following:

  • oh, wow, aha, ouch, tut-tut, ugh, oops, humph, hooray, yuck, whew, yikes, eek

Interjections can occur on their own, or in sequence (e.g. oh wow), and can also be attached to a sentence. These examples are all from informal conversations:

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