Why is Standard English Idealised?

‘We won’t get a job if we speak like this.’

As a writer who frequently expresses their own perceptions, on topics such as politics, the latest trainers or even breeds of cats, I believe my opinion on my own language is just as valid. I communicate with people from various parts of the UK. As you would expect their dialects are diverse, and so are their language choices, despite appealing to the media. I find it incredibly mesmerising hearing words foreign to my ears, even though we speak the same language. However, multiple people oppose my perception with more prescriptivism. Although people are capable of code-switching (altering their language to the context of speech), they insist on following the ‘Queen’s English’ like it’s their mother goose and they are its goslings, until they acquire frequent received pronunciation.  

Many work places have restricted language, such as a ban on colloquial language. An example of this is a London school who banned slang and colloquialisms such as ‘innit’, ‘peng’ and ‘bait’. The headteacher believed their language was ‘improper’, they also thought ‘that sort of language will not help their futures’. However, the students had alternating opinions, ‘we can’t express ourselves. I don’t think that they understand we can change our language.’ Even though the student didn’t know that was a prime example of code-switching. So why can’t they use non-standard English if they can ‘switch’ to standard English at any given time?  

Nonetheless, non-standard English can be quite fruitful, despite society’s built-in perception on it. In Leytonstone, non-standard English unified society after an event of trauma. There was a terrorist attack which consisted of a stabbing. On a train, a member of the public repeated ‘You ain’t no Muslim bruv’ to a suspected terrorist. This brought society together because the personal pronoun ‘you’ divided the suspect, but connected the community. The man expressed his view that Muslims wouldn’t commit such a crime. Soon the phrase began to trend on social media and, ultimately, connected the public despite hardship.

Even though non-standard English is used by most of society, standard English is still believed to be superior. Society has constructed our brains to believe received pronunciation is needed for high-level jobs, further education and generally more respect. If we can’t alter society, the use of standard English is crucial in order to walk up the stairs of success. Lindsay Johns, a broadcaster from Peckham, believes that standard English is ‘expected to be used’. I agree. People do expect standard English, but why should they? The prescriptivist thinks to compete with Oxbridge literary students you have to articulate accordingly. However, I believe that code-switching is the key to two doors, one being success and the other remaining true to yourself. However, Lindsay Johns is against all forms of non-standard English. He believes it ‘sounds like you’ve got a frontal lobotomy’. However, I believe it sounds like he’s half blind from the wonderment and beneficial use of code-switching.  

In conclusion, I believe the use of non-standard English is just as reputable and, ultimately, understood as standard English. However, society has developed the strong idea that standard English is expected to succeed, in most areas. Coming from a descriptivist, I think code-switching is the resolution, if you’re not planning on changing the entirety of society of course. But why has society built a wall between the two forms of language? Shouldn’t we perceive both forms of language identically?  

Emilie Ann Holmes is a student and aspiring writer.

You can follow Emilie on Instagram.

Comments (4)

  1. Intriguing ideas about the different uses of language in society and culture, extremely well written too. I would definitely agree with Emilie’s opinion here, the general idea in modern day is that standard English is seen as professional and more acceptable in a business setting and that perhaps it’s time for a change. An Interesting article I found as it’s not something any of us think about very often!

  2. It’s extremely interesting topic you have raised.
    Highlighting some very poignant issues.
    As you say, we live in a diverse society, with a wide range of language and dialects.
    As a result, I do not think that these differences should disadvantage people’s life opportunities.

  3. Very interesting article and well written Emilie.

  4. Thought provoking and agree that some people perceive if an individual or group display non standard English speaking and speak that aligns best to effectively engage with the social setting mix they with, they cannot therefore display a high standard of standard English speaking skills. The type and level expected for example in the workplace in a business environment. Article opens the eyes to how the stereotypical view that a young person that exhibits non standard English cannot diversify and exhibit a high standard of standard English also is to be challenged. In fact the skills to deliver both in the right settings and where appropriate are a strength and add to the individuals skillset in effective engagement with people.


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