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Why not use standard english all the time

Hulton Getty Did you see that great documentary on linguistics the other night?

It's time to challenge the notion that there is only one way to speak English

What about that terrific series on Radio 4 about the Indo-European language family tree? Or that news report on language extinction? It is strange that none of those programmes happened, or has ever happened: I'm not blaming Pinker. But the insights of linguistics are of social and political as well as intellectual importance. The modern study of language has shown that all native speakers are experts in their language.

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Frustrating as it is to hear discussions about the heinous abuse of "hopefully" or "disinterested", this public ignorance about language gets properly serious with the continuing discrimination against non-standard English. Non-standard English is linguistically the equal of the standard version — in fact, dialects tend to be more sophisticated grammatically than standard as in the plural "youse" of many non-standard dialects where standard has just one confusing form.

Yet standard continues — even now — to be prized as the "correct" form, and any deviation is considered to be wrong, lazy, corrupt or ignorant. This is most obviously the case in the education system. It is working-class children whose language is still marked as incorrect and who have to intuit the need to switch dialects — or fail. In any formal, written context, only standard English is accepted. Let me quote a letter-writer to the Scotsman newspaper last year, complaining about declining linguistic standards.

Why not use Standard English all the time? Essay

Why has linguistics failed to counteract this discrimination? Chomsky's theories were based on his ingenious explanation for the phenomenon that is children's language acquisition. Brilliant — but wrong. The case against Chomsky is conclusive. The new empirical "connectionist" school and the various branches of cognitive linguistics have brought the subject back to scientific principles.

  • The modern study of language has shown that all native speakers are experts in their language;
  • There is still little research being carried out on, for example, environmental influences on children's language acquisition;
  • It also helps to convey a specific identity of the speaker, with the use of syntactic and phonological differences from Standard English;
  • The standard cannot be used all the time, due to different dialects and sociolects developed from social classes and cultures, which are used to increase in-group solidarity, and provide its own effectiveness in communication with its users;
  • The case against Chomsky is conclusive;
  • It also helps to convey a specific identity of the speaker, with the use of syntactic and phonological differences from Standard English.

There is still little research being carried out on, for example, environmental influences on children's language acquisition. Most pressingly of all, too little work is being done to record the languages currently facing extinction. Recording these should have been a priority.

  1. The new empirical "connectionist" school and the various branches of cognitive linguistics have brought the subject back to scientific principles. This is most obviously the case in the education system.
  2. Other forms of the English language are developed from speech communities with an intention, for efficiency and to show inclusion, and to exclude others.
  3. It also helps to convey a specific identity of the speaker, with the use of syntactic and phonological differences from Standard English. Language variations help to form an identity for the speaker, whereas Standard English provides a common ground for everyone to use through lexical, syntactic and grammatical structures.

Chomksy also played a significant part in creating a subject that managed to avoid engagement with culture and society. It is crazy that such an unfair social-exclusion system should go on operating, and still without censure.