Standards and dialectal speech

are not simply coldlinguistic systems studied in grammar books, but rather, tools for humancommunication. Therefore, as a human phenomenon, language is endowed with thespontaneous and ever-changing nature typical of us human beings. It is thanksto this medium that we can establish social relationships with other people,and so perform certain social functions, for there is no doubt that any speechact has a particular function in the context where it is taking place. Inaddition to the purely communicative function of language, we should notoverlook that language is also a powerful source of personal information, inthe sense that the way we speak our language is highly influenced by both oursocial status and our region of origin. Thus, if a given speaker comes fromCounty Durham, for example, he or she probably uses the kind of language spokenby people from that part of the country. If this person is also a middle-classbusinessman, he uses the kind of language associated with people of this type.Kinds of language of this sort are often referred to as dialects, the firsttype in the previous example being a regional dialect and the second a a concept that tends to be confused with accent; however, it shouldbe explained that dialect has to do with lexical, grammatical and phoneticdifferences between different language varieties, whereas accent refers solelyto pronunciation. Taking the notion of dialect as a basis, I think that itwould be convenient to define language as the compilation of all the dialects(or language varieties) of a given linguistic system used worldwide.Accordingly, the English language as a whole would include not only EnglishEnglish, but also American English, Australian English, CanadianEnglish… As there mentioned, hence it becomes clear that the notion of aunique worldwide Standard English is simply an utopia which is quite farfrom becoming a reality, for as David Graddol suggests, “a standardvariety of English can only actually exist in the shape of one of its regionalvariations”. [6;190]

In the previousparagraph, it is noticed about concept that surely stands out in any discussionrevolving around dialectal issues: Standard English. This is the dialectwhich is normally used officially, that is, the kind of English to be found inprinted books, newspapers, educational contexts, dictionaries, grammar books…However, it is obvious importance should not deter us from considering andvaluing the existence of unofficial, or rather, non-standard dialects. As weshall see later on, it is when we start talking about standard and non-standarddialects that many social prejudices and misjudgments come into play. Havingmade clear some introductory concepts, it should be stated that the remainderof this part of term paper will be primarily concerned with one of the StandardEnglish is mentioned above: English English. This term refers to theEnglish language as spoken only in England. Even though “BritishEnglish” is more commonly used than “English English”to refer to the same reality, we should not forget that the former is reservedto describe the features common to all UK language varieties (English English,Welsh English, Scottish English, and sometimes Hiberno-English), while thelatter is restricted to the kind of English used only in England.mentionedabove, dialects are both regional and social, so it is no wonder that anyindividual speaker’s speech shows traces of his/her home town, his/herupbringing, education… Peter Trudgill calls the reader’s attention to thefact that there are certain parallels between the development of socialvarieties and that of regional varieties. He explains that the development ofboth regional and social varieties has to do with the existence of barriers:geographical, in the case of regional varieties, and social, in the case ofsocial varieties.[8; 23]

To provide an example ofthe first kind of barriers, it has been found that Traditional Dialect speakersin the areas of Britain north of the river Humber still have a monophthong inwords like house /hu:s/, whereas speakers south of the river have used adiphthong for several hundred years /haus/. Regional variation is undoubtedlyalso affected by distance, so the greater the geographical distance between twodialects the more dissimilar they are linguistically. With regards to socialdialects, we may say that they are also affected by the same kind of variablesto be found when studying regional dialects: barriers and distance.Nevertheless, social barriers and distance are not as clear-cut as geographicalbarriers and distance may appear to be, for what comes into play now is notsomething physical (a river, a mountain) but abstract. In fact, the division ofsociety into various strata is nothing but a fairly blurred and abstractclassification based on the notion of privilege, which is a concept determinedby power, wealth and status. Trudgill holds that it takes a long time for alinguistic innovation that begins among the highest social groups to spread tothe lowest social groups, thus emphasizing the paramount role that socialdistance may play when it comes to dealing with linguistic matters. Beforeturning our attention to more social aspects, we should bear in mind thatdialects are not discrete varieties, which means that it is not possible tostate in exact geographical and linguistic terms where people stop speakingCumbrian dialect and start speaking Geordie. Instead, we should refer to whatsociolinguists call a dialect continuum, i.e. a range of dialects spoken acrossa geographical area, differing only slightly between areas that aregeographically close, and gradually decreasing in mutual intelligibility as thedistances become greater. If we choose to place clear dividing lines betweenseveral dialects, basing our decision solely on county boundaries, then we willprobably be acting according to socio-political loyalties, rather thanlinguistic facts. This statement seems to make sense if we consider thedistinction drawn between Geordie (Newcastle) and Mackem (Sunderland), adistinction certainly based more on football rivalry and loyalty than on actuallinguistic facts., it may be deduced that dialects and accents in England areclearly related to differences of social-class background and prestige. Takingthis idea into account, the reader may begin to understand why the termsStandard English (a social dialect) and RP (a social accent) are socontroversial and so open to heated debate. Let us first provide some generalbackground on the emergence and subsequent importance of Standard English. Therise of a certain dialect as the standard variety of that language takes placesimultaneously with the rise of a given social group as the most powerful one.It is under such circumstances that the standard variety begins to acquire thesocial prestige with which we tend to associate the notion of standardness. InEngland, the standard variety derived from the south-eastern triangle aroundLondon, where the Normans established both their court and the university townsof Oxford and Cambridge. As centuries went by, the South-Eastern variety wasgradually imposed from above over the range of regional dialects; therebytrying to obliterate linguistic variation and diversity in favour of whatTrudgill calls a “superposed variety of language”. The arbitrarinessassociated with the standardization of a certain variety is evident if oneconceives the possibility that had the Normans established their Court in theNorth-East (instead of the South-East), this superposed variety nowadays wouldhave been closer to Geordie The official nature of standard English has led toits being regarded as the most perfect and accurate variety, against which allother English usage is measured. Contrary to expectations, however, the standardvariety is not intrinsically superior to other (non-standard) varieties, forthere is nothing linguistically (and hence, scientifically) relevant thatproves that a given variety is better than another one. As explained below,judgments of this kind are based not on linguistic facts, but on socio-economicmisjudgments or prejudices. For many years, Standard English has been closelylinked to a particular accent, the so-called RP (Received Pronunciation). Thisupper-class kind of accent began to been utilized in the most famous Englishfee-paying or Public schools at the end of the nineteenth century. From thenon, RP came to be viewed as the best English accent, that is, the accenteveryone should master or aim at achieving. Due to its social and educationalprestige, RP is also referred to as The Queen’s English or even BBC English (inthe early years of broadcasting it was very rare to hear any other accents onthe BBC). Surprising though it may seem, this social accent is not necessarilylinked to Standard English, which can be spoken with any regional accent.Despite the widespread foreign (and ESL) belief that everyone in England speaksStandard English with an RP pronunciation, it should be pointed out thataccording to Melchers & Shaw, “only 12 per cent of the population ofEngland are speakers of Standard English; nine per cent speak Standard Englishwith a regional accent [ 7;47]. What these figures suggest is, first andforemost, that the number of speakers of Standard English in England is very small,and secondly, that only 3% of the total population of England speak StandardEnglish with an RP accent. All things considered, it is paramount that we endthis section by examining the interrelationship between geographical variationand social variation in England. In order to fulfill this purpose, we shallrefer to Trudgill’s pyramidal illustration of these issues. [8; 30-3]alreadynoted, Standard English is the language variety employed by those who havereceived a good education; hence, educated middle and upper classes. SinceStandard English is not a fully homogeneous variety, it is not at all strikingto find some small regional differences among educated speakers of thisdialect. Nevertheless, as we proceed downwards in the social scale, we will findthat regional differences among speakers increase gradually (precisely for thisreason, some working-class dialects are so localized geographically and sodifficult to understand).Concerning accent, we may observe that the ratherflattened top of the dialectal pyramid turns into a clearly pointed top orpeak. This change in shape may be explained by reference to the unique positionof the RP accent; it is such a prestigious and educated accent that regionalvariation among those who use it (mainly upper class people) is non-existent.

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