Standard and Non-Standard English English Language Unit 1 AoS 1: The nature and functions of language Week 2, Term 1, 2013
The structure of English • The English that you speak has a highly organised structure • If you are a native speaker, this structure has been internalised unconsciously simply by being part of the speech community. • Your knowledge of the principles that account for the regularity of language (sounds, words, ‘rules’ etc.) is automatic • N.B. this is very different from the ‘codes of regulation’ that are imposed from outside e.g. grammar rules taught to you by your English teacher • You may not be able to articulate these internalised ‘rules’ but you know when something goes wrong.
For example: • One manin in January me and my spars dem was coming from a club. • I got one mate what goes to a private school. • What’s wrong with all them ‘political correct’ people? • I never see no spirits. • There’s fairies at the bottom of my garden. • There are fairies at the bottom of my garden. • You may argue that most of these are not ‘correct’ English (perhaps that 6 is the only ‘correct’ sentence of the lot!) • Would you argue that some of these examples are more acceptable in spoken than written language? Why/Why not? • Sentences like those above are not really errors of English, but rather errors of Standard English.
Standard English and other dialects • It’s important to remember that we are all dialect speakers. • Standard English happens to be the most prominent dialect in Australian society. • The fact that the ‘standard’ variety appears in dictionaries etc. must not be taken to mean it is inherently ‘better’ than other dialects. • Non-standard (vernacular) is not sub-standard. • This subject is not concerned with making prescriptive statements i.e. stating what people should be saying • Rather, we concern ourselves with making descriptive statements based on active observation i.e. studying and describing what people do, in fact, say and write.
Living languages change. FACT. • Often you’ll find that constructions considered ‘ungrammatical’ are instances of change in progress. • E.G. ‘You’re going home soon, isn’t it’ – is now frequent in the speech of many educated speakers (although not yet in writing) • This example is still considered non-standard (so don’t use it in your essays!), however, given time it may very well become accepted. • You can never stop a living language from changing – only dead ones stand still!! • We are always dealing with flux (flow in and out) and variance (change) that result from changes in time or place
For Example: • Genimswineslungennegebraed 7 on neahtnerstiggenimfifsnaedasimle. (10th century English meaning “Take a pig’s lung, roast it, and at night-fasting take five slices away”) • Votsort of a stone were hit has hi heaved.(Early Australian English from the 19th century meaning “What sort of stone was it that I heaved?”) • We seeim buffalo got big horn. (Current day Australian creole meaning “We saw a buffalo with big horns”) • He’ll might could get you one. (Current day Scots English) • It’s an intelligent game for a family to be a happy field. Spring your miracle, competite your level.(Instructions for a marble game made in China) • So if anything happens like… there’s like if someone tries to rob them or something, they run into the panic room. (Spoken 21st century Melbourne English) • >Having a nice holiday? > Yep! Too much chocolate though :-/ (email message)
Linguistic variation • Just this handful of examples gives you an ideal of the extraordinary array of ‘Englishes’ that fall under the one label of ‘English’ • Linguistic variation and language change is something we will cover further in Unit 2, however, it is important to understand now that: • Time influences language. • At any given time, English will vary across space (place). • Furthermore, we alter our language use to suit our situation: relationship between speakers and their audience, the setting, the subject matter, whether spoken or written mode is used etc. • There is no one ‘English’ with an unchanging set of features that is more correct than all others . • The term ‘English language’ is really shorthand for what is a remarkable assortment of different varieties of English with a shared history.
Activity 1 Read the following statements about Australian English and decide which ones reflect a prescriptive approach to language and which ones are descriptive. • The Australian has a lazy way of talking through closed teeth. Much remains to be done. • The habit of talking with the mouth half open all the time is another manifestation of the national ‘tired feeling’. Many of the more typical bumpkins never shut their mouths. This is often a symptom of post-nasal adenoids and hypertrophy of the tonsils; the characteristic Australian disease. • The standard we ought to aim at is good Australian speech – not any other kind. It may not have the richness of good Irish, they rhythm of good American, or the tonal variety of good southern English, but it has its own quality. • Much of the surface of our language – some of our pronunciation and grammar, and a lot of our vocabulary – are converging with America’s.
Activity 2 Watch this video of comedian Adam Hills talking about Australian accents. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpBYnL5fAXE • Do you agree with his contention that: • ‘Australians make their voices sound insecure because they are desperately seeking the approval of others’ • ‘Australians make their statements sound like questions because they are too afraid to make a sincere statement.’ • Write a 500 word response, including examples and linguistic evidence to support your argument.