:-) mostly -- McWhorter on "standard English"

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM
Thu Jan 14 20:06:50 UTC 2010

A nice unfolding of the problematics of this nexus of terms.

I suppose in the UK the default interpretation of the words "standard
English" would be RP -- Received Standard Pronunciation.

Expanding, when a distinction is made, "Received Standard English" would
refer to the written standard, "Received Standard Pronunciation" to what was
once referred to as BBC English and sometimes the Queen's (was the King's)

Except that this is English as in England, not as in the United Kingdom,
since Received Standard Scots pronunciation differs from RP.

The written versions of Received Standard English/American/Scots are to a
large degree [caveats flagged] identical, and no doubt can all be traced
back to Caxton's attempt, successful as it turned out [though again there
are caveats to be noted] to impose the language of the [London] court and
the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge on an unsuspecting public.

Indeed, when it comes to even Received Standard (written) English, there are
different conventions at work in manuscript/typescript writing, printed
texts, and email communications.

[Has anyone documented the way in which emails tend to abolish tone to a
greater degree than either formal written communications or telephone

So to dialect ...

"Dialect" (along with a refusal to use an apostrophe in transcribing spoken
Urban Scots) was one of the hot-button issues in The Glasgow Language Wars
of the sixties.  Some people (myself among them) refused to use the term
"dialect", since it implied that the speech in question was a deviation from
or distortion of "Standard English" rather than an independently derived
speech form.

This seems to have faded a little in the course of time, as (though I jerked
a little when I heard it) on November 2009 I heard one of the major
protagonists of the sixties GLW utter the word "dialect" in the course of a
speech at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow.

I'm now myself prepared to use the term "dialect", but always with the
implicit proviso that Standard English (or American or Scots) is simply one
dialect of the many dialects of English, with no linguistically priviledged

Robin Hamilton

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jonathan Lighter" <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Thursday, January 14, 2010 1:16 PM
Subject: Re: :-) mostly -- McWhorter on "standard English"

> ---------------------- Information from the mail
> header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: :-) mostly -- McWhorter on "standard English"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> The received wisdom in my day was that "no one speaks standard English,
> though many write it."
> But that depends on what you mean by "standard English."  Usually it is
> regarded as a written standard, with idiosyncracies of spelling and
> grammar
> weeded out.
> If you consider "standard English" to apply to speech, whose dialect do
> you
> recommend?
> The BBC used to have lofty and restricted standards, as did the British
> educational system, but their effect on Americans was to simply to make
> British broadcasters and Conservative politicians sound like experts or
> snobs.
> Speaking as both expert *and* snob, I find this application of "standard
> English"  misleading at the very least, unless you believe that old-time
> Tories and BBC news readers should be, on whatever curious
> principle, the standard-bearers of the English language.
> JL
>> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the
>> truth."
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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