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Standardisation Is Motivated In The First Place English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1889 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Many people regard having a standard language to contain numerous benefits for society because it enables different people from far distant locations to be able to communicate and understand each other, however, this would not be case if one were communicating in his own regional dialect. Even nowadays fluent English speakers would struggle to understand someone who speaks with the Geordie variety. ‘Standard language has been defined as one that shows maximal variation in function and minimal variation in form. Maximal variation of function means that a language community uses its language for all purposes, both locally and nationwide’. (Nevalainen 2006:29). During the late Middle Ages in England, English was restricted to local use and at home not across the country as England was ruled in French and Latin, as they were seen as the prestige varieties. Terttu Nevalainen (2006) comments on the situation in English during the Middle Ages and states that ‘in sociolinguistic terms the situation was one of diglossia: co-occurring languages served different functions in the community’. (p.29)

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But what is exactly meant by standardisation? ‘Standardisation is the process leading to the emergence of a standard language, and involves the reduction in variability in terms of the grammatical and vocabulary choices that can be made’. (Culpeper et al. 2009:224). For instance, previously in Old English multiple negations were frequent, however in SE only a single negation is used.

The American linguist Einar Haugen (1972) outlined four stages in the development of a standard language: selection, elaboration, codification and implementation (also referred to as acceptance). These are the four main processes involved in standardising any language. Selection involves the selection of a particular variety within the language to be used as the standard throughout the country. For a number of reasons the London-based variety which had a Midlands basis was selected. London was the capital, centre for court, administration and trade. It was the largest population surpassing its European neighbours. (Culpeper et al. 2009:237). Also in 1476, Caxton established the first printing press in England at Westminster and he modelled what he produced from the variety in London. Thus the books which were printed were published throughout the entire country. In addition, the first English Bible was William Tyndale’s New Testament translation which printed became available everywhere. (Crystal 2004:271). However others such as Wales (2002) have argued that the language of Northern England had a far greater importance both historically and in contemporary society, as this was the region in which Industrial Revolution flourished and where the writing of literature in dialect had continued for over 150. (cited in Culpeper et al, 2009:235).

Elaboration, meanwhile, means ensuring that the selected variety to be standardised is capable of fulfilling its necessary requirements. Historically, until 1380 English was very much competing with French for official affairs of state. The 1362 Statute of Pleading ensured that court proceedings would be conducted in English. (Baugh and Cable 1993:145). Also, Latin not English was the main language of science. However, when English was no longer competing with other languages it needed a vast expansion of the vocabulary, which was mainly achieved through adopting Latin and Greek words, and an expansion in the range of styles, especially written. (Culpeper et al. 2009:237).

Codification refers to writing down all the rules and vocabulary which govern the selected variety. Discussions on codifying English first took place in the seventeenth century were attempts were made to regulate English in the same way as the Academie Francaise was doing for French, however nothing was really established. Also, English did not really possess a dictionary until 1755, when Samuel Johnson published his A Dictionary of the English Language. In addition words and their usages appeared according to their occurrence in what he considered the ‘best’ authors -thereby confirming the standard as a language of literacy and ‘high’ culture. Descriptive grammers were more limited, with the exception of Joseph Priestley’s 1761 The Rudiments of English Grammer, the grammars recorded were prescriptive i.e. stating that which should and not be said and written. (Culpeper 2009:238)

Implementation – the forth process involved in standardisation, involves the general acceptability of the population of the norms of the variety selected over other such present varieties. This is through the spread and enforcement of such norms. Also it is aided through various institutions, schools, government and religious institutions. For example, the establishment of the printing press in London spread this particular variety across the country by making the books and literature available. Thus this made it easy to standardise at least the written language. Therefore, Wiliams 2007 asserts the status of SE with its eighteenth-century prescriptive additions, remained unchallenged during the nineteenth century with 1870 Education Act promoting the teaching of SE, as did official educational policy in England throughout the twentieth century and up until today (cited in Culpeper 2009:238).

The rise of the standard language in the fifteenth century meant that it quickly became equated with correct speech, whereas dialect came to be associated with uneducated and incorrect usage. The printing presses soon ironed out the remaining local differences in written English, as was only to be expected in view of the fact that 98 per cent of all English books were printed in London. (Gorlach 1991:13). The EModE period was a time of tremendous political, economic, technological and social change in Britain that was to change the size, shape and functioning of the world and with it the English language. (Fennell 2001:136).

The reconstruction of any language before 1900 must, in the first phase at least, be that of the written language, which may vary to a greater or lesser extent from the spoken. Direct evidence of the spoken English of the time is very scarce, as is pointed out by Barber (1976:48-56). Whether in allegedly literal protocols or court proceedings, popular dramatic scenes (Kings 1941) or texts representing Early Modern English (EModE) dialects – the standardising effect of editing must always be reckoned with sermons and speeches, which are still extant in great numbers and which were written down for oral delivery diverge from spoken English on the rhetorical level. Also, the spoken and written forms of a language also differ in modern times as a consequence of the requirements of different types of communicative situations, despite the fact that most native speakers are also writers of the language and that users frequently have occasion both to speak and to write on the same topic. Since in EModE times competence in written English was not as common as it is today, and the need to switch from the spoken to the written language and back again was less frequent, it may be assumed that the two subsystems were further apart then than they are in modern speech communities.

Furthermore, Gorlalch (1991) highlights that now written language was more superregional and homogenous but also more dependent on style and literary traditions. Two counter-directional developments occurred within EModE, affecting the interrelationship of the two subsystems:

The increasing influence of the schools brought spelling and pronunciation closer together, the spelling most often affecting the pronunciation of a particular word.

Increasing use of the written form as a consequence of changing communicative needs and conventions and its ‘improvements’ in accordance with Latin models meant that the written language diverged from spoken English , in the particular at the level of syntax.


In neither Germany nor Italy was the standardisation of the written language associated with the establishment of a strong central language administration. In both it was largely commercial, although it did mark the emergence of a sense of nationhood. In Germany the centralized power of the Emperor began to disintegrate in the thirteenth century , and some of the earliest documents in German are the 2500 ‘Urkunden’ from before 1299 (2200 of them are from the High German area), documents that arbitrated differences between the newly independent dukes and counts. These were all in regional dialects. In the meantime, the cities of the Hanseatic League created a Low German commercial language, not unlike Dutch, from which a large body of contracts and commercial correspondence survives. But as power moved to central Germany, the influence of the Hanseatic koine died. Standard written High German evolved from its three successive Imperial chancelleries. P77

In essence it is clear that European languages were standardised first in writng and only later in speech. Second, standard written forms appeared first in official government and business documents. (Fisher 1996:81). Hence this served as the basis for the usage of scribes and printers and eventually of handbooks and dictionaries created for teaching the standard written language.

Every enduring civilisation has had a writing system and archives. Like those of the Roman Empire and Medieval Europe, the writing systems of all of the ancient civilisations were the products of official secretariats striving for uniformity and continuity. For instance with the support of Andrew Carnegie’s $250,000, the Simplified Spelling Board in the early 1900s undertook to revise English spelling. However no change came into fruition. Thus the standard language is nothing other than official language of government , the judiciary, and business. It is still anchored as firmly in the seats of power as it has been since the dawn of writing. (Fisher 1996:82). When there have been attempts of spelling and lexical reforms, there were institutions set up and sponsored by governments to carry out such reforms like in Italy and Spain, and almost so in England in EModE period.

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In light of the statement of Milroy and Milroy (1999) an absolute standardisation of a spoken language is almost impossible. Historically written language has always differed from the spoken language. However, after they have been codified, written languages have more influence upon the structure and pronunciation of the spoken than do the spoken on the structure and orthography of the written. .As the written form has over the years become more standardised due mainly to the influence of education. Despite this has had little impact on the spoken stratum. 83

In conclusion, although many may consider SE to be the variety which is pushed in society it does contain flaws. Standard English is in many ways a social class dialect used by middle-class speakers. Studies have repeatedly shown that it is difficult for some children from working class backgrounds to acquire written Standard English.


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