Standard Language

One purpose of standard language is the creation of a level playing field. It is the place where people get together who speak in vernaculars, with accents, and in specialized language.

An author from India may have won a prestigious prize, and  sold millions of books, but if she speaks English the way she speaks at home, with all the local vocabulary, and influences from, say, Hindi, or Gujarati, I may not be able to understand her, yet I can read her books with ease because they are written in Standard English.

A doctor may speak in highly technical language in the operating room, but would speak in standard language to the patient’s family in the waiting room.

I had a student from a poor town in New Jersey who struggled when he tried to write in Standard English, and when he spoke, there were times when I could barely understand him. He told me he wanted to be a policeman, and that was a good moment to explain the purpose of standard language to him. “When you are a policemen, let’s say you go into an apartment and find a terrified mother and three children.  You might speak in the language she would be most comfortable with, which might be your home vernacular. If you found a young man who was challenging you, you might pull out your best Standard English to show him who was boss. In court, you would use Standard English so you were sure everyone understood you.”

He got it, and understanding the purpose of standard language made it easier, he said, to focus on  the forms of his writing.

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