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What Is Standard English?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Standard English is typically seen as the most commonly accepted form of English language in a particular region, usually a geographical and political region such as a country. This means that different countries that speak English may have different standard forms of English. Unlike some other languages and nations, such as “standard” French as established by the Académie Française, there are not typically governing bodies that standardize English; standardization usually comes from general consensus or agreement. Standard English is often viewed as a particular dialect of English that is generally agreed upon by English speakers as the standard against which other dialects are compared.

When someone refers to “standard English,” he or she is usually referring to the standard form of English in a particular region. Standard English in America, for example, has numerous differences from the standard form of English in the UK or Australia. Many of these differences are fairly small, however, and do not necessarily affect meaning or communication between speakers of these different dialects. Other geographical differences in English, such as regional dialects within a particular country, are usually seen as separate dialects from the standard form of English and are usually compared to the standard form when analyzing them.

Standard English is not typically established by an organization or political agency, but is instead created through common agreement on how English should sound in a particular area. Other languages are not always standardized in this way; French, for example, is standardized through a number of different organizations, such as the Académie Française in France. In America, standard English has been created by academics, news reporters, and writers through common agreement on what spellings, phrases, and words are to be used in such settings. These standard practices are not forced upon speakers, but instead are seen as a “best practice” with regard to English.

In fact, standard English can be seen and studied as a particular dialect of English. Little separates it from other regional dialects, other than the fact that scholars and researchers use it as the standard against which other dialects are compared. This is not done to reduce the importance or validity of such dialects, but merely for ease in research and establishing differences in various regions. Standard English can refer to pronunciation and word choice common in standard speaking, as well as certain standards in written language, often called standard written English (SWE), that are expected in academic and professional writing.

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Discussion Comments
By elizabeth23 — On Nov 02, 2011

@afterall- It can be hard to teach English because of the lack of a standard English definition that is really official anywhere. Students come to English with all sorts of different backgrounds, including British English, American English, or European English, to name a few, and each is different. Many text books are written with a specific system, but then it's important to teach the differences of the other systems, too, which can really confuse younger students, rather than making it easier to learn.

By afterall — On Nov 02, 2011

@aaaCookie- I think that is interesting, I remembered that a few weeks ago when I was reading about official languages in countries.

If you ask Americans, of course, they will they theirs is the standard and places like Britain have a non standard English, and so on; I think that's fine, of course, but probably difficult for learners of the language.

By aaaCookie — On Nov 01, 2011

What I find really interesting about the idea of standard English is that for all of the countries around the world which count English among their official languages, it is actually not the official language in the largest English-speaking country, the United States. I think that if it were, the concept of an officially standardized English language might have happened by now.

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