Standard English (SE) refers to whatever form of the English language is accepted as a national norm in any English-speaking country. It encompasses grammar, vocabulary and spelling. In the British Isles, particularly in England and Wales, it is often associated with: the "Received Pronunciation" accent (there are several variants of the accent) and UKSE (United Kingdom Standard English), which refers to grammar and vocabulary. In Scotland the standard is Scottish Standard English. In the United States it is generally associated with (though controversially) the General American accent and in Australia with General Australian. Unlike the case of other standard languages, however, no official or central regulating body defines Standard English.
Although Standard English is generally the most formal version of the language, a range of registers exists within Standard English, as is often seen when comparing a newspaper article with an academic paper, for example. A distinction also should be drawn between spoken and written standards. Spoken standards are traditionally looser than their written counterparts, and quicker to accept new grammatical forms and vocabulary. The various geographical varieties form a generally accepted set of rules, often those established by grammarians of the 18th century.
English originated in England during the Anglo-Saxon period, and is now spoken as a first or second language in many countries of the world, many of which have developed one or more "national standards". English is the first language of the majority of the population in a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas and Barbados and is an official language in many others, including; India, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa and Nigeria.
As the result of historical migrations of English-speaking populations and colonization, and the predominant use of English as the international language of trade and commerce (lingua franca), English has also become the most widely used second language. In countries where English is not either a native language or is not widely spoken, a non-native variant (typically English English or North American English) might be considered "standard" for teaching purposes.
Although the Standard Englishes of the various Anglophone countries are very similar, nonetheless, often minor grammatical differences occur between them. In American and Australian English, for example, "sunk" and "shrunk" as past tense forms of "sink" and "shrink" are beginning to become acceptable as standard forms, whereas standard British English still insists on "sank" and "shrank". In South African English, the deletion of verbal complements is becoming common. This phenomenon sees the objects of transitive verbs being omitted: "Did you get?", "You can put in the box". This kind of construction is not standard in most other forms of standard English.
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What counts as Standard English will depend on both the locality and the particular varieties with which Standard English is being contrasted. A form considered standard in one region may be non-standard in another, and a form that is standard by contrast with one variety (for example the language of inner-city African Americans) may be considered non-standard by contrast with the usage of middle-class professionals. No matter how it is interpreted, however, Standard English in this sense should not be regarded as being necessarily correct or unexceptionable, since it will include many kinds of language that could be faulted on various grounds, like the language of corporate memos and television advertisements or the conversations of middle-class high-school pupils. Thus, while the term can serve a useful descriptive purpose providing the context makes its meaning clear, it should not be construed as conferring any absolute positive evaluation.
With rare exceptions, Standard Englishes use either American or British spelling systems, or a mixture of the two (such as in Canadian English and Australian English spelling). British spellings usually dominate in Commonwealth countries.
- Comparison of American and British English
- International English
- Internet linguistics
- Modern English
- World Englishes
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