Standard v non-standard English

According to reports on the BBC and elsewhere, a primary school in Middlesbrough has sent out a letter to parents asking them to stop their children from using certain ‘non-standard’ phrases and pronunciation.

Here are some examples:
- It’s nowt – it’s nothing
- Gizit ere – please give me it
- Yous – the word you is never a plural
- I seen that – I have seen that or I saw that
- I done that – I have done that or I did that

According to the headteacher of the school:

“We would like to equip our children to go into the world of work and not be disadvantaged. We need the children to know there is a difference between dialect, accent and standard English. The literacy framework asks children to write in standard English. I am not asking the children to change their dialect or accent but I don’t want them to enter the world of work without knowing about standard English.”

The headteacher says that she isn’t asking the kids to change the way they speak, but at the same time she is asking their parents to ‘correct’ the kids non-standard phrases and pronunciation – a bit of a mixed message.

In another report on this story, the headteacher is quoted as saying:

“I don’t want the children to be disadvantaged. Using standard English in applications and job interviews is important. You don’t want the children to lose their identity, but you do want them to be able to communicate properly with people and be understood. We are going to teach them the rules. If they decide not to use these rules with friends that is fine, but I want them to know that when they are filling in application forms and speaking in a formal situation they should use standard English.”

She also mentions that there has been a decline in spelling and grammar, with children reading less for pleasure.

Perhaps if the children were taught to read and write both in standard in English and in their local dialect, they would read more.

There’s some interesting discussion in and about Middlesbrough dialect on the the BBC Voices site.

Have you been corrected for using ‘non-standard’ forms of speech at school or elsewhere?

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This entry was posted in English, Language.

5 Responses to Standard v non-standard English

  1. David Eger says:

    Personally, I don’t remember ever having my speech ‘corrected’ – both my parents are Standard English speakers (both from N. England, but without strong regional accents), so I suppose that lay the foundation for the way I spoke and speak. I certainly remember some teachers correcting other kids on phrases like: “I done” (I did), “I never” (I didn’t), “You was” (You were) and other typical features of London speech. I was at school in the 80s.

  2. Andrew says:

    I see the reason for sending out that letter to the parents, but I think it sends the wrong message. If you want the children at your school to learn “standard English”, then teach it to them in school. This is what school is for. At home, I think parents should be free to speak to their children however they want and only correct their child’s grammar if they feel it is important. But preserving linguistic diversity in the form of regional accents is a must. Children will, on their own, pick up on how to code-switch in formal and less formal situations.

  3. Armen says:

    There is nothing wrong is saying “I dunno” instead of “I do not know”. Students do not need to sound like textbooks in their everyday conversations. Perhaps there should be more emphasis on explaining to the students that there is a sort of “standard English” that is to be used in writing and formal speech so that it can be clearly understood by people throughout the English-speaking world.
    Oddly, the principal is touting the importance of “standard English” but she speaks with a “regional” accent. Why not teach Received Pronunciation if she is so concerned about being “standard”?
    Prescriptivism is sad in that it not only attempts to stifle linguistic diversity, but it also affects peoples’ self-esteem because it tells them they are somehow wrong or uneducated.

  4. Andrew says:

    They’re right (the school), no matter how much the parents or anyone else doesn’t like it, they’re right. They’re trying to say, very politely: talking like this makes you sound stupid, stop. They’re right, it does make you sound uneducated and lower class and will consequently hurt and limit you as you grow older, so telling them this early on and trying to help them stop it is the right thing to do, it’s helping those children, regardless of who it might offend.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  5. Ben says:

    People tend to forget that “Standard” English is also a dialect, and the only reason that the “standard” became what it is today is that it happened to have an army and navy behind it. People need to be able to speak and understand the standard dialect, it’s true, but to attempt to limit the English language to one or two variants is wrong and, frankly, unrealistic.
    Language is simply fulfilling its function when it alters shape, and the linguistic community should be viewing these changes with scientific interest.