Standard language

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A standard language (also standard variety, standard dialect, and standard) is defined either as a language variety employed by a population for public communications,[1] or as the variety of language that has undergone codification of grammar and usage.[2] The term standard language occasionally refers to a language that includes a standardized form as one of its varieties, referring to the entirety of the language (or an ensemble of similar, standardized varieties) rather than a single, codified form.[3][4] Typically, the language varieties that undergo substantive standardization are the dialects spoken and written in centers of commerce and government;[5] which, by the process that linguistic anthropologists call "referential displacement"[6] and that sociolinguists call "elaboration of function",[7] acquire the social prestige associated with commerce and government, the speakers thus believe that the standard language is inherently superior, or believe it the linguistic baseline, by which to judge other language varieties.[8]

The standardization of a language usually includes fixing the spelling of the prestige dialect, and codifying usages and precise meanings (denotation and connotation) with formal grammars and dictionaries published to encourage the public acceptance of the codifications.[9][10] In that vein, a pluricentric language has interacting standard varieties;[11][12][13] examples are English, French, and Portuguese, German, Korean, and Serbo-Croatian, Spanish and Swedish, Armenian and Mandarin;[14][15] whereas monocentric languages, such as Russian and Japanese, have one standardized idiom.[16]

In Europe, a standardized written language is sometimes identified with the German word Schriftsprache (written language). The term literary language is occasionally used as a synonym for standard language, especially with respect to the Slavic languages,[17] a naming convention still prevalent in the linguistic traditions of Eastern Europe.[18][19] In contemporary linguistic usage, the terms standard dialect and standard variety are neutral synonyms for the term standard language, usages which indicate that the standard is one of many dialects and varieties of a language, rather than the totality of the language, whilst minimizing the negative implication of social subordination that the standard is the only idiom worthy of the appellation "language".[20][21]


In the context of languages, the word standard can be a misleading definition, because a living language cannot be standardized, like machined parts made to standard specifications; thus, the term standard language does not imply either a best or a superior form of speech.[22][23] Standard-language varieties are developed from related dialects, either by social action to elevate a given dialect, such as that used in culture or government, or by defining the standard from selected features of existing varieties.[24] Typically, a relatively fixed orthography is prescribed for a standard language, usually codified in grammars and normative dictionaries, or by an agreed collection of example texts.[24] Whether or not the grammars and dictionaries are created by the state or privately (e.g. Webster's Dictionary) the codifications are regarded as the standard of language, when applied as authoritative for correcting language.[25] Consequently, the codifications, of fixed usages and written forms, make the standard language the more stable idiom of communication, than the purely spoken varieties; and are the bases for further linguistic development (Ausbau).[24] In practice, the standard language is the reference norm for writing (in broadcasting and official communications) and is the form of language taught in schools to non-native learners.[26]

In that way, the standard variety acquires prestige and a greater functional importance than vernacular varieties.[26] Those varieties are said to be dependent on, or heteronomous with respect to, the standard idiom, because speakers read and write the standard, and refer to it as an authority in such matters as specialist terminology, and any standardizing changes in their speech are towards that standard.[27] In some cases, such as Standard English, this process may take place over an extended period without government intervention. In others it may be deliberately directed by official institutions, such as the Académie française or Real Academia Española, and can proceed much more quickly.[26]

There exist two ways of interpreting the notion of 'standard language': on the one hand, it can be defined as the sociolect of a certain social stratum, as an actual entity; while on the other hand, it can be described as an abstract result of regulatory processes, existing only in the form of a normative idealization.[28] As some linguists have observed, complete standardization of living languages is not practically achievable, and standard dialects do not function as real entities, but rather as sets of abstract norms, which are adhered to in varying degrees in actual linguistic practice.[29][30] Varieties that come to be called "standard" are therefore neither uniform nor fully stabilized, especially in their spoken forms.[31] The American linguist Suzanne Romaine suggests that the notion of standard languages can be compared to the concept of imagined communities described by Benedict Anderson.[30] In addition, language standardization is not a universal phenomenon but rather a result of socio-historical factors.[30] Most of the approximately 7,000 languages of the world do not have officially codified norms.[30]

Language standardization is often linked to the formation, or attempted formation, of nation states, as language is seen as the vehicle of a shared culture.[32] Different national standards derived from a dialect continuum may become treated as different languages, even if they are mutually intelligible.[33][34] The Scandinavian languages, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, are often cited as examples.[35]

In other cases governments or neighbouring populations may seek to deny a standard independent status.[36] In response, developers of a standard may base it on more divergent varieties. Thus after Norway became independent at the start of the 20th century, the Bokmål standard based on the speech of Oslo was felt to be too similar to Danish by Ivar Aasen, who developed a rival Nynorsk standard based on western dialects. Similarly, when a standard was developed in the Yugoslav republic of Macedonia from local varieties within a continuum with Serbia to the north and Bulgaria to the east, it was deliberately based on vernaculars from the west of the republic that were most different from standard Bulgarian. Now known as Macedonian, it is the national standard of the independent Republic of North Macedonia, but still viewed by Bulgarians as a dialect of Bulgarian.[37]



Chinese consists of hundreds of local varieties, many of which are not mutually intelligible, usually classified into seven to ten major groups, including Mandarin, Wu, Yue, Hakka and Min. Before the 20th century, most Chinese spoke only their local variety. For two millennia, formal writing had been done in Literary Chinese (or Classical Chinese), a style modelled on the classics and far removed from any contemporary speech.[38] As a practical measure, officials of the late imperial dynasties carried out the administration of the empire using a common language based on Mandarin varieties, known as Guānhuà (literally "speech of officials").[39]

In the early 20th century, many Chinese intellectuals argued that the country needed a standardized language. By the 1920s, Literary Chinese had been replaced as the written standard by written vernacular Chinese, which was based on Mandarin dialects.[40] In the 1930s, Standard Chinese was adopted, with its pronunciation based on the Beijing dialect, but with vocabulary also drawn from other Mandarin varieties and its syntax based on the written vernacular.[41] It is the official spoken language of the People's Republic of China (where it is called Pǔtōnghuà "common speech"), the de facto official language of the Republic of China governing Taiwan (as Guóyǔ "national language") and one of the official languages of Singapore (as Huáyǔ "Chinese language").[42] Standard Chinese now dominates public life, and is much more widely studied than any other variety of Chinese.[43]


In British English the standard, known as Standard English (SE), is historically based on the language of the medieval English court of Chancery.[44] The late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the establishment of this standard as the norm of "polite" society, that is to say of the upper classes.[45] The spoken standard has come to be seen as a mark of good education and social prestige.[46] Although often associated with the RP accent, SE can be spoken with any accent, such as General American, General Australian, etc.[44]


The standard form of Modern Greek is based on the Southern dialects; these dialects are spoken mainly in the Peloponnese, the Ionian Islands, Attica, Crete and the Cyclades.[47]


Two standardised registers of the Hindustani language have legal status in India: Standard Hindi (one of 23 co-official national languages) and Urdu (Pakistan’s official tongue), resultantly, Hindustani often called “Hindi-Urdu".[48]


An Caighdeán Oifigiúil ("The Official Standard"), often shortened to An Caighdeán, is official standard of the Irish language. It is taught in most schools in Ireland, though with strong influences from local dialects. It was first published by the translators in Dáil Éireann in the 1950s.[49] As of September 2013,[50] the first major revision of the Caighdeán Oifigiúil is available, both online[51] and in print.[52] Among the changes to be found in the revised version are, for example, various attempts to bring the recommendations of the Caighdeán closer to the spoken dialect of Gaeltacht speakers,[53] including allowing further use of the nominative case where the genitive would historically have been found.[54]


Standard Italian is derived from the Tuscan dialect, specifically from its Florentine variety—the Florentine influence upon early Italian literature established that dialect as base for the standard language of Italy. In particular, Italian became the language of culture for all the people of Italy, thanks to the prestige of the masterpieces of Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca, Giovanni Boccaccio, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Francesco Guicciardini. It would later become the official language of all the Italian states, and after the Italian unification it became the national language of the Kingdom of Italy.[55] Modern Standard Italian's lexicon has been deeply influenced by almost all regional languages of Italy while its received pronunciation (known as Pronuncia Fiorentina Emendata, Amended Florentine Pronunciation) is based on the accent of Romanesco (Roman dialect); these are the reasons why Standard Italian differs significantly from the Tuscan dialect.[56]


Classical Latin was the literary standard dialect of Latin spoken by higher socioeconomic classes, as opposed to the Vulgar Latin which is the generic term of the colloquial sociolects of Latin spoken across the Roman Empire by uneducated and less-educated classes. The Latin brought by Roman soldiers to Gaul, Iberia, or Dacia was not identical to the Latin of Cicero, and differed from it in vocabulary, syntax, and grammar.[57]


In Brazil, actors and journalists usually adopt an unofficial, but de facto, spoken standard Portuguese, originally derived from the middle-class dialects of Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, but that now encompasses educated urban pronunciations from the different speech communities in the southeast. In that standard, ⟨s⟩ represents the phoneme /s/ when it appears at the end of a syllable (whereas in Rio de Janeiro this represents /ʃ/) the rhotic consonant spelled ⟨r⟩ is pronounced [h] in the same situation (whereas in São Paulo this is usually an alveolar flap or trill). European and African dialects have differing realizations of /ʁ/ than Brazilian dialects, with the former using [ʁ] and [r] and the latter using [x], [h], or [χ].[58]


Four standard variants of the pluricentric Serbo-Croatian are spoken in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia.[15][59] They all have the same dialect basis (Štokavian).[48][60][61] These variants do differ slightly, as is the case with other pluricentric languages,[48][62] but not to a degree that would justify considering them as different languages. The differences between the variants do not hinder mutual intelligibility and do not undermine the integrity of the system as a whole.[63][64][65] Compared to the differences between the variants of English, German, French, Spanish, or Portuguese, the distinctions between the variants of Serbo-Croatian are less significant.[66][67] Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro in their constitution have all named the language differently.[68]


In Somalia, Northern Somali (or North-Central Somali) forms the basis for Standard Somali,[69] particularly the Mudug dialect of the northern Darod clan. Northern Central Somali has frequently been used by famous Somali poets as well as the political elite, and thus has the most prestige among other Somali dialects.[70]

See also


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  2. ^ Finegan 2007, p. 14.
  3. ^ Словарь социолингвистических терминов (in Russian). Moscow: Российская академия наук. Институт языкознания. Российская академия лингвистических наук. 2006. p. 53–55.
  4. ^ Kapović, Mate (2011). "Language, Ideology and Politics in Croatia" (PDF). Slavia centralis. IV/2: 46–48.
  5. ^ Anne Curzan. "Teaching the Politics of Standard English", Journal of English Linguistics, 30.4, pp. 339–352.
  6. ^ Silverstein, Michael. (1996). "Monoglot 'Standard' in America: Standardization and Metaphors of Linguistic Hegemony", The Matrix of Language Donald Brennis and Ronald H.S. Macaulay, eds. Routledge pp. 284–306.
  7. ^ Milroy, James; Milroy, Lesley (2012) Authority in Language: Investigating Standard English (4th ed.) New York: Routledge. p. 22.ISBN 978-0-415-69683-8
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  9. ^ Carter, Ronald. (1999) "Standard Grammars, Spoken Grammars: Some Educational Implications." Bex, T. and Watts R.J. (eds). Standard English: The Widening Debate. Routledge: 149-166.
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  14. ^ Clyne 1992, pp. 1–3.
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