Headword
Non-standard language
Level
SG/HS
Language
English
Topic
Sociolinguistics
Definition
Although English is a global language, different rules and regulations govern the language behaviour of different speech communities. Most users of English conform to fairly similar rules when writing; greater variation occurs in speech. Non-standard English refers to the system of rules governing spoken English that depart significantly from the rules of standard written English.
Notes
Note that non-standard language is still rule-governed; it is only ‘ungrammatical’ if the rules of written standard English are taken as a fixed point of reference. Even so, written standard languages continue to enjoy considerable prestige, and written standard English is clearly useful as a global lingua franca. In comparison, non-standard language has historically been stigmatised, and a debate continues about the extent to which non-standard usages should be encouraged, and even simply tolerated, in education.

The current orthodoxy in education is to recognise the damage to pupils’ self-esteem of stigmatising their spoken language, while encouraging them to use standard written English in appropriate contexts. This demands that both teachers and pupils have a greater degree of conscious awareness of the principles of linguistic variation, and the subtle shifts between standard and non-standard usage, than was deemed necessary in the past.
Compare
Concept
Variation
See also
Dialect, Scottish standard English, Standard English, Variation, Variety