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Standards of English
By: Samir K. Dash

From the history of English language it is clear that good English has the tendency to vary from time to time, from area to area and from one social group to another. And these variations can be generalized according to two types – i) Standard English ii) Non-standard English . Sometimes we also distinguish between the accepted and non-accepted form of English. But these two ways of distinctions are synonymous.

The distinction between standards and non-standard English depends upon the Cultural Status (or ambitions of the people who are using this language) as well as the Functional verities of the language.

Cultural Status

As far as the cultural cause is concerned, Standard English describes the speaking and writing of cultivate people. It is the verity of spoken and written language that enjoys cultural prestige and which is the medium of education, journalism and literature. Non-Standard English describes the written and spoken use of habits of the uncultured, uncultivated group. Such speakers generally lack formal training on the use of the language and are from the jobs scenario and backgrounds where little or no writing are involved.

Functional verities

As far as the functional causes are concerned, we refer to different function and use of the language with in standard English. The chief functional verities are Formal and Informal.


It describes the English conversation of some private correspondence of ordinary everyday writing and speaking.


It describes the language used in books and articles on serious subjects, of reports and documentations in industry, business, legal and research fields. Even many literary prose use this language.

Though in most of the spoken cases informality is given priority, still in speeches on serious subjects and occasions like lectures, seminars, the use of formal speech is preferred.

As far as strict definitions are concerned, it should be however remembered that there is no sharp distinctive line between the formal and informal use of language. At the extreme end of formality are scholarly and careful writings from research, legal and business communication fields. And at the extreme of the informality are the use of language by the educated people who use them for private and causal purpose.

Other Forms of Language use:


It simply means spoken, being related to eloquent and loquacious. In this sense , it may be traced to any form of spoken English, whether standard or non-standard, formal or informal.

Many times this term refers to the everyday speech of educated people and to the kind of writing that has the easy vocabulary, the loose contructions and other characterstics of that speech. An American College Dictionary sums up this term as the kind of usage of English “whose range of use is primarily that of the polite conversation of cultivated people of their familiar letters and informal speeches as distinct from those words and constructions which are common also in formal writing”.


Slang is an informal non-standard vocabulary composed typically of coinages, arbitrarily changed words and extravagant figures of speech. Some times it results from intentional mis-pronunciation of a word.

Many times slangs are considered vulgar. But, the fact is that it is a part of current usage of language. It contributes to the share of growth of language. In many cases it has been noticed that the use of slang becomes common in main stream use of language and thus the slang becomes one of the general language use (e.g. rascal, ad, gym etc.).

But slang has following two serious limitations:

  • Very few of the slang used last a long period, others vanish with the flow of time.
  • Slang are not always appropriate in all circumstances.


Clichés are also called as hackneyed phrases. They worn out by constant use. For example:

Raving beauties, father Time etc. But it should be remember that words themselves are not trite. Rather the use becomes trite. As in French, Clichés means the “stereo type block”, such usage refers to such phrases that have become fixed or stereotyped in the language. Some like stock similes like “as good as gold”, “as black as coal” have a long history of their second-handness. In formal communications such use of language is avoided to maintain seriousness and exactness in meaning.

As our above discussion showed that there are verities of English usage and each usage has its separate role to play in a specific context or situation, the question may arise “Then why still follow the rules for any kinds of English usage, as there is no absolute standard at all?” Though there is no standard that can declare itself as totally absolute, still there are hypothetical ones, for each kind of usage, with their own set of rules. We follow a specific code of conduct while writing business letters, and a different one in writing a private one. Formal speech demands the use of serious grammar, while the causal talks and gossips have their own loose kinds of structures.

In fact the fact that there is no absolute standard in English usage doesn't permit us to be free of any notions of standards at all. We can't do away with the concept of standard to use language as we believe is right. This is because, by following a set of code of conduct in a given situation, both the listener and the speaker are in the same levels of understanding and interactivity of language for better communication.

For instance, can we replace the usage of spoken English in written case? No. Its because the conversational English depends for much of its force upon the physical presence of the speaker. .Personality, gesture, posture and intonation – all contribute to the success of spoken communication. Written English on the other hand , whether formal or informal, requires a structure that makes clarity without the physical presence of the writer. It must therefore communicate through the clarity of its diction, the orderliness of its sentence and paragraph structure and the relative fullness of its details.

That's why though we don't have an absolute standard of English, we still have to follow a hypothetical standard in order to get our meanings across.

This article was posted on Aug 4, 2005

About The Author
Samir K. Dash

About The Author Samir K. Dash is a MA in English (UGC-NET qulaified) from Ravenshaw College, Cuttack (INDIA). Currently he is working as senior content developer at He can be contacted at his homepage: E-Mail:

                                 Other Articles By Samir K. Dash


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