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Standard English: Privilege or Discimination?


The debate concerning the use of a standard form of English has been a heated one for several decades, especially amongst linguistic and partly the general public. One of the most central issues characterizing the debate is the use of Standard English in education and more specifically whether it is entirely necessary. The standard form of English as a relatively uniform variety that does not show regional variation can be described as being subject to an observer’s point of view making it a social judgment (Florence Ma, 2012: 280).

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According to Bocanegra-Valle, Standard English has been regarded by some scholars as of gold standard against which other forms of English can be measured (2014: 72). Proponents of the change argue that change is inevitable and that a language needs to change in order to meet the needs of the times. On the other hand, opponents of the change posit that Standard English is and should remain resistant to any forms of change. With this ongoing debate, the big concern remains on whether we should accept this change. This paper seeks to analyze the implication of having a Standard English in terms of advantages and disadvantages. It further evaluates the advantages and disadvantages of adopting a prescriptive approach to language use.


Largely, Standard English has for a long time sought to resist this change. However, a section of scholars, as Mumford (2011: 18) notes, argue that it is just a matter of time before the change, seen as inevitable, can be adopted.

“There can never be a moment of true standstill in language, just as little as in the ceaseless flaming thought of men. By nature, it is a continuous process of development” (Aitchinson, 2001: 4).

This implies that language gradually transforms itself over time just like everything else. However, many resistances against such a change have been common among linguists. For instance, a cross-section of scholars argues that change is likely to kill the language. The argument is that English, a language that used to be universally understood, is continuously becoming strange even to the natives.

Notably, Standard English reinforces social, economic, and cultural privileges by allowing people from diverse walks of life to communicate more easily than if regional dialects are used. Within the education system, Standard English with its grammatical rules and regulations is an imperative aspect. As Aitchinson (2001: 15) argues, “The principal design of grammar is to teach people to express themselves with propriety in that language. It should also assist the judgment of every phrase as well as forms of construction.

The only way to achieve this is through a set of rules”. Since it is regarded as the variety of the highest status, power, and prestige, it offers users and especially children a higher advantage in several aspects of their lives, both academically and socially. Another perception is that using Standard English often provides connotations of perfection whereby a speaker of Standard English is regarded as a well-educated person.

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In the same line, prescriptive grammar enforces rules that concern the correct or incorrect language use. The prescriptive approach is basically the traditional approach used in grammar textbooks (Mumford, 2011: 18). Teaching prescriptive grammar is beneficial for both teachers and learners because it has laid down rules of language, which avoids ambiguity and confusion among students. It is important for beginners to be taught on how a language should be used.

Again, prescriptive grammar helps students to draw a language system within their mind and as such makes the learning process easier for them. Moreover, when learners know the rules of prescriptive grammar, it becomes easier for them to write in the target language. It also works better for non-native teachers because they are not likely to have precise knowledge about a foreign language’s descriptive grammar.

On the other hand, the use of a standard form of English has been criticized as a form of discrimination against specific groups that use other English dialects. It is argued that some of the other common dialects used by some social groups characterize low social standing (Bodine, 2009: 129). In this case, the adoption of a Standard English would be taken to imply that it is superior to those other dialects.

Characterizing other dialects as less prestigious is demeaning to these sub-groups and would in turn lead to loss of their cultural heritage. In most cases, the use of Standard English results in the stigmatization of certain categories of people. Another argument is that imposing Standard English upon students who speak a different dialect at home is unfair and results in alienation.

In terms of prescriptive grammar, there are a number of disadvantages of using it as well. For instance, if it is taught in schools, learners are likely to be confused when they communicate with a native speaker. In this case, they will realize that natives do not adhere to the rules in the grammar books. Again, people who learn prescriptive grammar might not be able to speak or communicate like a native speaker, because they are only accustomed to the use of the standard grammar and lack knowledge of how the natives use the language in communication. Furthermore, they are bound to get bored with learning and having to adhere to grammar rules all the time particularly because prescriptive grammar deals with rules (Anderwald, 2013: 146).


In conclusion, it is imperative to note that the stability of Standard English happens to be one of its key advantages, which makes it very effective for use throughout the English-speaking world. One of its key features is its ability to avoid variation and resist change. Indeed, writers of grammar books and dictionaries have codified the language and people seek these books as authorities for what is right and wrong. Nevertheless, there has been a looming debate on whether Standard English should be strictly adhered to or subjected to pressure for change, which in many instances seems inevitable. Just like anything else in the world, language is subject to change.


Aitchinson, Jean. (2001) Language Change: Progress or Decay. Cambridge University Press.

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Anderwald, Lieselotte. (2013) ‘Natural language change or prescriptive influence?’, English World-Wide, 34 (2). pp. 146-176.

Bocanegra-Valle, Ann. (2014) ‘‘English is my default academic language’: Voices from LSP scholars publishing in a multilingual journal’, Journal Of English For Academic Purposes, 13, pp. 65-77.

Bodine, Ann. (2009) ‘Androcentrism in Prescriptive Grammar: Singular ‘They’, Sex-Indefinite ‘He’, and ‘He or She”, Language in Society, 4 (2). pp. 129-146.

Florence Ma, Lai Ping. (2012) ‘Advantages and Disadvantages of Native- and Nonnative-English-speaking Teachers: Student Perceptions in Hong Kong’, TESOL Quarterly, 46 (2). pp. 280-305.

Mumford, Simon. (2011) ‘Making grammar connections, increasing connectedness’, Modern English Teacher, 2, pp. 18-21.

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