- The Official Dialect
In countries where the majority speak English as their first language one dialect is used nationally for official purposes. It is called Standard English. Standard English is the national dialect that generally appears in print. It is taught in schools, and students are expected to use it in their essays. It is the norm for dictionaries and grammars. We expect to find it in official typed communications, such as letters from government officials, solicitors, and accountants. We expect to hear it in national news broadcasts and documentary programmes on radio or television. Within each national variety the standard dialect is relatively homogeneous in grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and punctuation.
(Sidney Greenbaum, An Introduction to English Grammar, Longman, 1991)
- The Grammar of Standard English
The grammar of Standard English is much more stable and uniform than its pronunciation or word stock: there is remarkably little dispute about what is grammatical (in compliance with the rules of grammar) and what isn't.
Of course, the small number of controversial points that there are--trouble spots like who versus whom--get all the public discussion in language columns and letters to the editor, so it may seem as if there is much turmoil; but the passions evinced over such problematic points should not obscure the fact that for the vast majority of questions about what's allowed in Standard English, the answers are clear.
(Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar, Cambridge University Press, 2006)
- The Guardians of Standard English
The so-called native speakers of standard Englishes are those people who have somehow espoused a particular set of conventions that loosely have to do with the way English has been codified and prescribed in dictionaries, grammar books and guides to good speaking and writing. This group of people includes a large number of those who, having espoused the conventions, nevertheless do not consider themselves to be excellent users of those conventions.
For many of these so-called native speakers the English language is a unique entity that exists outside or beyond its users. Rather than considering themselves owners of English, users often think of themselves as guardians of something precious: they wince when they hear or read uses of English that they consider to be sub-standard, and they worry, in their letters to newspapers, that the language is becoming degraded. . . .
Those who do feel they have rights and privileges, who have a sense of ownership of the English language and who can make pronouncements about what is or is not acceptable, as well as those to whom these attributes are accorded by others, do not necessarily belong to a speech community whose members learned English in infancy. Native speakers of non-standard varieties of English, in other words, the majority of native speakers of English, have never had any real authority over Standard English and have never "owned" it. The actual proprietors may, after all, simply be those who have learned thoroughly how to use a standard English to enjoy the sense of empowerment that comes with it.
So those who make authoritative pronouncements about a standard English are simply those who, irrespective of accidents of birth, have elevated themselves, or been elevated, to positions of authority in academe or publishing or in other public areas. Whether or not their pronouncements will continue to be accepted is another matter.
(Paul Roberts, "Set Us Free From Standard English," The Guardian, January 24, 2002)
- Towards a Definition of SE
From the dozens of definitions [of Standard English] available in the literature on English, we may extract five essential characteristics.
- SE is a variety of English--a distinctive combination of linguistic features with a particular role to play. . . .
- The linguistic features of SE are chiefly matters of grammar, vocabulary, and orthography (spelling and punctuation). It is important to note that SE is not a matter of pronunciation. . . .
- SE is the variety of English which carries most prestige within a country. . . . In the words of one US linguist, SE is "the English used by the powerful."
- The prestige attached to SE is recognized by adult members of the community, and this motivates them to recommend SE as a desirable educational target. . . .
- Although SE is widely understood, it is not widely produced. Only a minority of people within a country . . . actually use it when they talk. . . . Similarly, when they write--itself a minority activity--the consistent use of SE is required only in certain tasks (such as a letter to a newspaper, but not necessarily to a close friend). More than anywhere else, SE is to be found in print.
(David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, Cambridge University Press, 2003)
- The Ongoing Debate
It is in fact a great pity that the standard English debate is marred by the sort of conceptual confusions and political posturings (no matter how poorly expressed) . . .. For I think there are genuine questions to be asked about what we might mean by "standards" in relation to speech and writing. There is a great deal to be done in this respect and proper arguments to be made, but one thing is clear for sure. The answer does not lie in some simple-minded recourse to the practice of the "best authors" or the "admired literature" of the past, valuable though that writing is. Nor does the answer reside in "rules" for speech laid down by either the "educated" of any official body held to be able to guarantee spoken "correctness." The answers to the real questions will be found to be much more complex, difficult and challenging than those currently on offer. For these reasons they might be more successful.
(Tony Crowley, "Curiouser and Curiouser: Falling Standards in the Standard English Debate," in Standard English: The Widening Debate, edited by Tony Bex and Richard J. Watts, Routledge, 1999)