Having standards is seen as something desirable for a range of things – we now take the notion of standard time, standard measurements, standard CD sizes, standard tyre sizes, standard bulb sizes, standard bathroom fittings or (more-or-less) standard shoe sizes for granted. Are standards always necessary though?
The problem is that language is a little bit like those other things (standard time, measurements, etc.) which are used for academic or more learned purposes where exactness, economy and non-ambiguity are highly desirable. But language is also used for other things like play, informal communication, artistic and cultural expression where the notion of a standard sits less comfortably.
So what is a standard language? Tentatively, we can say that it is the language that is associated with important and careful contexts of use – such as literary writing, learned writing, legal writing or the Bible – and enjoys a high degree of prestige. (Notice that we tend to think about the written rather than the spoken variety when we discuss the standard.) It also tends to be the version of the language that is taught to foreigners.
Here are some definitions
Note the notions being appealed to.
1. Commonality: the notion of it being a lingua franca among speakers of divergent dialects.
2. Prestige: the notion of it being the ‘best’, ‘proper’ or ‘correct’ and set apart from other regional and social dialects. It is also used in highly regarded writing.
3. Prescriptivism: it is the version that is set in grammar books, dictionaries and style guides (therefore codified) and the version of the language taught.
4. Yardstick or benchmark: it begins to serve as the point of reference when comparing dialects.
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