The Notion that there is only One Correct Way to Speak English 

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2022/08/27
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Taking this course opened my eyes to the fact that there are many negative attitudes and misconceptions towards speakers of Non-Standard English, or in other words, other variations of the English language. Standard English refers to the variety of the English language that we are taught in school, and it is also the same variety that is used in print, such as newspapers, articles, and academic reports. Standard English is also believed to be the variety typically spoken by educated people, which is one of the negative notions towards NSE speakers.

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The dictionary defines Standard English as “the form of the English language widely accepted as the usual or correct form”, but Peter Trudgill states that the worth noting differences between standard and non-standard have “nothing in principle to do with differences between formal and colloquial language, or with concepts such as “bad language” (Trudgill, 2000). He goes on to say that it is important to understand these differences because using a type of language considered slang or informal could lead to one being labeled as not speaking Standard English.

While Standard English has a lot more status and achievement attached to it, the same cannot be said about Non-Standard English. Non-standard varieties are considered to be “wrong”, “ugly”, “corrupt”, or “lazy” (Trudgill, 2000). The belief that Standard English is the one correct way, has created a sense of comradery among those who view the other varieties of English as a deviation from what is considered the norm and, according to Trudgill, this deviation is “due to laziness, ignorance or lack of intelligence” (Trudgill, 2000). Trudgill also states that it is important to understand that there is nothing inherently inferior in the non-standard English varieties compared to Standard English; the only apparent inferiority has been due to their association with speakers from deprived, low-status groups.

Standard English is the variety of English used when writing. However, when speaking, regardless of whom we may be talking to, most of us tend to use our non-standard variations of English. I believe that there is a time and a place for everything— just like there are times when proper speaking is required, there are also times when it is okay to be grammatically incorrect and not be judged for it. Here, in the United States, our government has not yet proposed legal laws encouraging the people to speak only Standard English, unlike in certain parts of the world. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, English has now become the national language of business; therefore, more and more multinational companies now require English as their common corporate language. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that some countries that are part of global business are taking drastic measures to encourage the use of Standard English rather than non-standard varieties.

A great example of a government encouraging its people to only speak Standard English, the language universally understood, is the Singaporean Government. The government initiated the Speak Good English Movement (SGEM), and in response, the Speak Good Singlish Movement (SGSM) was launched. According to Wee, the “Singapore government has for some time been concerned that Singaporeans’ ability to speak standard English might be affected by the popularity of Singlish” (Wee, 2014). It is important to recognize that Singapore is very much a melting pot of many races. The different races have mixed Standard English with the vocabulary of their native languages, resulting in a language which they can all understand.

According to Galloway and Rose, “English may be the mother tongue of many Singaporeans, but the use of English that reflects a local or shared identity that differs from ‘standard’ English is not recognized by the government and is discouraged” (Rose & Galloway, 2015). Singlish, the colloquial variety of English spoken in Singapore, is not recognized, and the government has taken certain measures to make this known. For example, in September of 2010, the Speak Good English Movement re-launched its campaign with the tagline, “Get It Right”, to encourage Singaporeans to speak correct English. The campaign involved visiting public places and using stickers to fix incorrect English with handwritten notes (Wee, 2014). The Speak Good English Movement Chairman, Goh Eck Kheng, stated, “We put sticky notes in high-density areas, and whether people like it or they don’t like it, they’ve attracted a lot of attention to the message that we are putting out and there’s a very heightened awareness.” The image below shows an example of how the stickers were intended to be used.

Days after the 2010 “Get It Right” tagline, the Speak Good Singlish Movement was launched. Singaporeans aimed to clarify they were not opposing the SGEM, but were growing tired of Singlish being equated with broken English – leading to them being categorized as poor English speakers due to their use of non-standard varieties. They believed that if people were going to speak Singlish, they should do so correctly. In their own words, “If you don’t want to learn the subtle rules of this naturally evolving language, then don’t dismiss it as simple, shallow, and useless please! Singlish is full of culture, nuances, and wordplay. It brings together the sweetness in the grammar, syntax, and vocabulary of so many languages.” (Wee, 2014). Singaporeans, who are well aware of and capable of using Standard English, chose to speak Singlish, the version they understand. They have fought to speak and keep their version of English, Singlish. “In a country that only gained independence in 1965 and consists of three ethnic groups – Chinese, Malays, and Indians – Singlish is an important unifying force. It draws its roots from several Chinese dialects, and many Singaporeans consider it the only cultural trait uniquely Singaporean.” (Rubdy, 2001)

Along with a lot of public attention, the SGEM has also attracted plenty of criticism because of the many inconsistencies within the policy. The movement is also a great example of the continuous, ongoing language debate: standard vs. non-standard English (Rose & Galloway, 2017). I don’t believe this is a debate that will be resolved within the next 10 years or so, but who are we to stand in the way of a person’s cultural values and beliefs? What is the motivation for having everyone speak the same language? For me, it’s hard to imagine a world full of the exact same people, speaking the exact same language. But if it does happen, I guarantee it will be a pretty boring world. I think our abilities to speak or understand other languages give us our identities and individualism; we need to embrace our differences rather than encourage everyone to be the same.

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The Notion That There Is Only One Correct Way to Speak English . (2022, Aug 27). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/the-notion-that-there-is-only-one-correct-way-to-speak-english/