English Language
Variety vs Standard English

Variety vs Standard English

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Exploring the Diversity of English Varieties

As one of the world's most widely spoken languages, English has naturally evolved into various forms of communication. In the UK alone, there are an estimated 30-40 different varieties of the language, each with its unique characteristics. Interestingly, even a 30-minute distance can make a noticeable difference in the way English is spoken.

These variations, known as 'varieties', include the widely recognized Standard English form. This version is typically used in formal settings, such as schools and government offices. Let's take a closer look at Standard English and its varieties in terms of usage, key features, and examples.

Standard English

Standard English is commonly accepted as the formal version of the language. It is widely used in areas like education, media, and official settings, including government offices. This form is considered polite and is often used in situations that require formality, such as addressing a school principal or sending an important email. Standard English follows strict grammatical rules, similar to those learned in spelling tests. You are reading this form right now, and it is the form taught to non-native speakers as a tool for international communication. Unlike other varieties, Standard English does not originate from a specific region and maintains a consistent structure worldwide.


Types of Standard English

The following are recognized and widely used forms of Standard English:

  • Standard British English
  • Standard American English
  • Standard Scottish English
  • Standard Australian English
  • Standard South African English

As observed, these varieties originate from English-speaking countries and often set the standard for the use of English globally. Although they may have minor differences in spelling or vocabulary, they are generally understood by all English speakers.

Key Features of Standard English

Standard English is characterized by the following features:

  • Phonology - Certain accents, such as Received Pronunciation in the UK, are considered the standard for their respective countries. These accents, including General American and General Australian, are commonly taught to non-native speakers. However, there are still many diverse English accents worldwide.
  • Syntax - Standard English follows a specific word order with sentences arranged as subject-verb-object (SVO). For example, “I play tennis.”
  • Grammar - Standard English adheres to standard grammatical rules, using proper verb agreements and tenses. Non-standard varieties may use incorrect language, like “we was going.”
  • Vocabulary - Standard English tends to avoid slang and uses formal words. For instance, “friend” is standard, while “mate” is considered slang.
  • Spelling conventions - Standard English follows standardized spelling, with dictionaries as the primary source. There may be slight variations in spelling, such as the suffix -ise used in British English and -ize in American English. Additionally, there are specific rules for punctuation, capitalization of proper nouns (names), and the first word in a sentence.

Furthermore, Standard English has a broad register, allowing its use in various situations, both formal and informal, in both spoken and written forms.

Examples of English Varieties

Let's take a look at some examples of how English can be used in everyday life:

  • In formal situations, Standard English is often used, including more formal language such as "how are you today?" and standard grammar like "we were" instead of "we was".
  • In contrast, non-standard English includes frequent use of contractions, such as "ain't gonna".
  • Non-standard forms are typically used more in casual conversations with friends, rather than in formal settings.

A variety of English refers to a specific form of language, including different registers, dialects, sociolects, styles, and accents.

Regional dialects are a type of variety of English that is spoken in a particular region. These dialects are characterized by their own vocabulary, grammar rules, and accents.

English is a diverse language with a wide range of varieties. The Geordie dialect, for example, is spoken in the Newcastle region and features unique words like "howay, man" meaning "come on, hurry up" and a distinct accent, such as pronouncing "going out" as "gannin oot". This is just one example of a non-standard variety.

On the other hand, Standard English, also known as the "standard variety", is the most commonly used form of English. It is characterized by its own vocabulary, grammar rules, and the Received Pronunciation (RP) accent. All other varieties are considered non-standard.

It's important to note that "variety" can refer to any specific form of English. Varieties can also include larger, general populations, such as "American English", which can then be further divided into more specific varieties like "Southern American" or regional varieties like "Texan English". And even your own unique way of speaking is a variety, known as your idiolect.

Examples of Standard and Non-Standard English

In the UK, there are many varieties of English, including both general varieties like Scottish English and Irish English, as well as specific regional varieties associated with certain areas. These include:

  • Geordie (Newcastle/Tyneside region)
  • Mancunian (Manchester region)
  • Brummie (Birmingham region)
  • Glaswegian (Glasgow region)
  • And many more

Outside of the UK, there are also numerous varieties of English, such as:

  • Australian Aboriginal English (spoken by indigenous population of Australia)
  • Indian English
  • African American Vernacular English (spoken by Black Americans in urban, working/middle-class communities)
  • Canadian English

All of these varieties have their own unique features, including specific vocabulary, grammar, and accents. While they may share some basic characteristics, they are distinct in their own ways and can generally be understood by all English speakers.

Do you speak a specific variety of English? What makes it unique?

Case Study: Exploring the Scouse Variety

One particular variety of UK English worth exploring is "Scouse", spoken in the Liverpool region. This dialect is characterized by its distinct accent and has famous speakers such as footballers Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, as well as the iconic band, The Beatles.

Some key features of Scouse include:

  • Phonology: Scousers have a unique accent, where the /th/ sound in words like "there" is often pronounced as /d/ (e.g. "der"). They also tend to pronounce the /t/ sound at the end of words as /h/ (e.g. "not" becomes "noh").
  • Vocabulary: Scouse has its own set of words, such as "you webs are boss la" meaning "your shoes are nice/cool". They also use "sound" to mean "cool" or "good".
  • Grammar: Scousers may use "yous" instead of the second person plural "you" (e.g. "are yous going out?"). They also tend to replace "my" with "me".

As The Beatles were from Liverpool, their music may have featured some non-standard language typical of the Scouse dialect. Watch videos of Steven Gerrard on YouTube to see if you can identify these features. How does it compare to Standard English?

The Significance of Varieties of English

The term "varieties of English" refers to the specific forms or styles the language can take on, including dialects, accents, and slang. Let's dive deeper into two key differences between standard and non-standard varieties of English and why each holds its value.

Usage in Different Contexts

The language we use can vary depending on the situation. For example, when talking to our school principal about exams or writing a formal letter to the mayor, we tend to use Standard English as a sign of respect. But when chatting with friends or writing to a close friend, we may use non-standard English, which often includes slang, contractions, and relaxed grammar rules.

Can you spot any differences in the language used in formal and informal situations?


Standard English follows strict grammar rules, although it is not officially governed by anyone. This is reinforced by organizations like the Oxford English Dictionary and Cambridge University Press, which are considered the "gatekeepers" of the English language. Non-standard varieties, on the other hand, have more flexibility and can evolve in different ways.

As shown by the numerous varieties of English, it is a constantly evolving language with its own unique features. So next time you hear someone speaking a different variety of English, take a moment to appreciate its distinct characteristics.

The Versatility of English: Understanding Standard and Non-Standard Varieties

English is a language that is constantly evolving, and with it comes variations in vocabulary and grammar. While Standard English is often seen as the "correct" form of the language, there is also value in exploring non-standard varieties as they allow for more creativity and adaptability.

A Neutral Form of Language

Unlike regional dialects that are tied to a specific area, Standard English is commonly perceived as a neutral and unbiased form of language. This means that it is less likely to be stigmatized or face prejudices.

Attitudes towards Different Forms of English

People have varying attitudes towards different forms of English. Some may view Standard English as a mark of education and status, while others may see it as a superior form of the language. Similarly, attitudes towards non-standard varieties can vary, with certain accents or dialects being associated with positive or negative connotations.

These attitudes are often shaped by social and political factors and can be reflected in prescriptivist and descriptivist approaches to language. Prescriptivists view Standard English as the proper and correct form, while descriptivists believe that all forms of language are acceptable.

Overall, gaining an understanding of the different varieties of English and their usage in different contexts is crucial in developing a comprehensive grasp of the language.

Key Takeaways:

  • Standard English is the widely recognized and accepted "correct" form of the language.
  • It is commonly used in formal situations such as education, media, and official organizations.
  • Standard English adheres to specific grammar rules.
  • Varieties of language refer to specific forms of the language, including accents, dialects, and styles.
  • Attitudes towards different varieties of English can vary, influenced by social and political factors.

In Conclusion

This article emphasizes the importance of understanding the various varieties of English and their usage in different contexts. By recognizing the value and significance of both standard and non-standard varieties, we can develop a more comprehensive understanding of the English language as a whole.

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