Authority in Language: Investigating Standard English

By James Milroy; Lesley Milroy | Go to book overview

5

LINGUISTIC PRESCRIPTION AND THE SPEECH COMMUNITY

5.1

Introduction

Thus far, we have considered prescriptive attitudes to correctness as arising from an ideology of language standardisation, and have noted that these prescriptive attitudes are therefore social, rather than strictly linguistic in nature. Structural differences between varieties of a language are, from a purely linguistic point of view, neutral and arbitrary.

In fact, as we have tried to demonstrate in Chapter 2 (using English as the language of exemplification), relatively trivial linguistic differences are frequently seized upon and magnified, forming in due course the subject matter of a distinct complaint tradition. This happens quite consistently in technologically advanced societies which require a heavily codified standard language, and indeed one of the functions of linguistic complaint is the promotion of that standard. A further effect (which we have not yet discussed in detail) is the development of a linguistic value system which both reflects and reinforces social class and power distinctions (see Sankoff (1980) for an account of the emergence of such a value system in Papua New Guinea). Generally, people are acutely aware of the social effects of this value system, and educators are particularly sensitive to the pressures it exerts in the form of requirements that all pupils should be able to write, and if possible speak, Standard English.

In this chapter we look more closely at the manifestations of the value system, and adopt two different perspectives. First, we look at the distribution of socially sensitive linguistic elements in some real speech communities. This section may be seen as complementing the structural account of non-standard English syntax and morphology in Chapter 4; we concentrate here, by way of contrast, on phonology (including non-standard phonological elements) which for reasons which will become clear is best described quantitatively where the objective is to compare differences in language use by different sections of the community.

Second, we assess some specifically prescriptive comments on the linguistic adequacy of those same phonological elements. As we have already noted in connection with the English complaint tradition, these more specific

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