Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

What Is Standard American English?

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

What Is Standard American English?

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

For decades, enthusiasts of communicative language teaching have deplored what is "static" in the linguistic input to language teaching and learning. Sajavaara found one source of this conservativism in the fact that "... variation in natural languages is disregarded, mainly because the descriptions of individual languages are based on the scholar's competence or normative descriptions" 1977: 18).

Although the question concerning to what degree a non-native speaker should sound like a native one is a sociologically sensitive issue (e.g., Preston 1981, 1989: 80-85), the need for up-to-date, authentic representations of the regional, registral, social, sexual, generational, and interactional characteristics of languages (to name only the most prominent sociolinguistic research areas) is still not a high priority for many language teachers or in many language teacher training programs.

This is not to say that sociolinguists have ignored language teaching and learning. Concern with the social setting (the "social" of sociolinguistics), with the individual in those settings (the "social psychological"), with interaction, and with variationist approaches to developing interlanguages (the "linguistics" of sociolinguistics) have all been the subject of well-established and recent work (e.g., Loveday 1982; Gardner 1985; Day 1986; and Preston 1996, respectively). Preston (1989) reviews these various approaches.

The developing norms, especially those of the younger generation of speakers, are, however, hard to keep track of. Although such facts have their own inherent value in sociolinguistic research, particularly as they aid the study of linguistic change in both real-time and apparent-time studies, they should also be of interest to teachers, textbook writers, teacher trainers, and learners of second and foreign languages. They expose not only the emergence of new norms but also the attitudes towards constructions among native speakers. This study takes into consideration a selected number of grammatical constructions which are of interest in present-day American English.

2. The grammatical forms studied here

The sentences selected for study were the following:

(1) The award was given to Bill and I.

(2) I know who Jack cheated.

(3) They live two mile down the road.

(4) If I was you, I would quit.

(5) There's two men from Detroit at the door.

(6) They gave the bill to Carol and myself.

(7) I wonder why did Sally leave?

(8) Everybody should watch their coat.

(9) George is just as smart as me.

(10) Let's try and go to the concert.

(11) All's I have is one more.

(12) My hair needs washed.

These sentences focus on a number of different issues, both from the point of view of the part of the grammar involved and of the social type of "nonstandardness" of the construction presented.

Sentence (1) fails to use me although the first person pronoun is the (conjoined) object of the preposition to. There are two possible sources for this "error". First, the use of nominatives in conjoined constructions has a long history in the language (e.g., Shakespeare's All debts are cleared between you and I). Second, speakers who have been corrected for using objective forms where nominatives should occur (e.g., Me and Bill went to the store) have overgeneralized (or "hypercorrected") and used the nominative everywhere in such conjoined constructions, although the selection of the reflexive (myself) is also common. (The reflexive is common in non-initial elements in "enumerated" noun phrases, dating back to 1205 in the OED).

The nominative form in sentences such as (1) is roundly condemned by usage pundits, although, oddly, some remark that the substitution of reflexives is not "grammatically wrong" but that "the results are awkward and pretentious" (Morris -- Morris 1975: 390). …

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