Standard English: The Widening Debate

By Tony Bex; Richard J. Watts | Go to book overview

9

THE NAMES OF US ENGLISH: VALLEY GIRL, COWBOY, YANKEE, NORMAL, NASAL AND IGNORANT

Laura C. Hartley and Dennis R. Preston

1

Standard US English

A commonplace in United States (hereafter US) linguistics is that every region supports its own standard; none is the locus (or source) of the standard. Historically that is a fair assessment, for no long-term centre of culture, economy and government has dominated in the US. Falk puts it this way:

In the United States there is no one regional dialect that serves as the model. What is considered standard English in New York City would not be considered standard in Forth Worth, Texas. Each region of the country has its own standard.

(Falk 1978:289)

It is doubtful, however, that non-linguists in the US believe that there is no region which is more (or less) standard than others. Falk’s position is a confusion of a sophisticated linguistic relativism, deriving from well-intentioned attempts to debunk notions of so-called primitive and deficient linguistic systems, with what she believes to be popular perception. The latter, of course, is the point which deserves investigation, for, at least in the US, it is not linguists who define language standards.

Other introductory texts propose a mysterious, nonexistent variety:

SAE [Standard American English] is an idealization. Nobody speaks this dialect; and if somebody did, we wouldn’t know it because SAE is not defined precisely. Several years ago there actually was an entire conference devoted to one subject: a precise definition of SAE. This convocation of scholars did not succeed in satisfying everyone as to what SAE should be. The best hint we can give you is to listen

-207-

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