Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Standard English (2).

Standard English (2). Today: Social Disapproval. Throughout the 20th century, commentators noted (sometimes in strong terms) the social disapproval that attaches to nonstandard English. Mostly this is put in negative terms. If you don’t speak Standard English, you’re at a social and professional disadvantage — e.g.: o “The intelligent people of America use reasonably pure English. If the speaker falls below this level he simply disgusts.” John P. Altgeld, Oratory: Its Requirements and Its Rewards 9 (1901). o “Anyone who cannot use the language habits in which the major affairs of the country are conducted, the language habits of the socially acceptable of most of our communities, would have a serious handicap.” Charles Carpenter Fries, American English Grammar 14 (1940). o “A standard has the advantages of uniformity, general utility, and presentability. Whoever writes it knows two things: he will be understood; he will not be regarded with condescension, amusement, or contempt.” A.P. Rossiter, Our Living Language 75 (1953). o “Native deviators from standard English — ours — are suspected of being vulgar, uneducated, or simply rustic.” Graham Wilson, A Linguistics Reader 86 (Graham Wilson ed., 1967). o “People, whether male or female, who use a substandard or less prestigious form of speech often pay a social penalty for doing so.” Peter Farb, Word Play 57 (1974). o “Deviations from standard English, or what people take to be deviations, are more likely to arouse fury, pity, or scorn than admiration for the deviator’s individuality.” Barbara Wallraff, Word Court 9 (2000). So there’s the neatly compiled answer to why Standard English is worth trying to attain: without it, you won’t be taken seriously. Next: Sociolinguistics.
Quotation of the Day: “When we talk, we tell much more about ourselves than the factual statements we are making. The sum total of small nuances will indicate much about our training, environment, economic position, and even profession. In conversation we are unconsciously providing a rich commentary about ourselves which supplements the clothing and outward possessions we gather.” Margaret Schlauch, The Gift of Tongues 261 (1943; repr. 1960).

1 thought on “Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Standard English (2).”

  1. You wrote: “..If you don’t speak Standard English, you’re at a social and professional disadvantage” Yes, I have to agree with you that there’s a price to pay in using street language. Yet, the use of vulgar language is becoming a new trend in journalism and online writing – all done in the name of shock value and increase in readership. There’s a debate about it in our community right now and hope you can chime in. I guess, in the end, it’s all about engaging your audience and speaking the language they speak.. so you get to attract like minds.

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