You’re probably familiar with the big question of whether, in the modern world where contact with other countries is not only possible, but necessary, we should have a common language between us – and if we should, what should it be? But even within the same country there is often a question of whether the whole population should speak not only one language, but one dialect. This doesn’t mean that one manner of speaking takes dominance while all others are wiped out, but rather that everyone has their own dialects and is also able to speak and understand a common one.
Standard English is the name used to refer to the English taken as norm in whichever country. In the UK, this is associated with the Received Pronunciation accent, or RP, sometimes known as the Queen’s English or BBC English, because not too long ago all BBC presenters were expected to have neutral (posh) accents. Whereas other UK accents are regional, RP is really associated more with class, in that you’re likely to be middle or upper class if you have an RP accent. This means that suggesting the use of Standard English in certain situations can be a contentious issue in the UK, because it may seem to suggest that the middle or upper class way of speaking is superior.
In Switzerland, where there are four official languages, even within an area speaking the same language the dialects can differ greatly. Swiss-German has no standard written form and will sound different in Bern to how it sounds in Zurich. In official settings High German, or Hochdeutsch, is used as a common dialect. The Spanish language differs not only by smaller regions within countries, but also across the divide between Spain and Latin America. As a result, Standard Spanish is a form of the language intended to be a correct, educated standard to be understood by all.
Baps and Hotcakes
While I see no harm in having a common parlance and a way of speaking that can be universally understood, I wouldn’t want to see people change their perfectly understandable accents to reach some sort of perceived norm. And a country without regional dialects and slang would be a sad one. I love learning about the words people use to refer to everyday things in English all over the world.
Take for example a bread roll. In the UK, an area about the size of Oregon, there are many different regional names for this simple food item. Cob, bap, bun, barm, stotty, muffin and batch are all words used to refer to a bread roll. Where one person my call bread a bun or teacake, another who lives just a few miles away will insist that both of those things must be sweet and not savoury. In the US, one person will say hoagie, while another will say sub. Such linguistic diversity should be celebrated – as long as saying “bread roll” will let everyone know what you’re talking about!
Should people speak a standard form of their language, or can we all get along without one?