What’s Wrong With Nonstandard Dialects?

Those who think that any English other than their versions of Standard English is ungrammatical, illiterate, incorrect, sloppy, lazy and so on usually have in mind, I suspect, the kind of English they simply don’t like. Many seem not to like features that have existed in the language for centuries, such as the use of ‘I’ in object position or as the complement of a preposition when it is coordinated with a noun or another pronoun, or the use of ‘they’ to refer to a singular antecedent.

The same sort of people don’t like constructions found in nonstandard dialects spoken by those they perceive to belong to a lower social class than themselves, such as the use of ‘done’ as the past tense of ‘do’, or the regular use of ‘was’ for all persons and numbers as the past tense of ‘be’.

What, I wonder, do such people make of nonstandard British regional dialects? Here are examples from four of them. Are these equally ungrammatical, illiterate, incorrect, sloppy and lazy? Or are they dialects which have the same linguistic validity as Standard English, but which for political, economic and social reasons weren’t selected for standardisation?

Ar like yat lowpin, its barie. (Cumbrian. More of the same here.)

Gan canny or we’ll dunsh summick. (Geordie)

Ow bist? (Bristolian)

Another skill, uh, when we used to clean the dykes out all by hand with the old meak and the old didle and crome — that‘s all lugging. (East Anglian)


Filed under Dialects, English Language

5 responses to “What’s Wrong With Nonstandard Dialects?

  1. Last night I encountered a striking example of the difference between dialect and register. I was walking home when I heard a fellow pedestrian say into his cell phone “Because it would not be conducive to the betterment of the children!” This sentence containing the literary terms conducive and betterment was promptly followed by another one (which I did not record) using done as the preterite of do. I did not get the sense of a switch between varieties: what I was hearing was the high register of a non-standard dialect.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent. It’s just the kind of point Peter Trudgill makes in his paper on Standard English.


  3. Pingback: Standard English - What should we be teaching? - ELT Connect

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