Is the elevation of the standard variety of the language to a position of being the only acceptable variety of the language restricted solely to the English-speaking world? I sometimes think so, although the French might run us a close second in the matter. Not so with German. In Germany, according to R L Trask in ‘Language: The Basics’:
‘German-speakers use their local variety when talking to others from their area and standard German when talking to everybody else: that is, German-speakers are bi-dialectical. Almost no one in Germany regards the numerous non-standard local varieties as ignorant or slovenly or illiterate: these varieties are merely seen as having a different function from the standard.’
In neighbouring Switzerland, the language spoken in the German-speaking cantons – and I know because I lived there for four years – is one or other of the several dialects of Swiss German, all of which are accepted as legitimate forms of speech (speech, for the Swiss German dialects are predominantly spoken). Cantonal rivalries apart, none is regarded as linguistically, socially or intellectually inferior to any other. When they have to, and only when they have to, the dialect speakers will use the standard variety of the language. Otherwise they will use their various dialects for almost all purposes. As Peter Trudgill has written:
. . . one may hear in the corridors of the University of Berne, two philosophy professors discussing the works of Kant using all the appropriate philosophical vocabulary while using the phonology and grammar of their local dialects.
Why is this concept such a problem for so many Anglophones?