The term language variety refers to a form of a particular language that is spoken by people of that language. Language variety may include styles, accents, dialects, registers, and other socio-linguistic discrepancy of a particular language (Marjorie & Rees-Miller, 2001).
Some people prefer to use the term variety without the word language because the term language is often misinterpreted to mean the standard language, while the term dialect is associated with the non-standard language varieties that are regarded as incorrect in relation to the standard ones (Natalies, 2006). English language is a good example of a language that is characterized by various varieties. The American English, for instance, is very different from the Standard English.
There are numerous ways in which the American English variety differs from the Standard English, which is itself a dialect. It differs in terms of dialect, styles, accents and registers.
In terms of dialect, the differences in these two varieties are evident. There are numerous vocabulary items that are described by differing words of the two English varieties. For instance, the item denoted by the word “elevator” in American English is described by the term “lift” in Standard English. Other vocabulary items that differ in this way include apartment and flat, argument and row, cookie and biscuit, eraser and rubber, and fries and chips, among others.
Furthermore, the grammar in these two English varieties is in many instances different. A Standard English speaker would say works like, “I have go”, while an American English speaker would say, “I have gotten” for the same statement. It is also common to hear American English say of “I am gonna” instead of the British Standard way of, “I am going to.” The pronunciation in American English is also to a large extent different to that of the Standard English.
Words like vapour and colour on top of being different in spelling they differ in pronunciation for both English varieties. In American English, the words are spelt as vapor and color respectively. Other differences in pronunciation include ‘O’ in word like bought and caught, elimination of syllable final ‘r’ like in ‘far’ for American English, and the low fronted ‘a’ (American) instead of back ‘A’ (Standard). In other words, the American English accent is very different from that of Standard English.
American English also differ from Standard English in terms of styles and registers. Register is language variety employed in certain purpose or certain social set up. For instance, Standard English speaker most likely adhere keenly to prescribed grammar, don not use American English words such as ain’t, and pronounce words with suffix – ing adhering to velar nasal – thus, they don’t say walkin’ as American English speaker would, but rather say walking. These language varieties also differ in terms of style. Style involves the properties that position a particular language in a context. For instance, in some cases it might be appropriate to the word accosted, as in common in Standard English, as opposed to arrested.
Generally, therefore, various varieties of English have differences in their socio-linguistic characteristics including styles, accents, dialects, registers, and so on. The Standard English, which many people regard as the correct English language, is itself a dialect of the English language.
The distinction between the terms dialect and accent
The term dialect denotes the “differences between kinds of language, which are the differences of vocabulary and grammar as well as pronunciation,” while the word accent refers strictly to “differences of pronunciation (Trudgill, 1995). This distinction between these two terms meaning of is vital, although the understanding of these terms is not as straightforward as many people would think.
For instance, people talk of the Norfolk dialects, which is further distinguished as the Norfolk and the Suffolk dialects. This difference is based on social situations, and the linguistic characteristics of the two dialects may not differ substantially. Therefore, we can say that “if two people can understand each other”, then “they are speaking dialects of the same language (Trudgill, 1995). It is worth to note that accent allows us to know about someone’s background or where he or she comes from.
Whether non-native speakers should be taught Standard British English and Received Pronunciation (RP)
The non-native speakers should be taught the Standard English as well as the Received Pronunciation. Wolfram, Adger & Christian (1999) supports that Standard English should be taught to non-native speaking students with the elimination of the “vernacular dialect”. They note further that even if the “the native dialect is accepted” in most learning institutions for particular uses, the Standard English dialect is encouraged and recommended as the main dialect. In this arrangement, therefore, students would be allowed to use the native dialect in classroom conversations while effort is put to make sure they become competent in Standard English. The emphasis of teaching Standard English is an indication of the importance of the dialect.
The importance of the Standard English cannot be underplayed in favour of other English dialects. The dialect is used in most official or formal applications (Wolfram, Adger & Christian, 1999). Furthermore, “the inability to use the Standard Dialect leaves students unable to internalize and apply the rules of prescriptive grammar” (Katz and Stevens). Tudgil (2001) agrees that Standard English is commonly “used in print” and “taught in school to non-native speakers learning English”. Furthermore, is the English variety that is usually used by educated people as well as in important institutions such as news broadcasting and other similar ones (Tudgil, 2001). It is also worth to note that Received Pronunciation is also widely used, especially in important areas in our society.
Received Pronunciation, therefore, should be taught to non-native speakers of English due to its significance in the society. To start with, it is significant to note that Received Pronunciation is widely spoken in the south east of England. Furthermore, the accent is important due to the high profile it has gained since the time when important people and institutions adopted it as the preferred accent. Crystal (1988) claims that received pronunciation,
“continues to be a widely used accent in court, Parliament, the Church of England, the legal profession, and in other national institutions. It has received more linguistic research than any other accent. It is still the only accent taught to foreigners who wish to learn a British model, and it is thus widely used abroad. In fact, today there are far more foreign speakers of RP in other countries than mother-tongue users in Britain.”
In these respects, both Standard English and Received Pronunciation should be taught to non-native speaker.
David, Crystal, 1988-Receive Pronunciation and Estuary English, by, page 64-65.
Katz, S. R. and Stevens, S. A, Standard English Immersion for Native English Speakers, Publication of the Illinois Philological Association, Bradley University. London, Penguin.
Marjorie, M. & Rees-Miller, J. (2001): “Language in social contexts”, contemporary linguistics, pp. 537-590, St. Martin’s, Boston.
Natalies, S. (2006): “Dialect variation”, An Introduction to Language and Linguistics, pp 311-341, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Trudgill, P. (1995). Sociolinguistics: An Introduction to Language and Society.
Trudgill, 1995, Language Dialect and Accent, by, page 1-4.
Wolfram, W., Adger, C. T., Christian, D. (1999): Dialects in schools and communities, p. 26, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, United Kingdom.