A Brief Examination of Standard British English

A Brief Examination of Standard British English


Broadly speaking, the study of Standard British English in particular (and Standard Languages in general) falls within the boundaries of sociolinguistics, giving that this component of sociolinguistics is concerned with the study of language as a social and cultural phenomenon influenced by anthropogenic behaviors. Correspondingly, the issue of Standard British English has close connection with social sciences, notably social psychology, pedagogy, human geography, anthropology and sociology. Like other branches in sociolinguistic studies, the work done on Standard British English is partly empirical and partly theoretical. That is to say partly a matter of going out and amassing bodies of facts and data and partly of setting back in the desk and thinking.

Now respecting the modeling of Standard British English (vis-à-vis other regional dialects in the United Kingdom) is not imperatively an outcome of deliberate policy (Lyons, 1981). Respectively, the standardization of British English was not in part a matter of deliberate intervention, but it came forth as such over the centuries by virtue of the political importance of London and its cultural dominance. To emphasize this idea, and according to Peter Trudgill (1988), Standard British English developed out of the English dialects employed in and around London up from the end of the Mediaeval Ages (A.D. 1492). Later on, those dialects of London were modified through the centuries by speakers at the court, by scholars from the university, by writers and also by public schools and printing housesimpressed by the doctrines of the prescriptive grammarians of the 18th century and their successors (Lyons, 1981). As time passed, the English used in the upper classes of society in London converted into Standard British English. In this connection, Latin, French and the rest of regional dialects taking place in Britain and many parts of Ireland were eclipsed. Another factor that gave more echo and prevalence to Standard British English was the British colonial expansion in the four corners of the world (Hudson, 1990). Henceforth, Standard British English was enthroned as the dominant official language of the Commonwealth World, where different dialects were spoken.

Basically, rather than breaking rules and following the path of ordinary language and casual friendly conversation (vernacular), Standard British English appears as an established and codified language system, denoting conformity to normative grammar, along with lexical and phonological norms (Richards et al., 2002). Standard British English then stands as a linguistic barometer by which linguists and educationalists test the degree of syntactic correctness and measure the scale of lexical efficiency, phonological systematization, without forgetting orthographic, morphological and semantic acceptability. After all, Standard British English which is termed BBC English (as well as Oxford English) is like a tool that serves for preserving language purity and filtering the sterling British English language from any distortion and deformity, as the case of code switching and diglossia (Greenbawn et al. editors, 1988). In other languages, Standard British English has equivalents like el manejo y el buen uso de la lingua in Spanish, le bon usage in French, salika loughawiya in Arabic, and português padrão or português continental in Portuguese.

In a multilingual nation like the U.K. where English, Welsh, Scottish, Gaelic, Lowland Scottish, Cornish, Irish and other migrants’ languages are spoken, Standard British English does not only serve for communication purpose, but vehicles knowledge. In that particular case, it is remarked that the written language tends to be more highly standardized, in comparison with the speech of those who use it (Lyons, 1981). What is still worth mentioning is that this basic model of English (and like vernaculars and dialects) is dynamic and open to linguistic evolution. This argument is based on the processes of terminological borrowing, phonological flavour, lexical modernity and terminological coining which this variation of Standard English admits. That is precisely why Standard British English is instructed to non-native speakers and employed in formal written (ex: public notices and signs), in addition to formal discourses and BBC programs. On the plus side, Standard British English has considerable prestige and is used for relevant formal situations, as the case of international commercial exchange, air and maritime traffic, diplomacy, etc.

What is of paramount importance is that Standard British English may serve as a written communicative refuge for different Anglophone people belonging to dissimilar places. As a case in point, when a British citizen from the Shetland Islands needs to write a letter to other Britons from the Falklands and Cornwall or even to Australian and Californian people, then Standard British English can be employed as ciment de l’unit nationale or lingua franca, so as to avoid linguistic hurdles and make the act of written communication more attainable and easy. The same stands for Members of the Parliament belonging to different regions in U.K. and debating a national political topic in that sort of English. The latter then has prestige not only in England, Wales, Scotland, North Ireland, but even in South Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Beyond that, one need to affirm candidly that acquiring the mechanics of that status full language is not attributed of being born in the right kind of family, but primarily via attending school. As a result, adhering to that accepted degree of linguistic precision becomes a prestige that yields economic, social and political benefits, by holding powerful and influential positions. By contrast, non-adhering to it is deemed as a linguistic anomaly, deviation (if not saying verbal gibberish) caused by laziness, social inferiority and ignorance (Aitchison, 1991; Hudson, 1990; Lyons, 1981 and Trudgill, 1988).

Automatically, one needs to bear in mind that many communities within the U.K. do not stick to Standard British English due to the aforementioned social and economic reasons. Among those communities figure the Gipsy, the Caribbean migrants, the lower working class, etc. But what is for sure is that the elite class may tolerate those nearly illiterate communities to break the linguistic rules and to employ that debased and corrupt variant of English when they are speaking to each other. But recurring to slang, idiom, Creole, regional dialect, colloquial and cockney when addressing the monarch or the cardinal of London and the archbishop of Canterbury will appear like an insult or even something queer that certainly provokes laughter.

Last but not the least, on the strictly technical side one is fully cognizant of the fact that the terms “standard language”, “official language”  along with  “national Language” are not of course identical. What for example consolidates this argument is that with the case of the United Kingdom many other regional languages are granted constitutional status due to variegated ethnical, cultural and political reasons. Among those national or official languages existing in the U.K. but that are not identified as standard languages are the following: Welsh, Scottish and Cornish (Lyons, 1981). However, one also asseverates that even this sort of constitutional curtsey from the part of the British legislator, the aforementioned “national languages” are under threat and one day or another they will be doomed to extinction. This fact makes one retains one of the polemical speeches of José Saramago (A.D. 1922-2010), the famous Portuguese writer and recipient of Nobel Prize, who once prognosticated that within the time limits of fifteen centuries the blue globe will contain solely five languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Russian. As for the rest of world languages, as José Saramago made it clear, they probably will end up in the necropolis of Babylone…!!!


Finally to wind up this interesting topic, it would be better to take a look at the samples below so as to have a general idea about words in Standard British English and their equivalents in variants of colonial English:


Standard British English Standard American English
Biscuits Cookies
Crisps Chips
/fa:m/ /farm/
Field Marshal General of the Army
Football Soccer
I have got I have gotten
Lift Elevator
Marshal of the Royal Air force General of the Air Force
Ministry of Foreign Affairs State Department
Sack Bag
Snap Photo
Taxi Cab
Telephone number Digits
Underground Subway
Way out Exit


Standard British English Australian English
Angry Cranky
Bill or receipt Docket
Biscuit  Bickie
Business Bizzo
Campfire Bush telly
Wild horse Brumbie


Standard British English New Zealand English
Crisps Chippies
Guy Fulla
Marijuana Dak
New Zealander Kiwi
Swimming costume Togs
Transport vehicle Waka


Standard British English South African English
Disciplined Paraat
Kebab or skewers Sosatie
Mother Mallie
Old person krimpie
Trouble maker Skelm
Watch out or be careful Skort


Standard British English Standard Jamaican English
Ghost Duppy
Vendor Vendah



  • Aitchison, Jean (1991). Linguistics: An Introduction. London: Hodder & Stouton.
  • Greenbawn, Sidney et al. editors (1988). Longman Guide to English Usage. Harlow: Longman Group UK Limited.
  • Hudson, R.A. (1990). Sociolinguistics. Cambridge: C.U.P.
  • Lyons, John (1981). Language and Linguistics: an Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Matthews, P.H., editor (2007). Oxford Concise Dictionary of Linguistics. Oxford: O.U.P.
  • Richards, Jack et al. (2002). Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics. Harlow: Longman Group.
  • Trudgill, Peter (1988). Sociolinguistics: an Introduction to Language and Society. London: Penguin Books.
  • britannica.com
  • modlinguistics.com
  • wiktionary.org




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Mounir Haissour
Mounir Haissour is a senior high school teacher of EFL from Tetouan, northern Morocco. He realized his tertiary studies at Martil Faculty of Arts and Tangier King Fahd School of Translation. In addition, he studied tourism at the University of Alicante, Spain, and he obtained an official diploma in Spanish from the Instituto Cervantes. As well, Mounir Haissour spent one academic year in Casablanca, where he studied Portuguese language and culture at the Consulate General of Portugal. Mounir Haissour has published a wide array of articles in Arabic, Spanish, and English in Morocco and abroad. He was also the founder of the Moroccan Association for Alternative Tourism. During his free time, he practices hiking. This recreation modality has permitted him to reach most of the peaks of the Rif and Atlas Mountains. Mounir Haissour can be reached at: atlasleo77@gmail.com