Holding an English conversation in standard English says a lot about you, and not using standard English says even more about you, especially in the world of business and in the workplace. It’s interesting how much things have changed with the use of standard English in the UK.
Institutions, like the BBC, have embraced non standard English to be more inclusive of the many regional British people who don’t use standard English in the UK. The problem is there is still stigma and bias associated with people who speak using non standard English.
The good news for new English language learners is that I will certainly teach you standard English. You will avoid knowing about and using non standard English if you listen to Adept English. However, if you are learning by listening to films or English speaking TV, then you might pick up some bad English language habits without knowing it.
Knowing about non standard English and knowing when to use it or not use it is an advanced level of English language fluency. It can be fun and help you fit in if you can spot when people are using non standard English. You might even join in so you can fit in with others. The key here is you’re in control and you know when using standard English in a conversation is the right way to go.
Once, BBC television had echoed BBC radio in being a haven for standard English pronunciation. Then regional accents came in: a democratic plus. Then slipshod usage came in: an egalitarian minus. By now slovenly grammar is even more rife on the BBC channels than on ITV. In this regard a decline can be clearly charted... If the BBC, once the guardian of the English language, has now become its most implacable enemy, let us at least be grateful when the massacre is carried out with style.
⭐ Clive James
Today we highlight some examples of non standard English, we discuss the prejudice and stigma that still exists for people who don’t use standard English. We also show that knowing even a little non standard English can be fun or help you fit into some social circumstances.
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Stigma Received Starve Bias Context Bullied Negative
Hi I’m Hilary and welcome to this podcast from Adept English.
Let’s do something a bit different today. This is something that will really help you with spoken English – or at least with non standard English that you’ll sometimes hear English speakers use. And you’ll meet non standard English in conversations, with English speakers. There are lots of ways of speaking English in a non standard way. I’m going to focus on the ones today that you’ll come across listening to UK English speakers.
So what do we mean by ‘non standard English’? Well the ‘non’, NON just means ‘the opposite of’ – so ‘non standard English’ is the opposite of ‘standard English’. And ‘standard English’ is what you as English language learners are taught. It’s English with the correct pronunciation and spelling and without a regional accent. That’s an accent that comes from a particular part of the UK.
Regional accents can be hard to understand and standard English would mean RP – or ‘Received Pronunciation’ – supposedly the ‘proper’ way to pronounce words, although few people actually speak like this. So you may find non standard English being spoken for a variety of reasons. Not everyone speaks RP or with perfect English grammar. And sometimes English grammar rules are ignored when we speak. They’re much more adhered to, when we’re writing.
So sometimes people speak in a non standard way because they haven’t had a good education and they use incorrect grammar. English grammar is learnable though in school, so often this incorrect grammar is used on purpose to ‘fit in’ with other people. I certainly did this when I was growing up and I’d have died of embarrassment if I’d had to speak with Received Pronunciation. I would probably have been bullied at school if I’d spoken with RP, so non standard English is useful sometimes, if you ‘need to fit in’.
‘I went an’ bought them shoes.’ The standard English would be ‘I went and bought those shoes’.
‘We was in the garage.’ I don’t like that one! The standard English would be ‘We were in the garage’
‘You was talkin’ rubbish.’ And the standard English would be ‘You were talking rubbish’ – or actually you might say something like ‘nonsense’ instead of ‘rubbish’.
So ‘we was’, ‘you was’ – it doesn’t sound good, does it? You might also hear people say ‘I were in the shop’ instead of ‘I was in the shop’. This is non standard and incorrect, actually. And this is different from the conditional use, where you can use ‘I were’ correctly. ‘If I were a ballet dancer, I’d have strong legs’. That’s grammatically correct.
To be on the safe side, ‘I was’ works for all these sentences. ‘I was in the shop’ and ‘If I was a ballet dancer, I’d have strong legs’. So you can use that form to be sure that you’re using correct grammar. English verb forms and English grammar tenses are probably one of the more difficult parts of the language.
And though I consider myself well educated, even I make grammatical errors sometimes when I’m speaking. I don’t tend to when I’m writing though. But a piece of non standard English which I might say:-
‘There’s some oranges in the kitchen’
That’s non standard English – can you spot the error? What would be standard English be there? ‘There are some oranges in the kitchen.
A photograph of a man slicing oranges in a kitchen. The standard and non standard English way of saying there are oranges in the kitchen.
Another thing you might hear which is non standard English – the ‘double negative’. This probably is also in the category of ‘it doesn’t sound very well educated’ if you use the double negative. People may judge you for it. In a job interview, it might count against you to speak like this, to use the double negative. This is what it sounds like:-
‘We didn’t see nothin’.’ The standard English version would be ‘We didn’t see anything’.
‘I di’n’t talk to nobody’. Again the standard English would be ‘I didn’t talk to anybody’. Notice ‘di’n’t’ for ‘didn’t’ - with the extra elision.
‘I ain’t done nothin’. The standard English for this would be ‘I haven’t done anything’.
The argument I always find myself wanting to put when I hear the double negative – if you ‘ain’t seen nothing’, then that means you must’ve seen something! Or if you ‘di’n’t talk to nobody’, then you must have talked to somebody. So this is also the sort of non standard English sometimes which teenagers use – it’s a bit rebellious! It feels purposefully non standard!
You may also hear different forms of non standard English in the different regions of the UK. A couple of examples from the North West of England – that’s where I’m from.
‘A’right?’ as a greeting, instead of ‘Hello’. This ‘A’right’ is really ‘alright’ and it’s short for ‘Are you alright?’, which is instead of saying ‘How are you?’, which is very formal. It’s said very quickly ‘A’right?’
Another one might be ‘I’m goin’ t’t pub.’ This is short for ‘I am going to the pub’. So the ‘to’ and the ‘the’ both get shortened to a letter T form. ‘t’t pub’ is ‘to the pub’. Another example of northern non standard English?
‘I seen it on t’internet.’ If you’ve ever heard of the British comedian Peter Kay, there’s a lot about t’internet in his comedy. He comes from Bolton, which is near Manchester - like I do. ‘I seen it on t’internet’ – he’s saying there ‘I’ve seen it on the internet’, meaning ‘I’ve seen it online’.
Another thing which you might hear in certain regions of the UK – the dropping of the H. So you might hear ‘It’s an ‘orrible ‘ouse’. This means ‘It’s a horrible house’. This is called ‘the dropped H’ – non standard spoken English.
In other regions of the UK, there are ways of speaking which alter the sound of words and make the English non standard. One of these is called ‘glottalization’. An example of this would be:-
‘Wa’er bo’’le.’ Again in case you didn’t catch that? ‘Wa’er bo’’le.’ What I’m actually saying here is ‘Water bottle’, but if you do glottalization, you don’t sound the letter T. Again? ‘Wa’er bo’’le’.
Another of these regional variations ‘bruvver’ with a double V, instead of ‘brother’ with the TH sound. In some areas, and this is common in London, one man might address another as ‘bruv’, as a friendly greeting.
Just pausing a moment there - when I talk about the Adept English ‘Listen & Learn’ approach to learning English – do you know what I mean? Do you understand the method that we recommend for learning English and how best to use our podcasts?
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Here are some examples of non standard English, which you might hear from your teenager, if you live in the UK. Thankyou to my teenagers for supplying some of these. There are lots of words which are specific to teenagers. Teenage slang words – they come and go.
I don’t know many of them because they’ve changed since I was a teenager. But I’ll just give you a couple of examples of enduring ones. These ones are non standard because they exaggerate for effect – that means that they make something sound worse than it is – they overstate something. and I’ll answer each one, with what ‘the mum part of me’ might say, in response!
‘I’ve got tons of washing to do.’ Well, you may have quite a bit of washing, but it’s probably not literally ‘tons’!
‘My dad’s gonna kill me.’ Again, this doesn’t literally mean that a murder is going to take place – it means probably ‘my dad is going to be quite displeased and may shout a bit’.
‘I’m starving.’ The verb ‘to starve’, STARVE means ‘to die through lack of food’. So when a teenager says ‘I’m starving’, it means they’re ready to eat, they’re hungry – it’s a few hours since breakfast.
‘I nearly died laughing.’ It probably is possible, though very rare, to die through laughing – but ‘I nearly died laughing’ just means ‘I laughed a lot’.
Other non standard English? You might hear something like:-
‘I’m gonna go check out the chippy.’ This means ‘I’m going to have a look at the chip shop’, meaning the ‘fish and chip shop’.
‘I’m gonna getcha back.’ This is said in the context of ‘You’ve done something bad to me and I’m going to get even with you, I’m going to get you back’. ‘I’m going getcha back’.
Even yes or no can be said in a slang sort of non standard way.
‘Yeah.’ That’s spelt YEAH or ‘Yep’, spelt YEP – both of those are slang for ‘yes’. The second one, ‘yep’ is a little bit more encouraging than ‘yeah’, which sounds reluctant.
And for ‘No’? Sometimes you’ll hear ‘Nope’, NOPE – even on text messages you see this form, which is strange because it’s two letters longer than the word it replaces!
So all of this is a bit cheeky and quite fun use of English….and a part of our culture. But be aware, there is a stigma attached to non standard English – that’s STIGMA. Non standard English is OK with your friends and with your family, but in a professional environment or a job interview, it may count against you. Rightly or wrongly, it may limit your opportunities and it may mean that you’re not credible – or less credible.
Solve The Maths Problem To Download Podcast & Transcript
So even though we may use non standard English sometimes when we’re being informal, it’s good to be able to change to standard English when we need to. Fortunately for you as an English language learner, you’re probably learning standard English – and you’d only pick up these non standard forms if you learned your English through living in the UK. But learning about non standard English will mean that you can understand it when you hear it.
So there we are – some examples of UK non standard English. I have no idea how easy or difficult this podcast is for you to understand. So let me know. Send us an email and let us know how you found it – and how you’re getting on generally with Adept English. It would be lovely to hear from you.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.