Variation of the English Language at Individual, Societal and International Levels

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How does the English language vary at individual, societal and international levels?

English has become the first `truly global language` (McCrum et al., 2002, p.9). As a result of advances in technology and transport, varieties of English have spread throughout the world. This internationalisation has been described by Shreeve as an `identified phenomenon` (1999, p.1). English now underpins the lives and cultures of a broad spectrum of people, with one in four people in the world now fluent users of English (Crystal, 2002, p.10).

Language involves making meaning and individual identity. It has been defined by Emmit et al. as mediating `between self and society […], a way of representing the world to ourselves and others` (2006, p.17). There are strong links between how individuals use different varieties of English and the social implications of why they do so. According to Swann: `Language varieties are not simply linguistic phenomena. They carry important social meanings` (2007, p.11).

Many social factors have affected the English language, leading to the numerous varieties that are recognised and used today. Variety can be seen in the way every individual uses the English language, the interaction between social groups and in the way different countries are utilising the language. The numerous dialects in use in the UK demonstrate the diverse nature of the English language. Dialects include variations in syntax, morphology, lexicon and phonology. It has been argued from a prescriptive perspective, by linguists such as Quirk and Greenbaum, that dialects are not true forms of English and that there needs to be a `common core of English` (Quirk, 1972; in Kachru et al, 2009, p.513). This is the pure and stringent form known as Standard English, which is traditionally linked to educated society. Standardisation consists of `language determination, codification and stabilisation` (Trudgill, 1992, p.117). It is a model to be consulted; a unified code to refer to. Standard English is a publicly recognised, fixed form, a mastery of which affords `social and educational advantages` (Eyres, 2007, p.16). It was formed by a particular social group, the group with the highest degree of social capital (Bourdieu, 1986, pp.241-258), power and prestige (Rhys, 2007). Rhys, however, perceives that Standard English is a `social dialect` (2007, p.190) and argues that it is not superior to other dialects (Rhys, 2007). Labov states that: `all languages and dialects should be viewed as equal in terms of their ability to communicate` (1969; in Bell, 1997, p.241).

While a standard form of English can be seen as a social and communicative necessity useful for educational and international affairs, vernacular forms should not be discounted or regarded as inferior. Dialects represent a smaller locality and are therefore more personal. A relevant example is the use of dialects in regional BBC news broadcasting. While the national news is presented in Standard English, a code with a particular grammar, pronunciation and register, the BBC’s regional programmes showcase a local identity that cannot be found in national broadcasting. Interviewees and `talking heads` often have strong regional accents and speak in the dialectal forms familiar to their viewers. The regional programmes are personal to their audience and emphasise the benefits of language variation.

Dialects represent social bonds and form because of linguistic choice. The formation of dialects has been explained by Freeborn: `Different choices were made among the varied speech communities forming the speakers of English in the past. These choices are not conscious or deliberate, but pronunciation is always changing, and leads in time to changes in word form` (1993, p.43).

The English language has fragmented into pockets of dialect due to social difference and geography. This is a microcosm of how international languages form; distance causes change. Freeborn...
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