Standard language

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A standard language (also standard dialect or standardized dialect) is a language variety used by a group of people in their public discourse.[1] Alternatively, varieties become standard by undergoing a process of standardization, during which it is organized for description in grammars and dictionaries and encoded in such reference works.[1] Typically, varieties that become standardized are the local dialects spoken in the centers of commerce and government, where a need arises for a variety that will serve more than local needs. A standard language can be either pluricentric[2] (e.g. Arabic, English, German, Persian, Serbo-Croatian, French, Portuguese and Spanish)[3] or monocentric (e.g. Icelandic, Italian,[4] Japanese,[5] and Russian[5]).[6] A standard written language is sometimes termed by the German word Schriftsprache.


The only requirement for a variety to be standard is that it can frequently be used in public places or public discourse.[1] The creation of a prescriptive standard language derives from a desire for national (cultural, political, and social) cohesion, with this considered requiring an agreed-upon, standardized language variety.[citation needed] Standard languages commonly feature:

List of standard languages and regulators

Language Standard register Regulator Non-standard dialects
Arabic Pluricentric Standard Arabic The Quran; several Arabic language academies spoken Arabic
Albanian Standard Albanian Institute of Albanology of Tirana, Institute of Albanology of Prishtina Gheg Albanian
Afrikaans Standard Afrikaans Die Taalkommissie Dialects of Afrikaans
Basque Standard Basque Euskaltzaindia Basque dialects
Bulgarian Standard Bulgarian Institute for the Bulgarian language Bulgarian dialects
Dutch Standard Dutch Nederlandse Taalunie Dutch dialects
Danish Rigsdansk Dansk Sprognævn Danish dialects
Catalan Standard Catalan, Standard Valencian Institut d'Estudis Catalans, Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua Catalan dialects
(Spoken language based on Mandarin)
Standard Chinese
(Spoken: Standard Mandarin)
National Language Regulating Committee (PRC), National Languages Committee (ROC/Taiwan), Promote Mandarin Council (Singapore) Varieties of Chinese, Mandarin Chinese (Beijing, Taiwanese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Philippine)
Persian Pluricentric Standard Persian (Standard Iranian Persian (based on Tehrani dialect), Standard Dari (Afghan Persian), and Standard Tajik) Academy of Persian Language and Literature Persian dialects
French Pluricentric Standard French (African Standard French, Belgian Standard French, Cambodian Standard French, Canadian Standard French, Lao Standard French, French Standard French, Swiss Standard French, and Vietnamese Standard French (most Standard French dialects, except Belgian, Canadian, and Swiss, are all based on French Standard French)) Académie française, Office québécois de la langue française, Council for the Development of French in Louisiana Varieties of French
German Pluricentric Standard German (Austrian Standard German, German Standard German and Swiss Standard German) Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung German dialects
Irish An Caighdeán Oifigiúil Foras na Gaeilge Connacht Irish, Munster Irish and Ulster Irish
Italian Standard Italian Accademia della Crusca Regional Italian
Korean Pluricentric Standard Korean (South Korean standard and North Korean standard National Institute of the Korean Language, Language Research Institute of Social Science Korean dialects
Modern Greek Standard Modern Greek official introduction under Constantine Karamanlis in 1976 Varieties of Modern Greek
Hindustani language (Hindi and Urdu) Pluricentric Standard Hindustani (Hindi Standard Hindustani and Urdu Standard Hindustani) Central Hindi Directorate, National Language Authority of Pakistan Hindi language belt
Macedonian Standard Macedonian Institute for Macedonian language "Krste Misirkov" Macedonian dialects
Malay Pluricentric Standard Malay (as a national language in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore; as a regional language in Indonesia), Malaysian language, and Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia yang Baik dan Benar) Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (for the Malay language in Malaysia and Brunei), Badan Pengembangan dan Pembinaan Bahasa (for the Indonesian language), Majlis Bahasa Brunei–Indonesia–Malaysia Malayan languages
Norwegian Nynorsk, Bokmål Språkrådet Norwegian dialects
Polish Standard Polish Polish Language Council Polish dialects
Portuguese Pluricentric Standard Portuguese (Brazilian Standard Portuguese and European Standard Portuguese) Academia das Ciências de Lisboa, Classe de Letras, Academia Brasileira de Letras Portuguese dialects
Romanian Standard (or literary) Romanian Romanian Academy (through its "Iorgu Iordan – Alexandru Rosetti" Institute of Linguistics) in Romania and the Academy of Sciences of Moldova in the Republic of Moldova Romanian dialects
Serbo-Croatian Pluricentric Standard Serbo-Croatian (Bosnian Standard Serbo-Croatian, Croatian Standard Serbo-Croatian, Montenegrin Standard Serbo-Croatian, and Serbian Standard Serbo-Croatian) University of Sarajevo, Zagreb, Podgorica, and Belgrade; Matica hrvatska and Matica srpska South Serbian dialects (Torlakian) and West Croatian dialects (Kajkavian and Čakavian)
Slovenian Standard Slovenian Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts Slovene dialects, Prekmurje Slovene, Resian dialect
Somali Standard Somali Regional Somali Language Academy Somali languages
Spanish Pluricentric Standard Spanish (Pluricentric American Standard Spanish, Canarian Standard Spanish, and European Standard Spanish) Real Academia Española, Association of Spanish Language Academies Spanish dialects and varieties
Swahili Standard Swahili based on the Kiunguja dialect (Zanzibar) Inter-Territorial Language Committee Mombasa dialect, others
Swedish Standard Swedish Swedish Language Council, Svenska språkbyrån Swedish dialects


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Arabic comprises many varieties (some of which are mutually unintelligible) which are considered a single language because the standardised register of Arabic, called Modern Standard Arabic, is generally intelligible to literate speakers. It is based on simplified Classical Arabic, the language of the Quran, which dates from the 7th century CE.


The Aramaic language has been diglossic for much of its history, with many different literary standards serving as the "high" liturgical languages, including Syriac language, Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Samaritan Aramaic language and Mandaic language, while the vernacular Neo-Aramaic languages serve as the vernacular language spoken by the common people like Northeastern Neo-Aramaic (Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Bohtan Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, Hértevin language, Koy Sanjaq Syriac language, Senaya language), Western Neo-Aramaic, Northeastern Neo-Aramaic, Central Neo-Aramaic (Mlahsô language, Turoyo language), Neo-Mandaic, Hulaulá language, Lishana Deni, Lishanid Noshan, Lishán Didán, Betanure Jewish Neo-Aramaic, and Barzani Jewish Neo-Aramaic.


The Armenian language has Classical Armenian serving as the "high" literary standard, and the standardised vernacular Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian dialects.


Cantonese (粵語)is a language spoken in the Chinese province of Guangdong. It is a de facto standard language used by the court, media, schools, and the government in Hong Kong and Macau. The standard accent of Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong and Macau is based on the accent of West Gate (西關) in modern-day western Guangzhou and is mutually intelligible with the Cantonese spoken in Guangzhou, although there exist minor differences in pronunciation and vocabulary due to its evasion of Mandarin influence and communist ideologies.

In Hong Kong Cantonese, the major difference from Guangzhou Cantonese is that the nasal sound /ŋ/ (ng) is either faded out or merged into /l/ or /m/ initials. There is also a set of loanwords and unique slangs developed in Hong Kong. Hong Kong people also tend to speak Cantonese mixed with certain English vocabulary.


The Chinese language (漢語) comprises a wide variety of spoken forms, which are known as fangyan (方言, “regional speech"). The major varieties are (i) Mandarin, (ii) Wu, (iii) Yue, (iv) Hakka, and (v) Min. These spoken variants are not mutually intelligible.

Standard Chinese is based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, and is the official language of the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), and Republic of Singapore. The spoken standard is called Putonghua (普通话, “common speech") in the PRC, Guoyu (國語, “national language") in Taiwan, and Huayu (华语, “Chinese language") in Singapore.

Classical Chinese (文言文, “literary writing"), based on the vernacular in Qin Dynasty, previously served as the written standard throughout most of the Chinese history before being replaced by written vernacular Chinese (白話文, “vernacular writing") based on Standard Mandarin, in the 20th century.

The Chinese language also enjoys official status in Hong Kong (together with English) and in Macau (together with Portuguese). Although the written standard is widely understood and used almost exclusively on formal and semi-formal occasions (e.g. government documents, books) while the spoken standard is often taught at school, Standard Mandarin is not widely employed in these territories. In daily life, the majority of the population speaks Yue (typically the de facto standard variant, Cantonese), and often writes it on casual occasions (e.g. text messages, advertisements). Even when they read out a passage in the written standard, they would read it with the Cantonese pronunciation of each character, not Mandarin.


In British English the standard, known as Standard English (SE), is historically based on the language of the medieval English court of Chancery.[8] The late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the establishment of this standard as the norm of "polite" society, that is to say of the upper classes.[9] The spoken standard has come to be seen as a mark of good education and social prestige.[10] Although often associated with the RP accent, SE can be spoken with any accent.[11]

The dialects of American English vary throughout the US, but the General American accent is the unofficial standard language for being considered supposedly "accentless."


Filipino is the standardized form of the Metro Manila dialect of Tagalog, and is an official language of the Philippines. Most regions have a different Philippine language as their first language, but all Filipinos learn the language of Tagalog in school. Tagalog is thus used as a lingua franca, with national television employing it almost exclusively, and with national printed media are sometimes in Tagalog but more often in English.


The basic structure and words of standard Finnish (yleiskieli) are mostly based upon the dialects of Western Finland, because Mikael Agricola, who codified the written language in the sixteenth century, was from Turku, the regional centre of the time. Finnish was developed to integrate all of the nation’s dialects, and so yield a logical language for proper written communication. One aim was national unification, in accordance to the nationalistic principle; the second aim was linguistic regularity and consistency, even if contradicting general colloquial usage, e.g. in Standard Finnish, ruoka becomes ruoan, and the pronunciation is ruuan.


Parisian French is the standard in French literature.


The Georgian language has a literary liturgical form, the Old Georgian language, while the vernacular spoken varieties are the Georgian dialects and other related Kartvelian languages like Svan language, Mingrelian language, and Laz language.


Standard German was developed over several centuries, during which time writers tried to write in a way intelligible to the greatest number of readers and speakers, thus, until about 1800, Standard German was mostly a written language. In that time, in northern Germany and in the Netherlands and Flanders Low German and Franconian dialects were spoken that were much different from Standard German. Later, the Northern pronunciation of written German became considered the universal standard; in Hanover, because of that adoption, the local dialect disappeared. The Netherlands and Flanders developed standard languages of their own towards the end of the 16th century.


The Standard form of Modern Greek is based on the Southern dialects; these dialects are spoken mainly in the Peloponnese, the Ionian Islands, Attica, Crete and the Cyclades.[12] However the Northerners call this dialect, and the Standard form, 'Atheneika' which means 'the Athens dialect'. This form is also official in Cyprus, where people speak a South-Eastern dialect (dialects spoken in the Dodecanese and Cyprus), Cypriot Greek and a Greek variant spoken in Southern Albania called Himariote Greek.


Two standardised registers of the Hindustani language have legal status India: Standard Hindi (one of 23 co-official national languages) and Urdu (Pakistan’s official tongue), resultantly, Hindustani often called “Hindi-Urdu".[13]


Standard Hungarian is based on the Hungarian dialect originally spoken in the territory what is today part of Northeastern Hungary, Carpathian Ruthenia (Ukraine), Kosice Region of Slovakia and Satu Mare and Bihor counties of Romania, as both Bible translator Gáspár Károli (1529-1591) and language reformer Ferenc Kazinczy (1759-1831) were born in this region. However standard Hungarian first spread in the 19th century in the that day predominantly German speaking Budapest, today it is spoken by the overwhelming majority of Hungarians, partially due to television programs.


An Caighdeán Oifigiúil ("The Official Standard"), often shortened to An Caighdeán, is official standard of the Irish language. It is taught in most schools in Ireland, though with strong influences from local dialects. It was first published by the translators in Dáil Éireann in the 1950s.[14] As of September 2013,[15] the first major revision of the Caighdeán Oifigiúil is available, both online[16] and in print.[17] Among the changes to be found in the revised version are, for example, various attempts to bring the recommendations of the Caighdeán closer to the spoken dialect of Gaeltacht speakers,[18] including allowing further use of the nominative case where the genitive would historically have been found.[19]


Standard Italian is derived from the Tuscan dialect, specifically from its Florentine variety — the Florentine influence upon early Italian literature established that dialect as base for the standard language of Italy. In particular, Italian became the language of culture for all the people of Italy, thanks to the prestige of the masterpieces of Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca, Giovanni Boccaccio, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Francesco Guicciardini. It would later become the official language of all the Italian states, and after the Italian unification it became the national language of the Kingdom of Italy.[20] Modern Standard Italian's lexicon has been deeply influenced by almost all regional languages of Italy while its received pronunciation (known as Pronuncia Fiorentina Emendata, Amended Florentine Pronunciation) is based on the accent of Romanesco (Roman dialect); these are the reasons why Standard Italian differs significantly from the Tuscan dialect.[21]


Classical Latin was the literary standard dialect of Latin spoken by higher socioeconomic classes, as opposed to the Vulgar Latin which is the generic term of the colloquial sociolects of Latin spoken across the Roman Empire by uneducated and less-educated classes. The Latin brought by Roman soldiers to Gaul, Iberia, or Dacia was not identical to the Latin of Cicero, and differed from it in vocabulary, syntax, and grammar.[22] Some literary works with low-register language from the Classical Latin period give a glimpse into the world of early Vulgar Latin. The works of Plautus and Terence, being comedies with many characters who were slaves, preserve some early basilectal Latin features, as does the recorded speech of the freedmen in the Cena Trimalchionis by Petronius Arbiter. At the third Council of Tours in 813, priests were ordered to preach in the vernacular language — either in the rustica lingua romanica (Vulgar Latin), or in the Germanic vernaculars — since the common people could no longer understand formal Latin. Catholic Church continued to use Latin at present, and the name of the form of Latin is named Ecclesiastical Latin which is regarded a modernized standard dialect of Latin based on simplified Classical Latin with some lexical variations, a simplified syntax in some cases, and, commonly, an Italianized pronunciation.

Language distribution: The official form of written Norwegian by municipality in Norway. Red: Bokmål. Blue: Nynorsk. Grey: Neutral (neither form is official, usually because of a fairly even number of users or lack of political decisions over the matter).


The Malay language exists in a Classical variety, and modern standard variety and several vernacular dialects. The modern standard variety is based on Johore-Riau dialect of Malay.


Standard Manchu was based on the language spoken by the Jianzhou Jurchens during Nurhaci's time, while other unwritten Manchu dialects such as that of Aigun and Sanjiazi were also spoken in addition to the related Xibe language.


Classical Mongolian language was the high register used for religious and official purposes while the various Mongolian dialects serve as the low reigster, like Khalkha Mongolian, Chakhar Mongolian, Khorchin Mongolian, Kharchin Mongolian, Baarin Mongolian, Ordos Mongolian, and the Buryat language. The Tibetan Buddhist canon was translated into Classical Mongolian. The Oirat Mongols who spoke the Oirat Mongol language and dialects like Kalmyk language or Torgut Oirat used a separate standard written with the Clear script.

The Mongolian language, based on Khalkha Mongolian, now serves as the high register in Mongolia itself while in Inner Mongolia a standard Mongolian based on Chakhar Mongolian serves as the high register for all Mongols in China. The Buryat language has been turned into a standard literary form itself in Russia.


In Norwegian there are two parallel standard languages: (i) Bokmål (partly derived from the local pronunciation of Danish, when Denmark ruled Norway), (ii) Nynorsk (comparatively derived from Norwegian dialects).


Portuguese has two official written standards, (i) Brazilian Portuguese (used chiefly in Brazil) and (ii) European Portuguese (used in Portugal and Angola, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe). The written standards slightly differ in spelling and vocabulary, and are legally regulated. Unlike the written language, however, there is no spoken-Portuguese official standard, but the European Portuguese reference pronunciation is the educated speech of Lisbon.

In Brazil, actors and journalists usually adopt an unofficial, but de facto, spoken standard Portuguese, originally derived from the middle-class dialect of Rio de Janeiro, but that now encompasses educated urban pronunciations from the different speech communities in the southeast. In that standard, <s> represents the phoneme /s/ when it appears at the end of a syllable (whereas in Rio de Janeiro this represents /ʃ/) the rhotic consonant spelled <r> is pronounced [h] in the same situation (whereas in São Paulo this is usually an alveolar flap or trill). European and African dialects have differing realizations of /ʁ/ than Brazilian dialects, with the former using [ʁ] and [r] and the latter using [x], [h], or [χ].[23] Between vowels, <r> represents /ɾ/ for most dialects.


Four standard variants of the pluricentric Serbo-Croatian are spoken in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro.[24] They all have the same dialect basis (Štokavian).[13][25][26] These variants do differ slightly, as is the case with other pluricentric languages.[13][27] The differences between the variants do not hinder mutual intelligibility and do not undermine the integrity of the system as a whole.[28][29][30] Compared to the differences between the variants of English, German, French, Spanish, or Portuguese, the distinctions between the variants of Serbo-Croatian are less significant.[31][32] Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro in their constitution have all named the language differently.[33]


In Somalia, Northern Somali (or North-Central Somali) forms the basis for Standard Somali,[34] particularly the Mudug dialect of the northern Darod clan. Northern Central Somali has frequently been used by famous Somali poets as well as the political elite, and thus has the most prestige among other Somali dialects.[35] Standardization of the language is regulated by the Regional Somali Language Academy.


In Spain, Standard Spanish is based partly upon the speech of educated speakers from central northem Spain, but mainly upon the literary language. In Argentina and Uruguay the Spanish standard is based on the local dialects of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. This is known as Rioplatense Spanish (“River Plate Spanish"), distinguishable, from other standard Spanish dialects, by the greater use of the voseo. Like Rioplatense Spanish, all Standard Spanish dialects in all Latin America, United States, and Canary Islands are related to Andalusian Spanish. The varieties of Lima, Peru and Bogotá, Colombia are valued across Latin America for their clear pronunciation.[36]


Classical Tibetan was the high register used universally by all Tibetans while the various mutually unintelligible Tibetic languages serve as the low register vernacular, like Central Tibetan language in Ü-Tsang (Tibet proper), Khams Tibetan in Kham, Amdo Tibetan in Amdo, Ladakhi language in Ladakh, and Dzongkha in Bhutan. Classical Tibetan was used for official and religious purposes, such as in Tibetan Buddhist religious texts like the Tibetan Buddhist canon and taught and learned in monasteries and schools in Tibetan Buddhist regions.

Now Standard Tibetan, based on the Lhasa dialect, serves as the high register in China. In Bhutan, the Tibetan Dzongkha language has been standarized and replaced Classical Tibetan for official purposes and education, in Ladakh, the standard official language learned are now the unrelated languages Hindi-Urdu and English, and in Baltistan, the Tibetan Balti language serves as the low register while the unrelated Urdu language is the official language.

Uzbek and Uyghur

The Turkic Chagatai language served as the high register literary standard for Central Asian Turkic peoples, while the vernacular low register languages were the Uzbek language and Eastern Turki (Modern Uyghur). The Soviet Union abolished Chagatai as the literary standard and had the Uzbek language standarized as a literary language, and the Taranchi dialect of Ili was chosen as the literary standard for Modern Uyghur, while other dialects like the Kashgar and Turpan dialects continue to be spoken.

See also


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  2. Clyne 1992
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  4. Italian language.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Clyne 1992, p. 3.
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  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  8. Smith 1996
  9. Blake 1996
  10. Baugh and Cable, 2002
  11. Smith, 1996
  12. Horrocks, Geoffrey (1997): Greek: A history of the language and its speakers. London: Longman. Ch.17.
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  20. A Brief History of the Italian Language by Cory Crawford.
  21. La pronuncia italiana (Italian).
  22. L. R. Palmer The Latin Language (repr. Univ. Oklahoma 1988, ISBN 0-8061-2136-X)
  23. Mateus, Maria Helena & d'Andrade, Ernesto (2000) The Phonology of Portuguese ISBN 0-19-823581-X (Excerpt from Google Books)
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  27. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. (ÖNB).
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  34. Dalby (1998:571)
  35. Saeed (1999:5)


  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • Baugh, Albert C. and Thomas Cable. 2002. A History of the English Language, fifth ed. (London: Routledge)
  • Blake, N. F. 1996. A History of the English Language (Basingstoke: Palgrave)
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • Joseph, John E. 1987. Eloquence and Power: The Rise of Language Standards and Standard Languages (London: Frances Pinter; New York: Basil Blackwell)
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
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  • Smith, Jeremy. 1996. An Historical Study of English: Function, Form and Change (London: Routledge)
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