Standard English (1).
Today: What Is It?
This is a troublesome term: we all think we know what it is, but a definition proves elusive. Broadly speaking, it is the English used by educated people. Some Britons contend that it is the English used by educated Britons, and that whatever is used by educated people in the United States is Standard American English. Some Americans refer to Standard British English, to differentiate it from American English. Among commentators, some believe that there is a Standard English that subsumes both American and British English. Still others suggest that each English-speaking nation has its own standard: whatever happens to be the most prestigious dialect within that nation.
Although no comprehensive universal definition exists for the whole of Standard English, there is a range of normally accepted linguistic behavior within a given country. As long as deviations from that range are few and insignificant, the standard is maintained.
The purpose of usage books is to detail what is and is not Standard English. In some instances that means Standard Written English (some commentators dislike the capitals because they make the phenomenon seem too monolithic and institutionalized, but capitals are widely used among linguistic commentators). In other instances that means Standard Colloquial English. Since those books are principally about English in its written form, it is easy enough to exclude accent (as many linguists prefer to do) in discussing the linguistic standard. Mostly, the delineation between Standard English and dialect has to do with grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and punctuation (though undeniably also the pronunciation of certain words, such as "can't," for which /kant/ is standard and /kaynt/ is nonstandard).
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Quotation of the Day: "The persuasive style requires two qualities: clearness and simplicity. If it is lacking in either of these it fails to persuade." Demetrius Phalereus, On Style 250 ¶ 221 (ca. 300 B.C.; T.A. Moxon trans., 1943).