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A standard language (standard variety, standard dialect, standard)[1] is defined either as a language variety employed by a population for public purposes, or as a variety that has undergone standardization.[2] The term "standard language" is also occasionally used to refer to a language that has a standardized form as one of its varieties, referring to the entirety of the language (or an ensemble of similar standardized varieties), rather than a specific codified form.[3][4] Typically, the varieties that undergo substantial standardization are dialects that happen to be local to centers of commerce and government.[5] By virtue of a phenomenon that linguistic anthropologists call "referential displacement"[6] and that sociolinguists call "elaboration of function"[7] the prestige associated with commerce and governance becomes associated with these language varieties. Eventually, its speakers come to believe that their language variety is inherently superior or even the baseline variety of the language by which other variations are judged.[8] Processes of standardization usually involve efforts to fix orthographic representations of that dialect, to codify certain usages and denotations through published grammars and dictionaries, and to encourage public acceptance of these codifications as legitimate.[9][10]

A standardized written language is sometimes termed by the German word Schriftsprache. The term "literary language" is sporadically used as a synonym of "standard language", especially with respect to the Slavic languages,[11] and this naming convention is still prevalent in the Eastern European linguistic tradition.[12][13] The designations "standard dialect" and "standard variety" have gained currency as more neutral replacements for the term "standard language", accentuating that the standard is only one of the many dialects/varieties of a language rather than the totality of it while minimizing the implication that the standard is the only idiom worthy of the appellation "language".[14][15]

A pluricentric language has multiple interacting standard varieties.[16][17][18] Examples include English, French, Portuguese, German, Korean, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Swedish, Armenian and Mandarin.[19][20] Monocentric languages, such as Russian and Japanese, have only one standardized version.[21]


The word "standard" can be misleading where the topic of regularizing languages is concerned: that is, a language in use cannot be "standardized" in the way that, for example, machined parts can be made to standard specifications, nor should the word taken to unproblematically imply a superior or "best" form of speech (as it would in describing a "standard of care" or "standards of behavior").[22]Keywords%3A%20A]][23] such as the local variety of a center of government or culture, or by defining the standard from a selection of features from existing varieties.[24] A relatively fixed orthography is typically prescribed for writing this variety. It may be codified in normative dictionaries and grammars, or by an agreed collection of exemplary texts.[24] Whether these dictionaries and grammars are created by private individuals (like Webster's Dictionary) or by state institutions, they become regarded as standard if they are treated as authorities for "correcting" language.[25] A fixed written form and subsequent codification make the standard idiom more stable than purely spoken varieties, and provide a base for further development or ausbau.[24] This variety becomes referenced as the norm for writing, is used in broadcasting and for official purposes, and is the form taught to non-native learners, at least in official educational settings.[26]

Through this process, the standard variety acquires prestige and a greater functional importance than vernacular varieties.[26] Those varieties are said to be dependent on, or heteronomous with respect to, the standard idiom, because speakers read and write the standard, refer to it as an authority is such matters as specialist terminology, and any standardizing changes in their speech are towards that standard.[27] In some cases, such as Standard English, this process may take place over an extended period without government intervention. In others it may be deliberately directed by official institutions, such as the Académie française or Real Academia Española, and can proceed much more quickly.[26]

There exist two ways of interpreting the notion of 'standard language': on the one hand, it can be defined as the sociolect of a certain social stratum, as an actual entity; while on the other hand, it can be described as an abstract result of regulatory processes, existing only in the form of a normative idealization.[28] As some linguists have observed, complete standardization of living languages is not practically achievable, and standard dialects do not function as real entities, but rather as sets of abstract norms, which are adhered to in varying degrees in actual linguistic practice.[29][30] Varieties that come to be called "standard" are therefore neither uniform nor fully stabilized, especially in their spoken forms.[31] The American linguist Suzanne Romaine suggests that the notion of standard languages can be compared to the concept of imagined communities described by Benedict Anderson.[30] In addition, language standardization is not a universal phenomenon but rather a result of socio-historical factors.[30] Most of the approximately 7,000 languages of the world do not have officially codified norms.[30]

Language standardization is often linked to the formation, or attempted formation, of nation states, as language is seen as the vehicle of a shared culture.[26] Different national standards derived from a dialect continuum may become treated as different languages, even if they are mutually intelligible.[33][34] The Scandinavian languages, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, are often cited as examples.[35]

In other cases governments or neighbouring populations may seek to deny a standard independent status.[36] In response, developers of a standard may base it on more divergent varieties.


Chinese consists of hundreds of local varieties, many of which are not mutually intelligible, usually classified into seven to ten major groups, including Mandarin, Wu, Yue, Hakka and Min. Before the 20th century, most Chinese spoke only their local variety. For two millennia, formal writing had been done in Literary Chinese (or Classical Chinese), a style modelled on the classics and far removed from any contemporary speech.[38] As a practical measure, officials of the late imperial dynasties carried out the administration of the empire using a common language based on Mandarin varieties, known as Guānhuà (literally "speech of officials").[39]

In the early 20th century, many Chinese intellectuals argued that the country needed a standardized language.

In British English the standard, known as Standard English (SE), is historically based on the language of the medieval English court of Chancery.[44] 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.[45] The spoken standard has come to be seen as a mark of good education and social prestige.[46] Although often associated with the RP accent, SE can be spoken with any accent, such as General American, General Australian, etc.[44]

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.[47]

Two standardised registers of the Hindustani language have legal status in India: Standard Hindi (one of 23 co-official national languages) and Urdu (Pakistan’s official tongue), resultantly, Hindustani often called “Hindi-Urdu".[48]

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.[49] As of September 2013,[50] the first major revision of the Caighdeán Oifigiúil is available, both online[51] and in print.[52] 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,[53] including allowing further use of the nominative case where the genitive would historically have been found.[53]

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.[55] 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.[56]

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.[57]

In Brazil, actors and journalists usually adopt an unofficial, but de facto, spoken standard Portuguese, originally derived from the middle-class dialects of Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, 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].[58]

Four standard variants of the pluricentric Serbo-Croatian are spoken in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia.[20] They all have the same dialect basis (Štokavian).[48][60][61] These variants do differ slightly, as is the case with other pluricentric languages,[48][62] but not to a degree that would justify considering them as different languages. The differences between the variants do not hinder mutual intelligibility and do not undermine the integrity of the system as a whole.[63][64][65] 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.[66][67] Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro in their constitution have all named the language differently.[68]

In Somalia, Northern Somali (or North-Central Somali) forms the basis for Standard Somali,[69] 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.[70]

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