Spoken English

The English language is constantly changing and evolving. If it didn't, we would still be speaking like Shakespeare!

Language is influenced by many factors, including those listed below.

Standard English

Standard English is one variety of English, and the one accepted as the national norm. It is a formal variety of English suited for writing as well as in situations that are serious, such as weddings and funerals.

Standard English includes a particular set of words and grammar rules, but not a specific way to speak them (see 'accent' below). It is used where clear understanding is the main concern and especially where the audience is large and unknown, for example, in national radio and TV announcements and news programmes.

Accent

Accent is the way people pronounce words.

People from different parts of the country often have different accents, which is a part of their 'dialect' (see below). There is a 'standard accent' called received pronunciation (RP) which is often used, along with Standard English.

Some people think received pronunciation is 'posh' but it isn’t really – it’s just another kind of accent suited to particular uses.

Colloquialisms

Colloquialisms are those words and phrases that really only belong to everyday conversation, being too casual or informal for general written use. There are, however, many informal written uses in which colloquialisms are fine, such as some emails, internet chat and texting.

The word 'colloquialism' derives from the term 'colloquy' which is a very formal synonym meaning simple 'conversation'.

Examples of colloquial language include contractions such as 'can’t' and 'won’t'. Colloquialisms also include slang words, but not all colloquialisms are slang. Regional dialect words are often also colloquial (see below).

Slang

Each generation creates its own everyday informal words, known as 'slang'.

Slang terms are also colloquial and are never used in formal occasions such as for school writing and exams. Many slang terms lose popularity as a new generation emerges with its own slang words and phrases.

Words like 'phat' and 'groovy' are now linguistic history - although 'cool' used in its slang way to mean 'fantastic' has been a 'cool' word since 1948.

Dialect

These are words or phrases that you only tend to hear in a particular geographical area, so if you are from Cornwall, you might hear someone from Birmingham or Scotland using different words and grammar from you. For example, the words 'bap', 'cob' and 'bun' are synonyms for 'bread roll' in different parts of the country.

People are rightly proud of their regional dialects and although many dialects' words have disappeared, many still remain. Many dialects also come along with their own accents.

Vernacular

When someone writes or speaks in the 'vernacular', it means that they are using language in a casual, everyday way – the way that families might speak at home.

Writers sometimes use the vernacular to create a really strong sense of character that gives a feeling for a particular time and the place.

For example, John Steinbeck uses the vernacular in his novel Of Mice and Men when the character, George, speaks to his friend Lennie: 'Lennie. You gonna be sick like you was last night.' Contrast this with the same in Standard English, 'Lennie, you are going to be sick like you were last night.'

Cultural influences

We live in a culturally diverse society and, like regional dialects, different cultures can bring their own words and expressions to English. For example, some people may say 'gesundheit' after someone else sneezes - 'gesundheit' is a German word that has become quite popular in English.