Attitudes to Standard British English and Standard Polish

A Study in Normative Linguistics and Comparative Sociolinguistics

by Maciej Rataj (Author)
©2016 Monographs 257 Pages
Series: Gdańsk Studies in Language, Volume 5


The book provides a new insight into English-Polish comparative sociolinguistics by comparing and contrasting the attitudes of young adult native speakers of British English and Polish towards the standard varieties of their mother tongues. The author reviews the Anglophone and Polish approaches to standard dialects and language standardization, integrating sociolinguistics, normative linguistics and prescriptivism. The core of the work presents and analyses the results of a questionnaire-based study of language attitudes conducted at several Polish and British universities. In conclusion, the author places the two groups of informants on a spectrum of language attitudes ranging from purism to tolerance of non-standard varieties.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Tables
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1 Standard English and Standard Polish
  • 1.1 Definitions and components of the standard dialect and standardization
  • 1.1.1 Defining Standard British English
  • 1.1.2 Defining Standard Polish
  • 1.2 Attitudes to the standard dialect
  • 1.2.1 Overt and covert prestige
  • 1.2.2 Popular attitudes to SBE
  • 1.2.3 Popular attitudes to SP
  • 1.2.4 The linguistic axiology perspective
  • 1.3 Working hypotheses
  • Chapter 2 Research objectives
  • 2.1 Preliminary remarks
  • 2.2 Studying the language attitudes of young people
  • 2.3 Similarities and differences between standard dialect attitudes in Great Britain and Poland
  • 2.4 Purism and carelessness
  • 2.5 Limitations of the research
  • Chapter 3 The survey
  • 3.1 Research methods
  • 3.2 Basic statistical data about the informants
  • Chapter 4 Defining the standard dialect
  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.2 British attitudes
  • 4.2.1 Defining features of SBE
  • 4.2.2 Speakers of SBE
  • 4.2.3 SBE versus the informants’ favourite dialect
  • 4.3 Polish attitudes
  • 4.3.1 Defining features of SP
  • 4.3.2 Speakers of SP
  • 4.3.3 SP versus the informants’ favourite dialect
  • 4.4 Conclusions
  • Chapter 5 The functions of the standard dialect
  • 5.1 Introduction
  • 5.2 British attitudes
  • 5.2.1 Areas where SBE should be used
  • 5.2.2 The use of SBE as the medium and model in education
  • 5.2.3 The use of SBE at work, in church and in literature
  • 5.3 Polish attitudes
  • 5.3.1 Areas where SP should be used
  • 5.3.2 The use of SP as the medium and model in education
  • 5.3.3 The use of SP at work, in church and in literature
  • 5.4 Conclusions
  • Chapter 6 Codification and correctness
  • 6.1 Introduction
  • 6.2 British attitudes to codification and correctness
  • 6.2.1 Views about the codification of SBE
  • 6.2.2 Views about correctness in SBE
  • 6.2.3 Reactions to prescriptive rules
  • 6.3 Polish attitudes to codification and correctness
  • 6.3.1 Views about the codification of SP
  • 6.3.2 Views about correctness in SP
  • 6.3.3 Reactions to prescriptive rules
  • 6.4 Conclusions
  • Chapter 7 Prestige in English and Polish
  • 7.1 Introduction
  • 7.2 Attitudes to prestige in SBE
  • 7.2.1 Prestigious English
  • 7.2.2 Standard English and value judgements
  • 7.2.3 The prestige of SBE speakers
  • 7.3 Attitudes to prestige in SP
  • 7.3.1 Prestigious Polish
  • 7.3.2 Standard Polish and value judgements
  • 7.3.3 The prestige of SP speakers
  • 7.4 Conclusions
  • Chapter 8 Analysis of the results
  • 8.1 Introduction
  • 8.2 The four major standard dialect attitudes
  • 8.2.1 Introduction
  • 8.2.2 Standard dialect bias
  • 8.2.3 Opposition to standard dialect bias
  • Preliminary remarks
  • Rejection of the value of the standard dialect
  • Other views discordant with standard dialect bias
  • 8.2.4 Between support and opposition to standard dialect bias
  • 8.2.5 The rational or tolerant attitudes
  • 8.3 Attitudes of standard and non-standard dialect speakers
  • 8.4 Attitudes of female and male speakers
  • 8.5 Standard dialect attitudes and linguistic axiology
  • 8.6 Summary
  • Chapter 9 Conclusion
  • 9.1 Introduction
  • 9.2. Implications of the results
  • 9.2.1 Preliminary remarks
  • 9.2.2 Attitudes of linguists and the informants
  • 9.2.3 Teaching normative linguistics
  • 9.3 Suggestions for further research
  • 9.4 Final remarks
  • References
  • Appendix 1 Questionnaire for British informants
  • Appendix 2 Questionnaire for Polish informants

← 8 | 9 →Tables

Table 1 Language types (Stewart 1968: 537)

Table 2 Components of language standardization (Haugen 1966: 110)

Table 3 Selected sociolinguistic differences between Present-Day English and Present-Day Polish

Table 4 The standard dialect as seen by Polish linguistics

Table 5 The frequency of the words/phrases criticized by Bugajski (1993: 165) according to the National Corpus of Polish (Pęzik 2012) as of 22 November 2015

Table 6 Fragments of Part I of the research questionnaire forms

Table 7 Part II of the research questionnaire forms

Table 8 The respondents’ age

Table 9 The respondents’ enrolment in university programmes

Table 10 Frequency of using SBE declared by the British informants

Table 11 Frequency of using SP declared by the Polish informants

Table 12 The defining features of SBE according to the British

Table 13 The unity of SBE

Table 14 The historicity of SBE

Table 15 Informality and slang in SBE

Table 16 The speakers of SBE

Table 17 The favourite dialects of the British students

Table 18 The defining features of SP according to the Polish

Table 19 The unity of SP

Table 20 The historicity of SP

Table 21 Informality and slang in SP

Table 22 The speakers of SP

Table 23 The favourite dialects of the Polish students

← 9 | 10 →Table 24 The areas of life or situations where SBE should be used

Table 25 Attitudes to the use of SBE in education

Table 26 Attitudes to SBE at work, in religion and in literature

Table 27 The areas of life or situations where SP should be used

Table 28 Attitudes to the use of SP in education

Table 29 Attitudes to SP at work, in religion and in literature

Table 30 Attitudes to the codification of SBE

Table 31 Definitions of “correct” English

Table 32 Attitudes to correctness in English

Table 33 Reactions to prescriptive attitudes in SBE

Table 34 Attitudes to the codification of SP

Table 35 Definitions of “correct” Polish

Table 36 Attitudes to correctness in Polish

Table 37 Reactions to prescriptive attitudes in SP

Table 38 Prestigious varieties of English

Table 39 Value judgements in English, including SBE

Table 40 The prestige of SBE speakers

Table 41 Prestigious varieties of Polish

Table 42 Value judgements in Polish, including SP

Table 43 The prestige of SP speakers

Table 44 The four major language attitude categories

Table 45 Part III statements selected for analysis of standard dialect attitudes in standard and non-standard dialect users

Table 46 Standard and non-standard dialect speaker selection criteria

Table 47 Selected data on the standard and non-standard
dialect speakers

Table 48 Declared frequency of using SBE/SP according to gender

Table 49 Selected data about the female and male respondents

Table 50 Two conflicting dialect attitudes and the axiological features that they express

← 10 | 11 →Preface

The standard dialect is an indispensable part of communication in a modern society and the main reference point of descriptive linguistics; however, the value of a given standard variety for the community in which it is embedded remains somewhat unknown. In the English speaking countries sociolinguistics frequently deals with the relationships between language varieties and the social status of their native speakers, and it studies informants’ reactions to speech samples produced in more or less prestigious language forms. Polish linguistics, on the other hand, appears to be inextricably bound to linguistic culture, in which much valuable information about Standard Polish that can be found co-occurs with a fight against linguistic errors (the co-called “lapsological strand”) and criticism of Polish speakers’ common usage. Linguistic culture itself, as is noted by some Polish linguists, is a term which has as many as three distinct meanings, each differently related to prescriptivism. Furthermore, Standard Polish is also a somewhat fuzzy concept as it has been given all manner of names, using the nouns meaning ‘language’ and ‘variety’ and such adjectives as ‘general’, ‘literary’, ‘cultured’ and, probably the least frequently, ‘standard’.

Over the past several decades Polish linguists have made several press appeals to the populace, their aim being to draw attention to the supposed carelessness on the part of Polish speakers who thus have allowed Polish to become a mix of lower-class usage, obscenities and English words accepted en masse. Although mainstream sociolinguistics in the English-speaking countries does not permit such value judgements, some linguists, such as John Honey and Robert Burchfield, and other writers on language issues (e.g. John Humphrys) also express all manner of purist attitudes, linguistic conservatism and fear for the future of Standard English or English as a whole. The recurring motif in Great Britain and Poland alike is the supposed deterioration of standard dialect use among teenagers and young adults. Hence one may wonder if it is possible for the two standard dialects to be indeed in decline, as purists claim, and if young people in Britain and Poland do not care about language “correctness”, perhaps avoiding standard usage altogether.

This work deals with such issues as well, although its major objective is not to see whether Polish or English are in fact deteriorating but to compare the language attitudes of the youngest generation of adults in Great Britain and Poland, where complaint about the supposed linguistic carelessness of young people can be observed even though the sociolinguistic situations of the two countries ← 11 | 12 →appear to be markedly different. The core of the text is based on an analysis of answers provided by over 200 native-speaker informants studying at Polish and British universities. It is divided into four chapters, each approximately corresponding to Haugen’s (1966a) classification of standard dialect features which also constitute the four basic stages of language standardization. They deal with the basic defining features of the standard dialect and indirectly with its selection, elaboration of function together with the functions in which the standard dialect seems most appropriate, codification and “correctness” with a study of reactions to some prescriptive rules, and finally acceptance and prestige. Chapter 8 categorizes the results obtained according to the attitude rather than topic and tries to compare and contrast, as much as the makeup of the informant groups allows, the attitudes of women and men as well as habitual standard dialect speakers and those who claimed to use it infrequently. It also contains a brief section on linguistic axiology which deals with the issues of “good” and “bad” language. The last chapter suggests how the results might be interpreted and what research on the topic may be conducted in the future. This is followed by the bibliography and the full texts of the questionnaires.

This book has been written so as to be accessible also to speakers of English with a limited or no knowledge of Polish. Hence most of the Polish data and quotations are presented in translation only and some fragments contain information about the history or society of Poland that may seem obvious to the Polish reader.

It is important to remember that since it was impossible to gather responses from young informants from all walks of life or keep the numbers of male and female participants or participants from different geographical locations in proportions adequate for statisticians, the conclusions drawn show tendencies rather than statistically significant and therefore unassailable facts about entire societies. Obtaining replies from people with less education and/or ones uninterested in the humanities would have required different methods and resources, and the British part could not have been conducted online.

The present author would like to express gratitude to all of his colleagues from the University of Gdańsk and other universities who provided him with useful advice and showed interest in the topic discussed in this work.

← 12 | 13 →Chapter 1 Standard English and Standard Polish

1.1 Definitions and components of the standard dialect and standardization

In the first half of the twenty-first century standard dialects are ubiquitous in the everyday life of all societies except those inhabiting the few remaining areas still untouched by modern civilization. Currently in a great number of countries the standard dialect is the language of national and local authorities, the mass media and education at all of its levels (both as the medium of instruction and as the subject of first-, second- and foreign-language teaching). Moreover, in numerous societies the standard variety is also the native dialect of certain social groups: the wealthiest, the most educated or simply the inhabitants of a capital city. Given the omnipresence of standard dialects, they are – to a certain extent – elusive and transparent: it may be said that many people take them for granted. Thus a textbook of Czech as a foreign language will not be entitled Standard Czech as the author naturally assumes that the addressee of the book is not keen on learning any dialect of the language other than the standard one. The same is true of dictionaries, grammar books and descriptive works, which, when attempting to describe a language as a whole, in fact focus on the standard dialect or omit non-standard dialects altogether (see Robins 1971: 47). Popular attitudes of non-linguists also reflect the transparency of the standard dialect: if a foreigner speaks a particular language with a standard accent, they may be complimented on speaking “without an accent” (see the discussion of RP below).

Standard dialects differ markedly from one another; however, it appears possible to gather the characteristics common to most of them and arrange them in one definition. Many linguists have done so, e.g.:

[S]tandard (form, variety) which is learned and accepted as correct across a community or set of communities in which others are also used: e.g. Standard English, as used especially in writing, vs. regional dialects, creoles based on English, etc. (Matthews 2007: 380)
[S]tandard A variety of a language which by virtue of historical accident has become the leading form of the language in a certain country. As a result of this, the standard may be expanded due to the increase in function which it experiences due to its position in society. There is nothing inherently superior about a standard although nearly all speakers of a community accept that it has [the] highest prestige. (Hickey 2010: 29)
A standard is not usually one pure regional dialect but a compromise dialect, widely intelligible and incorporating linguistic elements from other areas. It occupies a ← 13 | 14 →geographically central position and does not have extreme features, either of an innovative or a conservative kind. The standard is associated with prestige. (Brinton and Amovick 2006: 301) [original emphasis]
Standard language is the term used for that variety of a language which is considered to be the norm. It is the variety held up as the optimum for educational purposes and used as a yardstick against which other varieties of the language are measured. Being a prestige variety, a standard language is spoken by a minority of people within a society, typically those occupying positions of power. (Jenkins 2003: 29) [original emphasis]
[S]tandard A prestige variety of language used within a speech community, providing an institutionalized norm for such purposes as the media and language teaching. Linguistic forms or dialects that do not conform to this norm are often called substandard or (…) nonstandard. Standardization is a natural development of a standard language in a speech community, or an attempt by a community to impose one dialect as a standard. (Crystal 1992: 338)


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
codification prescriptivism folk linguistics language standardization
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 257 pp., 50 tables

Biographical notes

Maciej Rataj (Author)

Maciej Rataj holds a doctorate in Linguistics from the University of Gdańsk (Poland), where he is employed as an Assistant Professor at the Institute of English and American Studies. His research interests include varieties of English, language standardization and cognitive linguistics.


Title: Attitudes to Standard British English and Standard Polish
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