What Is Language Standardization?

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Language standardization is the process by which conventional forms of a language are established and maintained.

Standardization may occur as a natural development of a language in a speech community or as an effort by members of a community to impose one dialect or variety as a standard.

The term re-standardization refers to the ways in which a language may be reshaped by its speakers and writers.


"The interaction of power, language, and reflections on language inextricably bound up with one another in human history, largely defines language standardization."

Is Standardization Necessary?

"English, of course, developed a standard variety by relatively 'natural' means, over the centuries, out of a kind of consensus, due to various social factors. For many newer countries, though, the development of a standard language has had to take place fairly rapidly, and government intervention has therefore been necessary. Standardization, it is argued, is necessary in order to facilitate communications, to make possible the establishment of an agreed orthography, and to provide a uniform form for school books. (It is, of course, an open question as to how much, if any, standardization is really required. It can be argued quite reasonably that there is no real point in standardizing to the extent where, as is often the case in English-speaking communities, children spend many hours learning to spell in an exactly uniform manner, where any spelling mistake is the subject of opprobrium or ridicule, and where derivations from the standard are interpreted as incontrovertible evidence of ignorance.)"

An Example of Standardization and Divergence: Latin

"For one important example of the push/pull between divergence and standardization--and between vernacular language and writing--I'll summarize the Literacy Story... about Charlemagne, Alcuin, and Latin. Latin didn't diverge much till the end of the Roman empire in the fifth century, but then as it lived on as the spoken language throughout Europe, it began to diverge somewhat into multiple 'Latins.' But when Charlemagne conquered his huge kingdom in 800, he brought in Alcuin from England. Alcuin brought in 'good Latin' because it came from books; it didn't have all the 'problems' that came from a language being spoken as a native tongue. Charlemagne mandated it for his whole empire.

The Creation and Enforcement of Language Standards

"Standardization is concerned with linguistic forms (corpus planning, i.e. selection and codification) as well as the social and communicative functions of language (status planning, i.e. implementation and elaboration). In addition, standard languages are also discursive projects, and standardization processes are typically accompanied by the development of specific discourse practices. These discourses emphasize the desirability of uniformity and correctness in language use, the primacy of writing and the very idea of a national language as the only legitimate language of the speech community..."


John E. Joseph, 1987; quoted by Darren Paffey in "Globalizing Standard Spanish." Language Ideologies and Media Discourse: Texts, Practices, Politics, ed. by Sally Johnson and Tommaso M. Milani. Continuum, 2010

Peter Trudgill, Sociolinguistics: An Introduction to Language and Society, 4th ed. Penguin, 2000

(Peter Elbow, Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing. Oxford University Press, 2012

Ana Deumert, Language Standardization, and Language Change: The Dynamics of Cape Dutch. John Benjamins, 2004

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Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Language Standardization?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-language-standardization-1691099. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). What Is Language Standardization? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-language-standardization-1691099 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Language Standardization?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-language-standardization-1691099 (accessed June 3, 2023).