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A standard language or standard variety may be defined either as a language variety used by a population for public purposes or as a variety that has undergone standardization. Typically, varieties that become standardized are the local dialects spoken in the centers of commerce and government, where a need arises for a variety that will serve more than local needs. Standardization typically involves a fixed orthography, codification in authoritative grammars and dictionaries and public acceptance of these standards. A standard written language is sometimes termed by the German word Schriftsprache.
A pluricentric language has multiple interacting standard varieties. Examples include English, French, Portuguese, German, Korean, Spanish, Swedish, Armenian and Chinese. Monocentric languages, such as Russian and Japanese, have only one standardized version.
A standard variety is developed from a group of related varieties. This may be done by elevating a single variety, such as the local variety of a center of government or culture. Alternatively, a new variety may be defined as a selection of features from existing varieties. A fixed orthography is typically created for writing the variety. It may be codified in normative dictionaries and grammars, or by an agreed collection of exemplary texts. Whether these dictionaries and grammars are created by private individuals (like Webster's Dictionary) or by state institutions, they become standard if they are treated as authorities for correcting language. A fixed written form and subsequent codification make the standard variety more stable than purely spoken varieties, and provide a base for further development or ausbau. This variety becomes the norm for writing, is used in broadcasting and for official purposes, and is the form taught to non-native learners.
Through this process, the standard variety acquires prestige and a greater functional importance than local varieties. Those varieties are said to be dependent on, or heteronomous with respect to, the standard variety, because speakers read and write the standard, refer to it as an authority is such matters as specialist vocabulary, and any standardizing changes in their speech are towards that standard. 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.
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. Different national standards derived from a dialect continuum may be regarded as different languages, even if they are mutually intelligible. The Scandinavian languages, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, are often cited as examples.
In other cases governments or neighbouring populations may seek to deny a standard independent status. In response, developers of a standard may base it on more divergent varieties. Thus after Norway became independent at the start of the 20th century, the Bokmål standard based on the speech of Oslo was felt to be too similar to Danish by Ivar Aasen, who developed a rival Nynorsk standard based on western varieties. Similarly, when a standard was developed in the Yugoslav republic of Macedonia from local varieties within a continuum with Serbia to the north and Bulgaria to the east, it was deliberately based on varieties from the west of the republic that were most different from standard Bulgarian. Now known as Macedonian, it is the national standard of the independent Republic of Macedonia, but viewed by Bulgarians as a dialect of Bulgarian.
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. 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").
In the early 20th century, many Chinese intellectuals argued that the country needed a standardized language. By the 1920s, Literary Chinese had been replaced as the written standard by written vernacular Chinese, which was based on Mandarin dialects. In the 1930s, Standard Chinese was adopted, with its pronunciation based on the Beijing dialect, but with vocabulary also drawn from other Mandarin varieties and its syntax based on the written vernacular. It is the official spoken language of the People's Republic of China (where it is called Pǔtōnghuà "common speech") and of the Republic of China governing Taiwan (as Guóyǔ "national language"), and one of the official languages of Singapore (as Huáyǔ "Chinese language"). Standard Chinese now dominates public life, and is much more widely studied than any other variety of Chinese.
Dutch is a monocentric language, with all speakers using the same standard form (authorized by the Dutch Language Union) based on a Dutch orthography employing the Latin alphabet when writing. A process of standardisation of Dutch started in the Middle Ages, especially under the influence of the Burgundian Ducal Court in Dijon (Brussels after 1477). Till then every region spoke a different Middle Dutch dialect. The dialects of the County of Flanders and the Duchy of Brabant were the most influential around this time. The process of standardisation became much stronger at the start of the 16th century, mainly based on the urban dialect of Antwerp. In 1585 Antwerp fell to the Spanish army: many from the Southern Netherlands fled to the Northern Netherlands (that declared itself independent from Spain), especially to the province of Holland, where they influenced the urban dialects. In 1637, a further important step was made towards a unified language, when the Statenvertaling, the first major Bible translation into Dutch, was created that people from all over the new republic could understand. It used elements from various dialects but was predominantly based on the urban dialects of Holland of post 16th century.
In British English the standard, known as Standard English (SE), is historically based on the language of the medieval English court of Chancery. 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. The spoken standard has come to be seen as a mark of good education and social prestige. Although often associated with the RP accent, SE can be spoken with any accent.
Two standardised registers of the Hindustani language have legal status India: Standard Hindi (one of 23 co-official national languages) and Urdu (Pakistan’s official tongue), resultantly, Hindustani often called “Hindi-Urdu".
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. As of September 2013, the first major revision of the Caighdeán Oifigiúil is available, both online and in print. 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, including allowing further use of the nominative case where the genitive would historically have been found.
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. 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.
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.
In Brazil, actors and journalists usually adopt an unofficial, but de facto, spoken standard Portuguese, originally derived from the middle-class dialect of Rio de Janeiro, 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].
Four standard variants of the pluricentric Serbo-Croatian are spoken in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia. They all have the same dialect basis (Štokavian). These variants do differ slightly, as is the case with other pluricentric languages. The differences between the variants do not hinder mutual intelligibility and do not undermine the integrity of the system as a whole. 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. Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro in their constitution have all named the language differently.
In Somalia, Northern Somali (or North-Central Somali) forms the basis for Standard Somali, 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.
- Abstand and ausbau languages
- Classical language
- Dialect continuum
- Koiné language
- Language secessionism
- Literary language
- Mutual intelligibility
- National language
- Nonstandard dialect
- Official language
- Pluricentric language
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