1.3.2 Rules of English: The Monolithic View



Rules can be seen as ‘regulations’ dictating ‘correct’ usage. So are the rules of English more like regulations or regularities?

According to a monolithic view, the rules are more like regulations, whether one believes one is taking a descriptive or prescriptive approach. Someone who describes how people use English by referring to ‘the’ rules of ‘the language’ (taken as ‘Standard English’ or ‘good English’) is often implicitly assuming that there is a single body of such rules, and that dialects etc. are departures from these rules.

Prescriptivists not only believe that there is a monolithic ‘correct’ form of English, but also that others should use that form: they prescribe the one true form of the language. So for them, the rules are clearly regulatory. The Queen’s English Society is perhaps the best example of a prescriptivist body in the UK. The Society’s webpage welcomes visitors with the following words:

    The stated objects of the society are “to promote the maintenance, knowledge, understanding, development and appreciation of the English language as used both in speech and in writing; to educate the public in its correct and elegant usage; and to discourage the intrusion of anything detrimental to clarity or euphony.” The phrase “the queen’s (or king’s) English” has been used for centuries simply to imply spoken or written English which is standard – characterised by grammatical correctness and proper usage of words and expressions. The phrase does not mean English necessarily modelled on the usage of the reigning monarch.
    The society strongly advocates the formal teaching of English in schools and the need for all teachers of all subjects to correct pupils’ English. The society lobbies government and makes representations to the media about standards of English usage. The society’s commitment to good standards does not preclude the acceptance of English as an evolving language, but some changes are harmful.

The references to “correct […] usage”, “English which is standard”, “grammatical correctness”, “proper usage”, “correct[ing] pupils’ English”, “standards of English usage”, “good standards”, and “harmful” changes, indicates a view of rules as regulations, defining what English really is and how it should be used. This clearly doesn’t accord with the plurilithic reality of global Englishes. Indeed, it is the monolithic perspective that can clearly be more “harmful”, as an English teacher from Fargo in the USA explains in this TEDx talk.