I am thinking of "standard languages" in the sense of normalized pronunciation of words within a language (English, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic). I know for one in English there are at least 2 "standards", which you might call "American" and "British". But realistically as in American there are probably hundreds of dialects/accents or pronunciation variations just within American (New York accent, New Jersey accent, Louisiana accent, etc.).

I am trying to come up with a list of "standard pronunciations" of words, but am not sure how to do this right. Standard relative to what exactly? I'm not sure how to define that exactly. What do you recommend I do here? The reason is I would like to create a word game based on pronunciations, so there must be a fixed/static list of words in each "language" (English, Chinese, etc.), and a fixed/static pronunciation for each word so the game is somewhat manageable. What work has been done in this regard in terms of standardizing pronunciations in various languages? For example, in Arabic there is Modern Standard Arabic, but it doesn't seem that is actually spoken, more a way of writing. Latin seems to have a standard pronunciation, maybe because it was so intensely studied and formalized. Perhaps Sanskrit does too.

But this question isn't about the status of each language's standardization of pronunciation necessarily, it is about basically if there is any notion of standardization of pronunciation in linguistics, and how that works.

  • The languages you've been looking at are pluricentric languages. Pick a mono-centric language and it will just have one standard dialect.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 22:50
  • It is of course a question whether the standard language (when it exists at all) is a dialect. I am thinking of cases like Standard German Hochdeutsch which is not based on a single particular dialect. Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 10:52

1 Answer 1


There is such a notion for some languages, which relates most strongly to written form. There are also pronunciation standards, which may or may not be adhered to by the populace. In the case of big multi-national languages like English, you clearly have to pick a nation: there is absolutey no pretense of a standard pronunciation of "English" words. There is a "standard" for American English, which is (1) not well defined and (2) not at all strictly observed in actual speech. Still, you can discern such a standard, as that pattern that others tend to emulate. Therefore, rural Texas, Virgina, Minnesota, NYC are not exemplars of that standard. Analogously, Parisian French is a standard for French, Castillian Spanish is a standard for Spanish (though not in Mexico), and I suppose High German Stage Pronunciation for German.

Language teachers have such a concept, so in the US you are generally taught the aforementioned standards for German and French. The standards can vary over time, where the standard for "Chinese" (Mandarin) was more Taiwan Mandarin in the 70's but is more solidly Beijing Mandarin now. Although Modern Standard Arabic is not somebody's native language, there is a relatively uniform standard for how words are pronounced.

Kerewe is fairly uniform, pronunciation-wise, but it's kind of a lead-balloon choice for a game. North Saami is, OTOH, very non-uniform, so it's hard to find two people who talk the same way, though everybody understands everybody else.

The notion is a sociolinguistic one, and depends on the concept "society". American and South African English are different because we're talking about different societies. You might use pronunciation as a way of deciding which society a person is a member of.

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