Language standardisation has variously been described, for example by Einar Haugen, as a process involving the selection, codification, acceptance, and elaboration of a linguistic norm. I'm concerned here with the selection of a norm. Often this consists not of selecting a dialect that is already present in its entirety, but a process called koinéisation takes place - the levelling of differences between dialects.

Apart from regional varieties (dialects), social varieties (sociolects) also play a role. I think I have heard/read repeatedly that linguistic structures/words etc. used by educated speakers are more likely to become part of the emerging standard than linguistic structures used by less educated speakers. This is, I think, because educated speakers play a role as gatekeepers due to their social, economic and political power. In consequence, the varieties used by uneducated speakers are often looked down upon.

However, in the literature on language standardisation (such as Language Standardization and Language Change I could not find any reference to the importance of educated speakers in language standardisation.

Can anybody provide academic references for this? (of course I would also be happy to consider references denying the role of educated speakers in language standardisation)

  • Perhaps you're putting the cart before the horse. Isn't it possible that a tiny minority imposes language standardization on educated speakers, rather than educated speakers affecting the form of the standard language? Witness High German. Might we not credit this largely to Martin Luther's Bible rather than to the collective influence of educated speakers? Commented Sep 21, 2013 at 18:43
  • I'm upvoting this question under the assumption that sociolinguistics is fair game on this list. Commented Sep 21, 2013 at 18:45
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    This may help: phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/dick/SEtrudgill.htm Commented Sep 21, 2013 at 19:48
  • I agree that educated speakers as a group didn't play a big role in the standardisation of German. Perhaps (the standardisation of) German is an exception? Anyway, thanks for the Trudgill reference, very helpful! If you put all this into answer I'll accept it.
    – robert
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 11:57
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    @JamesGrossmann: in English, we can point to the Wycliffe Bible, Caxton's printing press, and Dr Johnson's dictionary in 1755 as the mileposts in standardisation. While these are more directly relevant than educated speakers, Caxton drew heavily on Chancery English and Dr Johnson quoted liberally from Milton, Shakespeare, and Dryden, so educated speakers had an indirect influence. Commented Sep 25, 2013 at 2:34

1 Answer 1


Standardisation is more to do with codification than with educated speakers directly. Having grammar books, dictionaries, and maybe a literary cannon, are what distinguish a standard language from a creole.

Of course somebody has to decide what goes into those things - what the standard language will be - and that is usually the role of the powerful, high-status speakers.

For references:-

Discussion of ideological issues:- Milroy, James. "Language ideologies and the consequences of standardization." Journal of Sociolinguistics 5.4 (2001): 530-555.

Discussion of the process:- Haugen, Einar. "Dialect, Language, Nation." American anthropologist 68.4 (1966): 922-935.

Discussion of the function of standardisation:- Mathiot, Madeleine, and Paul L. Garvin. "The functions of language: a sociocultural view." Anthropological Quarterly (1975): 148-156.

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