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ESL Worksheets


Read the texts on dialects of English (Crystal; McCrum et al.; Trask; and Trudgill)

1. In your own words, define:

a) dialect
b) accent
2. a) What is the most prestigious dialect in Britain?
    b) What is the most prestigious dialect in the USA?

3. What is the most prestigious accent in Britain?  Why?

4. a) What dialect/s of English do you use?
    b) What kind of accent do you think you have when you speak English?
    c) Why have you chosen, or acquired, this particular dialect and accent?

5. What variety of English do MTV-Asia deejays speak? Singaporean radio deejays? UWC students?

6. Read the extract from “Obituary” by Lois Ann Yamanaka. Then read the article, “Let Them Speak Dialect” by Abiy Orr. What variety of English do you think should be used in schools?

 “In the classroom we all learned past participles, but in the streets and in our homes the Blacks learned to drop s’s from plurals and suffixes from past-tense verbs.  We were alert to the gap separating the written word from the colloquial.  We learned to slide out of one language and into another without being conscious of the effort.  At school, in a given situation, we might respond with “That’s not unusual.”  But in the street, meeting the same situation, we easily said, “It be’s like that sometimes.”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou (Chapter 29)



Many argue that the spread of English as a global language has sinister consequences for other languages and indeed cultures.  By analogy, it might be argued that the promotion of Standard English threatens non-Standard dialects and undermines the identity of whole communities.  Discuss.

Essay Guide

Before you begin, it is important to do some research so that you have a sound understanding of the concepts involved – e.g. dialect; variety; accent; Standard/Non-Standard – and some knowledge of the history of English.

When you are ready to begin, you need to decide how to respond to the essay title.  Do you wish to agree, disagree or take a more balanced approach?  Try to sum up your point of view in a thesis statement (about one or two sentences).  The following are examples of how you might do this:

(Agreeing that Standard English threatens other dialects)
Language and culture are closely interwoven, thus the domination of one dialect over another implies a real threat to the community that speaks the “weaker” dialect.  In the case of English, the powerful status of Standard English in education, government, business, the media etc. makes it likely that non-Standard (regional) dialects will gradually die off.
(Arguing that Standard English does not threaten other dialects)
Standard English (S.E.) has unquestionably become the language of power in English speaking countries, a dialect associated with administration, education, trade, science and mass communications.  Its success, however, does not necessarily pose any threat to non-Standard dialects; they have a different function from S.E. and will continue to thrive.

Some points you will probably wish to cover:

1) a definition of the term “dialect” and of the terms “Standard” and “non-Standard” English (including some reference to the fact that there are different varieties of S.E. – e.g. British/U.S./ Nigerian).

2) Some historical background: where did S.E. originate, and how did it become the preferred dialect of educators, adminstrators et al.?  Why does it make sense for a country, or indeed the world, to have a “standard” dialect?

3) What function and status do the non-Standard dialects have?  Who speaks them?  Are they mutually comprehensible?  What are the disadvantages of knowing only a non-Standard dialect?

4) Does one of the non-Standard varieties (the “hip”, North American one associated with MTV etc.) have a disproportionate influence among young people in all corners of the world?  Perhaps this (“Coca-colonisation”?) poses a greater threat to small communities than Standard English does …

5) Do you see a future where most English speakers are familiar only with Standard English and share the same cosmopolitan culture/lifestyle, or do you (like the linguist, David Crystal) envisage a world where most people are “bi-dialectal” and bi-cultural?


Frankie Meehan