IoE's replacement offering for "Standard English"
In the 18th century, the new science of craniometry (taking measurements of human skulls) gave rise to new theories about humanity and race. The terms of art from those discussions included Oriental, meaning essentially people who lived to the east of the Europeans who were doing the measuring; Negroid, meaning essentially all those people whose skin was darker than that of the Europeans doing the measuring; and Caucasian, meaning essentially some ideal physical characteristics (whiteness of skin, shape of the jaw and skull, etc.) of the Europeans doing the measuring.
In the intervening centuries, further investigation has moved us away from a purely Euro-centric view of the world and has, indeed, rejected antiquated notions of geographically-based races in favor of only one race—the human race. In any case, no one today would accept Caucasian for White, Oriental for Asian, or Negroid for African, African-American, or Black. Another momentous name change is still in process: how (or whether) to classify people whose native language is one or another variety of Spanish? Chicanos/as are not Latinos/as, Latinos/as are not Iberians, but aren't all of them Hispanics?
Names really are important.
There are well documented difficulties with the term ‘Standard English.’ For one thing, whose standard is it? There’s no basis for the common though unsupported assumption that the standards in grammars and handbooks are immutable and absolute. Languages change over the course of time, and standards turn out to be flexible, mutable, and inclined to retirement as tastes change from generation to generation. One example is the concept of a paragraph. In the 19th century, paragraphs were long and complex, stitched together with colons, semicolons, and commas. The front page of your newspaper today, on the other hand, is made up primarily of one-sentence paragraphs. (Go ahead and count them!)
As evidence of the changeability of standards, behold the fresh crop of annuals each spring in the Garden of English Handbooks. Every year, different experts give us different collections of rules, standards, and advice in what purports to be the most authoritative and up-to-date compendium available. Unfortunately, the experts don’t agree among themselves on many of the particulars. If the experts change every year, and if one expert’s error is another’s turn of phrase, then what, exactly is ‘standard’ about Standard English?
A second problem is that most of the rules/standards/advice on offer in the handbooks date not from the beginnings of the English language, but relatively late in its history--from the 18th century. During this period, the British imperial enterprise established the English language at the expense of indigenous languages (not to mention peoples and their cultures) all over the globe. “How will we ever develop a literary tradition in English,” scholars wondered at the time, “if we don’t have rules for its proper usage, as is true for French and Italian?” In the intervening centuries, however, many of the conquered peoples have earned their independence from the British system of government, and along the way, have also developed their own local versions of the Empire’s language, usefully called, in recent days, ‘Englishes.’ In addition to American English, there are Englishes in the Indian subcontinent, the West Indies, South Africa, Australasia, and Canada, among others, and each has its own set of local preferences, rules, and oddities.
It would be impossible to write one Master Cookbook to encompass all the different cuisines in the English-speaking world—too many varieties of ingredients, cooking methods, and traditions to cover. Far better to buy a West Indian cookbook to go on the shelf with the Australian, South African, Canadian, American, Indian, British, Irish, and Scottish cookbooks. The same is true for language—too many dialects, local histories, and lexical entries to cover. A single standard form of English that could sanction good usage in all the varieties we know today would be so big and unwieldy that no one could use it.