it seems we all can get along!
Platform English leans considerably less on literary models in the Western European tradition than Standard English. As a result, it is friendlier to both beginning students whose first language is English as well as to a wider range of students from other traditions.
The ‘standards’ of Standard English, to the extent that they have been explicitly described in handbooks, have two main sources. Some were born of attempts to impose the constraints of logic on the language. Many, though not all, of these rules were misguided; others are routinely violated in ordinary speech and writing. Following is an example of both.
Many handbooks inveigh against the comparison of certain adjectives, usually called “absolutes.” Something that is round must conform to an idea in geometry, such that every point on the perimeter is equidistant from the center. A thing cannot, by this way of thinking, be rounder or more round than another thing. Nor can someone else’s project be more unique than ours, or Miguel’s efforts be more perfect than Sophia’s. In the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, however, the Founding Fathers famously set out “to form a more perfect union.” It is difficult to argue that the meaning of the phrase is unclear because of faulty logic, and no one has ever seriously suggested that the document be “corrected.”
The other source of handbook rules is less specific, but more productive. Many more rules and preferences of Standard English have been inferred from the writing habits of literary figures. Over time, these best practices of the greatest minds have come to dominate the teaching of writing in the form of models. Students from Ancient Rome to the present have read and imitated the styles of famous authors at all levels of schooling.
The strong connection between writing instruction and literature is no accident. The teaching of writing has been conceived as part of the job description for English teachers for over two hundred years in the United States. In colleges and universities, English Departments are typically structured on the “tripod” model: literature, language (linguistics since around 1900), and composition. Although more students enroll in composition classes than any other English classes, the strongest leg of the tripod has always been, and continues to be literature. The training and background of the people who teach writing is far more likely to be in literature than in either linguistics or composition.
Just as Standard English favors the written over the spoken, literature-trained writing teachers tend to favor the literary over the non-literary. Nothing could be more natural: the habits of the most capable writers were inferred by gentlemen of good taste in the 18th century and enshrined as standards and rules, to be passed down to subsequent generations of scholars with similar tastes (and until only recently, similar socio-economic backgrounds as well), whose occupational goal is to foster the development of similar tastes in their students.
The sometimes unfortunate result is a chain of associations similar to the one above linking written to formal, to correct to standard. Taste-based judgments of particular usages are made according to certain standards, which are inferred from the work of famous authors whose writing displays a certain “literariness,” as appreciated by readers with good taste, who are thus qualified to make the taste-based judgments. This chain differs from the example above in its circularity, which also serves as an efficient exclusionary mechanism: only people who already share a literary sense of good taste (that is, literature-trained English teachers) can serve as evaluators of students’ efforts. This presents an obvious problem for students whose first language is not English, and whose cultural background, therefore, has not prepared them to intuit any sense of literariness in the models of writing they are assigned to read. Nor can they quickly develop the literary taste their teachers are inclined to reward, since much of the advice they are given about their writing has been developed for writers who share the dominant culture’s literature.
"Choose lively action verbs to make your prose sing like a sonnet by the Bard!" In order to make use of this advice on style, a student must know following:
• what an ‘action’ verb is
• what distinguishes a verb as ‘lively’
• how a given lively verb will work in the context of a sentence
• what prose is
• why prose that ‘sings like a sonnet’ might be good
• what a sonnet is
• the place of William Shakespeare in English literature
• that ‘the Bard’ is one of Shakespeare’s nicknames
Most native English-speaking high school graduates in America will certainly know the common definitions (action verb, prose, sonnet) and Shakespeare’s place in English letters. To millions of other students currently enrolled in classes, however, the friendly advice will be confusing and completely mysterious. Some students are once more at a disadvantage, while others get a free pass.
For all students though, regardless of their prior schooling, there is still a problem with the cheery, well-intentioned suggestion. One student, who is writing a paper about recycling and global warming, doesn't want her prose to sing like a Shakespearean sonnet. For that matter, neither does her teacher! Both of them want her writing style to be clear, straightforward, and compelling. She needs evidence that backs up claims, not poetic diction. Not all uses of language are profitably judged by Standard English’s default orientation toward literariness.
Platform English, on the other hand, avoids taste as the basis for judgment of a particular usage whenever possible, focusing instead on the dynamics of the discourse (Who’s stepping up to talk? What kind of audience is invoked? Where is the “platform?” etc.) With a more functional and less judgmental focus, there is room for students to develop skills in the many kinds of writing they will need to do, without judging all their efforts according to impossibly high and not well-defined literary standards.