If you ask experts to define the term “normative American English”, then, oddly enough, you will not get a standard answer either. Even the editors of The American Heritage Dictionary are wary of this issue. They give the following note:
Because of its ambiguity, it is rarely possible to understand what exactly the term “normative English” means by those who use it, due to its ambiguity.
The dictionary further explains that this term:
… has very fluid and flexible meanings, since what constitutes normative English will depend both on the particular locality where it is spoken and on the specific variations it is opposed to. The form, which in one region is taken as the norm, in another – may not be such …
What is the conclusion? The dictionary authors suggest that there is no universal norm for spoken or written American English. But, despite its absence, certain standards are characteristic of the education system, communication and business. And it’s not surprising that linguistic rules (at least grammar) do not have much variation in different localities.
The most difficult task here is to establish the emphasis by which the norm could be determined. It is believed that English, which is spoken in the central regions of the country, is the most neutral in sound, and therefore dominant. It is also often called the speech of TV and radio presenters. However, as linguist Matthew Gordon explains, this variation of the language cannot be said to have no accent. Over time, for a number of reasons, the variant of the central regions may lose the status of the “voice of the media”.
Not quite real
The “accent-free” variety of language, sometimes referred to as “normative American English” or “normative speech,” is taught by pronunciation instructors. In fact, this form is an “idealized” dialect – in the sense that it is not spoken in any particular locality, it is developed as a result of special studies. Actors and employees of the communications sector (and with them some of those living in the central regions!) Often take lessons in “getting rid of accent” so that their speech does not betray their regional or social affiliation. You have to work hard on this.
Natalie Baker-Shearer, pronunciation instructor and acting professor at Carnegie Mellon University, explains:
“Normative speech” as such does not exist in America. It is based on the normative (Oxford) pronunciation, which in the early 20th century was adapted by the linguist William Tilly, taking into account American peculiarities. The changes reflected the characteristic “American” sound, almost based on the dialect of the population of the northeastern United States. It was the speech of highly cultured, educated and many traveling people of that time. If you want to hear it, watch old movies.
Baker-Shearer, like The American Heritage Dictionary, refines his definition of “correct” speech:
According to Daniel Jones’ Dictionary of English Pronunciation, “English has an infinite variety of pronunciations, and I cannot claim that Oxford pronunciation is inherently” better “or” prettier “than any other pronunciation.”
Literary Language Law?
Should American English, which is spreading around the world, continue to do without its normative form? The issue is controversial. Unlike other countries, the United States does not have an official language department, and the likelihood of its establishment at this time is no higher than after the Revolutionary War. Therefore, it is unlikely that a universal normative version of American English will be developed in the foreseeable future. (A bit of a Jeffersonian – but typically American – approach.)