‘Standard language’ is a contested concept, ideologically, empirically and theoretically. This is particularly true for a language such as German, where the standardization of the spoken language was based on the written standard and was established with respect to a communicative situation, i.e. public speech on stage (<i>Bühnenaussprache</i>), which most speakers never come across. As a consequence, the norms of the oral standard exhibit many features which are infrequent in the everyday speech even of educated speakers.This paper discusses ways to arrive at a more realistic conception of (spoken) standard German, which will be termed ‘standard usage’. It must be founded on empirical observations of speakers’ linguistic choices in everyday situations. Arguments in favor of a corpus-based notion of standard have to consider sociolinguistic, political, and didactic concerns. We report on the design of a large study of linguistic variation conducted at the Institute for the German Language (project “Variation in Spoken German”, <i>Variation des gesprochenen Deutsch</i>) with the aim of arriving at a representative picture of ‘standard usage’ in contemporary German. It systematically takes into account both diatopic variation covering the multi-national space in which German is an official language, and diastratic variation in terms of varying degrees of formality. Results of the study of phonetic and morphosyntactic variation are discussed. At least for German, a corpus-based notion of ‘standard usage’ inevitably includes some degree of pluralism concerning areal variation, and it needs to do justice to register-based variation as well.