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Æ Differences between A m e r ic a n E n g l is h a n d B r it is h E n g l is h Zdeněk Benedikt The English language, whether it be spoken in North America, the British Isles, Australia or any other place in the whole world, is one language and its different varieties “equal” siblings Although the size of the territory where the varieties are used and the number of people living there are not always comparable, linguistically, however, they enjoy equal status, and therefore it would be wrong to say that one of them is the sole representative of correct English with the others representing substandard forms I would like to stress the fact that even after four hundred years of physical separation, the American and British varieties of the English language, which we will primarily be focusing on, have maintained a great deal of sameness or similarity and that although there will be many individual differences discussed and pointed out between these two most frequently encountered varieties, we need to keep in mind that these have been purposefully dug out and presented in detail, while the everyday communication between Englishmen and Americans is not hampered to such an extent as may be the false impression resulting from the long list of differences presented to you in this research paper This material is based on my own personal experience of an English teacher and a speaker of predominantly American English, as well as on research carried out using and exploiting different materials of both academic and non-academic nature (see bibliography) Ỉ What is an AMERICANISM? • a word or one of its meanings, which is currently used in American English and has a different equivalent in the British variety (elevator – lift, gasoline – petrol) • a word which refers to sth exclusively characteristic of American realia (convention, caucus, fraternity, bayou) • a word which originated in American English but has since spread to other varieties of English, even British English (bike, bulldozer, boom, boost, boss) • a word or an expression which originated in British English but is no longer used among the Brits, i.e is extinct in the English of the British Isles, but is still used on the North American continent (apartment, baggage, bug, rooster, fall, gotten, guess, sick) American English maintains certain features of old British English, which it comes from So does Canadian French carry with itself a certain air of old 17th century French, as it was spoken before the French revolution (We have gotten a new car since you last saw us.) Dnešní americká výslovnost odráží stav jihoanglické výslovnosti v době vypuknutí roztržky mezi mateřskou zemí a 13 koloniemi, tj kolem roku 1770 (Peprník, str.15) In many cases, when speaking about American and British equivalents, the distinction is not really a matter of one nation having one word/expression which the other variety is not familiar with and vice versa It’s more a matter of one of the expressions being prevalent and most widely used in one of the varieties, while the majority of speakers using the other variety of the two are more familiar and comfortable with the other, if the equivalents form a pair, which is not always the case (fall is the most frequently used term for one of the four seasons of the year but autumn, which is considered a purely British expression, can also be found in the writing of American authors, mainly when striving for a higher stylistic form) One word/phrase often has different connotations/meanings in the two varieties (mudguard – BrE blatník auta, AmE blatník bicyklu; suspenders – BrE podvazky, AmE šle) Sometimes the two connotations carry totally opposite meanings (“I am through”, when given to a partner in a telephone conversation, would mean a totally different thing to a Brit than to an American The Brit would think it means “We’ve made the connection, we can talk.”, whereas the American would suppose the phone call is over as the Brit is apparently implying “I am finished, it’s over.”; another example is the adjective “inflammable", which in American English means that it is not possible to set the material on fire, while in British English it means Watch out! This material can go ablaze very easily) Here are a few examples of “Briticisms” (a term not as common as Americanism) which have entered and were absorbed by American English: A-level, au-pair girl, back bencher, bank holiday, redbrick university, terraced houses, bloody, bobby, dustman, headmaster, fortnight, pram, mackintosh, ring sb up, Establishment, posh, postman, shop, tabloid, luggage On the other hand, a great many Americanisms have been adopted by Britons and can be commonly heard on both sides of the Atlantic These are more plentiful as American English seems to affect all the other varieties of English more than any other form, mostly Ỉ1 Ỉ2 due to the impact of show business (ie the movies, popular music) as well as the economic and political influence of the United States around the world Here are the most well-known examples: talk with sb, I wouldn’t know, blizzard, get the hang of sth, blurb, editorial, commuter, rock in the sense of stone, be on the air, top secret, double talk, baggage in connection with traveling on a ship, etc Ỉ Main differences in PRONUNCIATION Br [a:] before -f, -s, -S, m, n is pronounced [æ] (ask, after, half, path, chance, plant, sample) Br [o] in words such as not, block, cross, stop, college, doctor, comedy is pronounced [a:] Br [i] in timid, America is often pronounced [?] Br [a] in but, hurry is pronounced closer to [?] AmE does not leave out the r-sounds in better, perceive, bird, here, poor Br [ju:] after consonants d, t, n is pronounced [u:], eg duty, tune, new Br [t] betw a vowel and a voiced consonant or vowels is pron more like [d] latter, putting BrE reduces the secondary stress more than AmE, eg secretary, secondary, necessary Suffix -ile is pronounced [-?l] in AmE and [-ail] in BrE, eg agile, fertile, hostile, mobile The British diphthong [?u] is replaced by [ou], which does not exist in BrE at all, eg Oh, no! Některé z rysů obecné americké angličtiny působí nelibě na britské ucho, zejména retroflexní [r], neredukování nepřízvučných slabik, nazalizace a intonace Brit vyrostlý v jihoanglickém standardu vnímá americkou výslovnost jako příliš robustní, drsnou až hrubou, její nazalizace mu připadá vulgární Naopak Američanovi se zdá jihoanglická výslovnost usekaná (clipped), příliš zjemnělá a afektovaná (Peprník, str 15) Sounding or not sounding the r’s is not a clear-cut matter which would distinguish the two varieties from each other For example, in Great Britain, there are many areas, such as Scotland, Lancashire or Ireland, where the r’s would be sounded pretty much like they are in General American On the other hand, many Americans would tend to leave the r sound out, especially around metropolitan New York, in Eastern New England or in the coastal south of the United States – eg car, bar, beer, clear, fear, the letter ‘r’ The past tense forms of the two following verbs are pronounced differently BrE AmE shine – shone [šon] shine – shone [šoun/ša:n] eat – ate [et] eat – ate [eit] Here are a few examples of words which are pronounced differently in the U.S than in the U.K BrE AmE resource [ri’zo:s] [ri:so:s] figure [fig?] [figj?r] leisure [lež?] [li:ž?r] either [aið?] [i:ð?r] research [ri’s?:č] [ri:s?:rč] glacier [glæsi?] [gleiš?r] schedule [šedju?l] [skedž?l] clothes [kl?uðz] [klouz] twenty [twenti] [twenđi] Asia [eiša] [eiž?] garage [gæra:ž, gæridž] [g?’ra:ž, g?’ra:dž] lever [li:v?] [lev?r] can’t [ka:nt] [kỉnt] record [reko:d] [rek?rd] advertisement [?d’v?:tism?nt] [ỉdv?r’taizm?nt] Ỉ3 Æ Main differences in GRAMMAR BrE AmE half an hour half a bottle a half hour a half bottle pneumonia tuberculosis the pneumonia the tuberculosis five cents a copy five dollars a pair (five cents the copy) (five dollars the pair) in hospital at university in the hospital at the university administration are council are crew are crowd are jury are team are government are company are administration is council is crew is crowd is jury is team is government is company is plenty of time a couple of months half of the world plenty time a couple months half the world break the news to him carry her things for her pays no attention to me break him the news carry her her things pays me no attention need it badly mightily dangerous really hard drive slowly need it bad mighty dangerous real hard drive slow now here right now right here have you got…? I haven’t got… you have…? I don’t have… don’t let’s let’s not Have you ever heard…? I have just got here Have you eaten yet? Did you ever hear…? I just got here Did you eat yet? in AmE the use of subjunctive is more frequent: The President urges that we be patient I insist that he go with us I suggest we stay right here Ỉ4 get hit get rained on if he were not busy if he was not busy burn – burnt – burnt dream – dreamt – dreamt mow – mowed – mowed/mown shine – shone – shone learn – learnt – learnt burn – burned – burned dream – dreamed – dreamed mow – mowed – mowed shine – shined – shined learn – learned – learned bet – betted – betted dive – dived – dived pleaded – pleaded -pleaded get – got – got bet – bet – bet dive – dove – dived plead – pled – pled get – got – gotten I have got (= bought/received) I have gotten try to help them help me to stand up let’s go to see the film go and see if try help them help me stand up let’s go see the movie go see if Æ Main differences in VOCABULARY The so called Standard American does not differ from the Standard British English nearly as much as the individual substandard colloquial or dialectal spheres of the language That is to say that when two university professors, one from the U.S and the other from the U.K., are speaking to each other, they have less difficulty understanding each other than if we had two uneducated speakers of different regional or even social dialects from the two countries having a conversation American English seems to be have been more creative in the past couple of centuries Many new words have been coined based on otherwise well-known and commonly used vocabulary Suffixes -dom (bachelordom) -ee (retiree) -eer (racketeer) -ette (launderette) -ician (mortician) -itis (Americanitis) -ize (burglarize) -ster (gangster) -teria (cafeteria) Prefixes anti- (antiperspirant) be- (bespectacled) de- (debugging) mid- (mid-January) semi- (semi-annual) New expressions combining two or more words, resulting in a set phrase/compound noun cottonwood copperhead Ỉ5 log cabin ghost town disk jockey soap opera sweat shop rowing boat BrE sailing boat BrE sparking plug BrE rowboat AmE sailboat AmE spark plug AmE Phrasal verbs often take on an additional particle meet up with sb visit with sb write up on sth Expressions existing in both varieties, however with different meanings freight freight (refers exclusively to a load transported (in AmE the meaning of freight has become broader across a body of water) and includes pretty much all kinds of cargo, even one transported solely by the railroads) lumber (stuff which is in the way, trash or rubbish) lumber (originally the word had the same meaning in AmE as it did in BrE but as the building timber stacked alongside the streets in American cities started to be in the way, people began calling this timber ’lumber’, which even sounded similar corn (meaning grain in general) corn (meaning one special kind of grain, otherwise called maize in BrE) (bed) bug – very unpleasant kind of insect which is found in the beds of the poorest and dirtiest slums bug – meaning any kind of insect faucet – exists only in regional dialects of BrE – Standard BrE uses tap faucet – standard AmE homely – pleasant homely – not good looking List of equivalents in BrE in the left column and their counterparts in AmE on the right BrE AmE grilled steak broiled steak staff faculty wireless radio auto parts saloon sedan Ỉ6 windscreen gear lever boot bonnet hood dynamo mudguard sparking plug windshield gear shift trunk hood top generator fender spark plug loo, toilet public toilets bathroom restrooms bring to the boil bring to a boil the washing the laundry curriculum vitae résumé, personal history the cinema the movies, the movie theater lift elevator sunglasses shades block of flats apartment building lorry truck pavement sidewalk road surface pavement taxi cab (book)shop (book)store rubbish garbage subway underpass underground, tube subway in Franklin Street, in the square on Franklin Street, on the square tin, tinned meat can (of coke), canned meat washbasin sink cottage cabin sweets candy biscuit cookie Ỉ7 mad crazy angry mad chemist’s drugstore ground floor first floor motorway freeway headteacher, headmaster principal dustbin garbage can post mail maths math trousers pants fanny OBSCENE!!! bumbag fanny (meaning buttocks) fanny pack crisps potato chips return (ticket) round trip timetable schedule cooker stove holiday vacation fill in a form fill out a form stay at home stay home meet sb, visit sb meet with sb, visit with sb Monday to Friday Monday thru Friday ten to eleven, ten past two ten of eleven, ten after two rubber eraser rucksack backpack pub bar, tavern sweet dessert nappy diaper torch flashlight Ỉ8 chips French fries tram streetcar zip zipper tick check smart (elegant) smart (intelligent) queue line caravan trailer diversion detour tea-towel dish towel toll motorway turnpike get a rise get a raise pram baby carriage garden yard collect pick up petrol gas, gasoline off-licence liquor store railway line railroad tracks mean stingy bloke, chap guy, buddy, dude spanner wrench revise review at the weekend on the weekend, over the weekend set homework give homework sit (for) an exam take an exam take a decision make a decision different to different from, different than club (for university students) fraternity Ỉ9 knickers panties football soccer secondary school high school basic school elementary school arsehole OBSCENE!!! asshole OBSCENE!!! Words which have infiltrated the other variety and are now known in both of the Englishes The arrow indicates where the word originated and who adopted it Å talk with sb the more British phrase is talk to Å I wouldn’t know Å blizzard used side by side with snowstorm Å get the hang of something Ỉ dressing gown dinner jacket Ỉ replaced tuxedo, which sounds a little sub-standard luggage (esp air travel) Ỉ Å blurb used interchangeably with leading article Å editorial Å commuter Å rocks in the sense of stones which can be thrown Å be on the air Å top secret Å double talk A-level Ỉ au-pair girl Ỉ in AmE the expression governess is more common Establishment Ỉ postman Ỉ tabloid Ỉ Expressions frequently found in American English but unacceptable even for Americans Annie and me anyways instead of anyway six mile down the road instead of using the plural … and I says “xxxxx" Political correctness has first become an issue in the United States, that is why most of the following expressions were first made up and used in American English: physically challenged colored person weight challenged acoustically challenged vision impaired literacy challenged sanitation engineer flight attendant (no wonder Brits often accuse Americans of long-wordedness) Ỉ 10 Ỉ Words adopted by Americans from foreign languages Indian languages – there were over 300 Indian languages spoken in what is now called the United States of America when Europeans started to settle down in large numbers on the North American continent – Over twenty-six states within the Union have their official name taken from one of the Indian languages which were once spoken on their territory Here are a few expressions that originated in one of the many Indian tongues but are now known by virtually all speakers of the English language, not only its American variety – squash, raccoon, skunk, squaw, woodchuck, bury the hatchet, pale face, sequoia, moose, moccasin, potlatch, powwow, teepee, wigwam, iron horse The influence of Spanish The second most influential language to have infiltrated into American English would most probably be Spanish Just to illustrate the ancient roots of the Spanish element in Central and North America, let me just mention the fact that Santa Fe, one of the oldest cities to be founded on American soil, was settled and run by Spaniards And, by the way, the Spanish-speaking community, comprised of immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America or even Spain itself, constitute the second largest ethnic minority in the U.S.A., second only to the African-American community From the plentiful examples of Spanish words used in English on daily basis let me name only the most well-known – alligator, banana, barbecue, canyon, chocolate, potato, tomato, cockroach, marijuana, tornado, yucca Expressions characteristic mainly of American English would then be: – adobe (raw material brick), alfalfa (type of grain), cafeteria (canteen in BrE, canteen in AmE means a special military-like drink bottle used for hiking), mustang, patio, rodeo, saguaro, sierra Words adopted from French Especially in the South of the United States, around the city of New Orleans, and in the St Laurence River area higher to the north, there were main strongholds of the French culture for a long time coexisting side by side with the predominantly English-speaking Americans These have long dissipated but the linguistic influence can be tracked down even today Some French vocabulary has infiltrated into General American Most of the following examples would be familiar among speakers of British English as well – bureau, depot, cache, chute, crevasse, prairie, pumpkin, rapids, rotisserie, croissant Ỉ Differences in SPELLING Major simplification of English spelling can be attributed to one of the most distinguished linguists of the 19th century America, Noah Webster This man authored the first dictionary of American English, which was first published in 1828 The changes he had made (although many of the suggested changes have never been respected and were never used) reflected the practical/pragmatical and anti-elitist spirit of the American public Here are the most basic differences between British and American spelling patterns which you are sure to find when reading works originating on both sides of the Atlantic BrE AmE colour, honour, labour, neighbour behaviour color, honor, labor, neighbor behavior spelling of Saviour has not changed, though (religious talk has its own rules and often uses grammar from the old times) calibre, centre, fibre, theatre caliber, center, fiber, theater travelled, cancelled, labelled traveled, canceled, labeled Ỉ 11 kidnapped, worshipped kidnaped, worshiped skilful, wilful, enrolment skillful, willful, enrollment defence, offence, pretence defense, offense, pretense abridgement, judgement abridgment, judgment shy – shyer, sly – slyer shy – shier, sly – slier catalogue, dialogue, monologue catalog, dialog, monolog enquire, enquiry, encase, enclose inquire, inquiry, incase, inclose authorise, characterise, colonise, criticise, nationalise, realise, subsidise authorize, characterize, colonize criticize, nationalize, realize, subsidize (does not apply to comprise, despise, disguise, exercise) miscellaneous: ageing cheque curb tsar draught grey gypsy gaol jewellery mould pyjamas plough programme sceptic storey tyre vice waggon woollen worshipping Æ aging check kerb czar draft gray gipsy, gypsy jail jewelry mold pajamas plow program skeptic story (floor) tire vise wagon woolen worshiping James Russell Lowell – 19th century man of letters in America – in response to a rather savage attack upon the American version of English, he commented that “It was a great pity that our American ancestors had nothing better to bring with them than the language of Shakespeare.” (Jamestown, the first permanent colony in Virginia was settled in 1607, only years before Shakespeare died ) Æ Professor Randolf Quirk of University College, London: – on the sometimes ignorance-based attitudes and fallacies of Brits towards Americans professor Quirk reiterates a story: My own favourite (story) is one of the mid-nineteenth century when a fashionable Boston debutante was visiting London She was at a society ball one night and was dancing with a young British Guards officer and he made no attempt to conceal his admiration for her (which was all right, of course), but equally he made no attempt to conceal his surprise at being with an American girl that he could understand He had the nerve to compliment her on her English and even went so far as to suppose that she must be unique among her Ỉ 12 countrywomen in speaking English so well To this, I’m glad to say, the young lady had the wit and presence of mind to reply, ‘Oh, yes, but then I had unique advantages; there was an English missionary stationed near my tribe.’ Ỉ John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath – the author points out the differences which exist even among speakers of one variety, ie American English: Oklahoma man: I knowed you wasn’t Oklahoma Folk You talk queer kinda – Tht ain’t no blame, you understan’? Arkansas woman: Ever’body says words different Arkansas folks says ‘em different, and Oklahomy folks says ‘em different And we seen a lady from Massachusetts, an’ she said ‘em differentest of all Couldn’ make out what she was sayin’ Ỉ Professor H Marckwardt of Princeton University to the hesitant and confused teachers: “When foreign teachers are worried about which English they should teach – British or American – it seems to me that we’ve now arrived at the point where we can say without hesitation: Teach the form that you know and that you have the resources to teach.” Ỉ Professor Marckwardt commenting on those who intentionally use British accent: … reminds me of a time I was sitting in a little lunch-room in the United States, and an American woman of some social pretensions came in with her husband; when the waitress showed them a seat, she looked across the room and said (in what she clearly thought was a superior accent) “Can’t [ka:nt] you put us over there?” But a couple of moments later, talking more naturally just to her husband, I heard her say “Is it half [hæf] past six yet?” It sounded ridiculous to hear her mix her forms of language, though certainly she thought that her [ka:nt] was better than her ordinary pronunciation as represented by [hæf] Æ Professor Quirk: Do you know that old one (joke) about the American lady who is supposed to have said to someone in England, ‘Do you have many children?‘ and the reply was, ‘Oh no, only one every couple of years.‘ This rests on the rather dubious existence of a tendency in England to use in questions with the verb have only when habitual actions are referred to Ỉ Professor Marckwardt: Well, then there’s the one about the Englishman coming to New York and trying to buy a saloon; he was directed to the government bureau concerned with liquor licensing, because of course although he only wanted a car, he is supposed to have wanted to open a bar, a pub Ỉ Bibliography: Peprník, Jaroslav: Slovník amerikanismů, Praha 1982 Marckwardt A – Quirk R.: A Common Language, Washington 1965 Baker D – Varandíková E.: A Book of American Slang and Conversation, Ostrava 1994 Dreher, Hans: 2,000x Minuten-Training Amerian English, Munich 2000
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