Peculiarities of British and American variants in the English Language
A short history of the origins and development of english as a global language. Peculiarities of american and british english and their differences. Social and cultural, american and british english lexical differences, grammatical peculiarities.
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Chapter I Historical background of the English Language
I. 1. A short history of the origins and development of English
I. 2. Varieties of English
I. 3. English as a global language
I.4. Writing system
Chapter II Peculiarities of British and American variants in the English language
II. 1. Peculiarities of American and British English and their differences
II. 2. American and British English lexical differences
II. 3. Grammatical Peculiarities of American and British English
II. 4. Social and cultural differences
The theme of my Diploma paper is “Peculiarities of British and American variants in the English Language”.
The purpose of my Diploma paper is to investigate peculiarities of British and American variants in the English Language.
Every language allows different kinds of variations: geographical or territorial, perhaps the most obvious, stylistic, the difference between the written and the spoken form of the standard national language and others. It is the national language of England proper, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and some provinces of Canada. It is the official language of Wales, Scotland, in Gibraltar and on the island of Malta. Modern linguistics distinguishes territorial variants of a national language and local dialects. Variants of a language are regional varieties of a standard literary language characterized by some minor peculiarities in the sound system, vocabulary and grammar and by their own literary norms.
The task of our Diploma paper is to reveal the main peculiarities of British and American variants in the English Language; i.e. when we speak about the English language in general, we often ignore some very important differences between several varieties of this language. Some people argue that it is the same language and whichever variant a person speaks, he is sure to be understood everywhere. This is only partially true because of the differences between two countries, two peoples, two cultures, and we cannot, in fact, divorce language and culture.
The theoretical value of work is to find differences between British English and American English which can be the main task of the Diploma paper.
Presented Diploma paper consists of Introduction, two Chapters, Conclusion, Appendix and Bibliography. Introduction is about some differences between BrE and AmE. The first Chapter of the Diploma paper gives the historical background of the English language and its link with other languages. The second Chapter of the Diploma paper speaks about peculiarities of British and American variants in the English language.
Conclusion is the summary of our paper. In Appendix, we have included some examples. The appearance of the American variant of the English language is the result of a long process of independent development of the people who settled in a new place to arrange a new way of life. They didn't give new names to old things, but very often they filled old words with new meanings and borrowed new words from their native languages, that's why today for the British and Americans the same words can have different connotations and implications even if they denote the same things or phenomena. Oscar Wilde wrote, `The English have really everything in common with the Americans, except a course of language.`
Standard English - the official language of Great Britain taught at schools and universities, used by the press, the radio and the television and spoken by educated people may be defined as that form of English which is current and literary, substantially uniform and recognized as acceptable wherever English is spoken or understood. Its vocabulary is contrasted to dialect words or dialectisms belonging to various local dialects. Local dialects are varieties of the English language peculiar to some districts and having no normalized literary form. Regional varieties possessing a literary form are called variants. Dialects are said to undergo rapid changes under the pressure of Standard English taught at schools and the speech habits cultivated by radio, television and cinema.
The differences between the English language as spoken in Britain. The USA, Australia and Canada are immediately noticeable in the field of phonetics. However these distinctions are confined to the articulatory- acoustic characteristics of some phonemes, to some differences in the use of others and to the differences in the rhythm and intonation of speech. The few phonemes characteristic of American pronunciation and alien to British literary norms can as a rule be observed in British dialects.
The existing cases of difference between the two variants are veniently classified into:
§ Cases where there are no equivalents in British English: drive-in 'a cinema where you can see the film without getting out of your car' or 'a shop where motorists buy things staying in the car'; dude ranch `a sham ranch used as a summer residence for holiday-makers from the cities'.
§ Cases where different words are used for the same denotatum, such as can, candy, mailbox, movies, suspenders, truck in the USA and tin, sweets, pillar-box (or letter-box), pictures or flicks, braces and lorry in England.
§ Cases where the semantic structure of a partially equivalent word is different. The word pavement, for example, means in the first place 'covering of the street or the floor and the like made of asphalt, stones or some other material'. In England the derived meaning is 'the footway at the side of the road'. The Americans use the noun sidewalk for this, while pavement with them means 'the roadway'.
§ Cases where otherwise equivalent words are different in distribution. The verb ride in Standard English is mostly combined with such nouns as a horse, a bicycle, more seldom they say ride on a bus. In American English combinations like a ride on the train, ride in a boat are quite usual.
§ It sometimes happens that the same word is used in American English with some difference in emotional and stylistic colouring. Nasty, for example, is a much milder expression of disapproval in England than in the States, where it was even considered obscene in the 19th century. Politician in England means 'someone in politics', and is derogatory in the USA. Professor A.D. Schweitzer pays special attention to phenomena differing in social norms of usage. For example balance in its lexico-semantic variant 'the remainder of anything' is substandard in British English and quite literary in America.
§ Last but not least, there may be a marked difference in frequency characteristics. Thus, time-table which occurs in American English very rarely, yielded its place to schedule.
Actually, the idioms spoken in Great Britain and in the USA have too much in common to be treated as different languages. Their Grammar is basically the same. The main part of the vocabulary is essentially the same. In fact, the period of their separate development is too short for them to become absolutely independent.
Chapter I. Historical background of the English Language
The English language was first introduced to the Americas by British colonization, beginning in the early 17th century. Similarly, the language spread to numerous other parts of the world as a result of British trade and colonization elsewhere and the spread of the former British Empire, which, by 1921, held sway over a population of about 470-570 million people: approximately a quarter of the world's population at that time.
Over the past 400 years, the form of the language used in the Americas--especially in the United States--and that used in the British Isles have diverged in a few minor ways, leading to the dialects now occasionally referred to as American English and British English. Differences between the two include pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary (lexis), spelling, punctuation, idioms, formatting of dates and numbers, and so on, although the differences in written and most spoken grammar structure tend to be much more minor than those of other aspects of the language in terms of mutual intelligibility. A small number of words have completely different meanings between the two dialects or are even unknown or not used in one of the dialects. One particular contribution towards formalizing these differences came from Noah Webster, who wrote the first American dictionary (published 1828) with the intention of showing that people in the United States spoke a different dialect from Britain, much like a regional accent.
This divergence between American English and British English once caused George Bernard Shaw to say that the United States and United Kingdom are "two countries divided by a common language"; a similar comment is ascribed to Winston Churchill. Likewise, Oscar Wilde wrote, "We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, the language" (The Canterville Ghost, 1888). Henry Sweet falsely predicted in 1877, that within a century, American English, Australian English and British English would be mutually unintelligible. It may be the case that increased worldwide communication through radio, television, the Internet, and globalization has reduced the tendency to regional variation. This can result either in some variations becoming extinct (for instance, the wireless, superseded by the radio) or in the acceptance of wide variations as "perfectly good English" everywhere. Often at the core of the dialect though, the idiosyncrasies remain.
Nevertheless, it remains the case that although spoken American and British English are generally mutually intelligible, there are enough differences to cause occasional misunderstandings or at times embarrassment - for example, some words that are quite innocent in one dialect may be considered vulgar in the other.
I.1 A short history of the origins and development of English
The history of the English language really started with the arrival of three Germanic tribes who invaded Britain during the 5th century AD. These tribes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, crossed the North Sea from what today is Denmark and northern Germany. At that time the inhabitants of Britain spoke a Celtic language. But most of the Celtic speakers were pushed west and north by the invaders - mainly into what is now Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The Angles came from Englaland and their language was called Englisc - from which the words England and English are derived.
Germanic invaders entered Britain on the east and south coasts in the 5th century
Old English (450-1100 AD)
The invading Germanic tribes spoke similar languages, which in Britain developed into what we now call Old English. Old English did not sound or look like English today. Native English speakers now would have great difficulty understanding Old English. Nevertheless, about half of the most commonly used words in Modern English have Old English roots. The words be, strong and water, for example, derive from Old English. Old English was spoken until around 1100.
Middle English (1100-1500)
An example of Middle English by Chaucer.
In 1066 William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy (part of modern France), invaded and conquered England. The new conquerors (called the Normans) brought with them a kind of French, which became the language of the Royal Court, and the ruling and business classes. For a period there was a kind of linguistic class division, where the lower classes spoke English and the upper classes spoke French. In the 14th century English became dominant in Britain again, but with many French words added. This language is called Middle English. It was the language of the great poet Chaucer (c1340-1400), but it would still be difficult for native English speakers to understand today.
Early Modern English (1500-1800)
Hamlet's famous "To be, or not to be" lines, written in Early Modern English by Shakespeare.
Towards the end of Middle English, a sudden and distinct change in pronunciation (the Great Vowel Shift) started, with vowels being pronounced shorter and shorter. From the 16th century the British had contact with many peoples from around the world. This, and the Renaissance of Classical learning, meant that many new words and phrases entered the language. The invention of printing also meant that there was now a common language in print. Books became cheaper and more people learned to read. Printing also brought standardization to English. Spelling and grammar became fixed, and the dialect of London, where most publishing houses were, became the standard. In 1604 the first English dictionary was published.
Late Modern English (1800-Present)
The main difference between Early Modern English and Late Modern English is vocabulary. Late Modern English has many more words, arising from two principal factors: firstly, the Industrial Revolution and technology created a need for new words; secondly, the British Empire at its height covered one quarter of the earth's surface, and the English language adopted foreign words from many countries.
English is a member of the Germanic family of languages. Germanic is a branch of the Indo-European language family.
The Germanic Family of Languages
A brief chronology of English
Roman invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar.
Local inhabitants speak Celtish
Roman invasion and occupation. Beginning of Roman rule of Britain.
Roman withdrawal from Britain complete.
Settlement of Britain by Germanic invaders begins
Earliest known Old English inscriptions.
William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, invades and conquers England.
Earliest surviving manuscripts in Middle English.
English replaces Latin as the language of instruction in most schools.
English replaces French as the language of law. English is used in Parliament for the first time.
Chaucer starts writing The Canterbury Tales.
The Great Vowel Shift begins.
William Caxton establishes the first English printing press.
Early Modern English
Shakespeare is born.
Table Alphabeticall, the first English dictionary, is published.
The first permanent English settlement in the New World (Jamestown) is established.
Shakespeare's First Folio is published
The first daily English-language newspaper, The Daily Courant, is published in London.
Samuel Johnson publishes his English dictionary.
Thomas Jefferson writes the American Declaration of Independence.
Britain abandons its American colonies.
Webster publishes his American English dictionary.
Late Modern English
The British Broadcasting Corporation is founded.
The Oxford English Dictionary is published.
I.2 Varieties of English
From around 1600, the English colonization of North America resulted in the creation of a distinct American variety of English. Some English pronunciations and words "froze" when they reached America. In some ways, American English is more like the English of Shakespeare than modern British English is. Some expressions that the British call "Americanisms" are in fact original British expressions that were preserved in the colonies while lost for a time in Britain (for example trash for rubbish, loan as a verb instead of lend, and fall for autumn; another example, frame-up, was re-imported into Britain through Hollywood gangster movies). Spanish also had an influence on American English (and subsequently British English), with words like canyon, ranch, stampede and vigilante being examples of Spanish words that entered English through the settlement of the American West. French words (through Louisiana) and West African words (through the slave trade) also influenced American English (and so, to an extent, British English).
Today, American English is particularly influential, due to the USA's dominance of cinema, television, popular music, trade and technology (including the Internet). But there are many other varieties of English around the world, including for example Australian English, New Zealand English, Canadian English, South African English, Indian English and Caribbean English.
· Basic English is simplified for easy international use. It is used by some aircraft manufacturers and other international businesses to write manuals and communicate. Some English schools in the Far East teach it as an initial practical subset of English.
· Special English is a simplified version of English used by the Voice of America. It uses a vocabulary of 1500 words.
· English reform is an attempt to improve collectively upon the English language.
· Seaspeak and the related Airspeak and Policespeak, all based on restricted vocabularies, were designed by Edward Johnson in the 1980s to aid international co-operation and communication in specific areas.
· European English is a new variant of the English language created to become the common language in Europe.
· Manually Coded English -- a variety of systems have been developed to represent the English language with hand signals, designed primarily for use in deaf education.
English is now the fourth most widely spoken native language worldwide (after Chinese, Spanish, and Hindi), with some 380 million speakers. English is also the dominant member of the Germanic languages. It has lingua franca status in many parts of the world, due to the military, economic, scientific, political and cultural influence of the British Empire in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries and that of the United States from the early 20th century to the present.
Through the global influence of native English speakers in cinema, airlines, broadcasting, science, and the Internet in recent decades, English is now the most widely learned second language in the world, although other languages such as French and Spanish also retain much importance worldwide.
Many students worldwide are required to learn at least some English, and a working knowledge of English is required in many fields and occupations.
English is spoken in many countries, even if it isn't the primary language. Germany speaks German, but many people are also fluent in English. Same with countries like Denmark, France, and Spain.
English is an Anglo-Frisian language brought to Britain by Germanic settlers from various parts of northwest Germany. The original Old English language was subsequently influenced by two successive waves of invasion. The first was by speakers of languages in the Scandinavian branch of the Germanic family, who colonised parts of Britain in the 8th and 9th centuries. The second wave was of the Normans in the 11th century, who spoke a variety of French.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, around the year 449, Vortigern, King of the British Isles, invited the Angles to help him against the Picts. In return, the Angles were granted lands in the south-east. Further aid was sought, and in response came Saxons, Angles, and Jutes. The Chronicle talks of a subsequent influx of settlers who eventually established seven kingdoms. Modern scholarship considers most of this story to be legendary and politically motivated.
These Germanic invaders dominated the original Celtic-speaking inhabitants, whose languages survived largely in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Ireland. The dialects spoken by the invaders formed what would be called Old English, which resembled some coastal dialects in what are now north-west Germany and the Netherlands. Later, it was strongly influenced by the North Germanic language Norse, spoken by the Vikings who settled mainly in the north-east (see Jуrvнk).
For the 300 years following the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Norman kings and the high nobility spoke only a variety of French. A large number of Norman words were assimilated into Old English. The Norman influence reinforced the continual evolution of the language over the following centuries, resulting in what is now referred to as Middle English.
During the 15th century, Middle English was transformed by the Great Vowel Shift, the spread of a standardised London-based dialect in government and administration, and the standardising effect of printing. Modern English can be traced back to around the time of William Shakespeare.
Classification and related languages
The English language belongs to the western sub branch of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Apart from English-lexified creole languages such as Tok Pisin and Bislama, the nearest living relative of English is Scots (Lallans), spoken mostly in Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland. Like English, Scots is a direct descendant of Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon.
After Scots, the next closest relative is Frisian--spoken in Germany and the Netherlands. Other less closely related living languages include German, Low German, Dutch, Scandinavian languages and Afrikaans. Many French words are also intelligible to an English speaker (pronunciations are not always identical, of course) because English absorbed a tremendous amount of vocabulary from French, via the Norman language after the Norman conquest and directly from French in further centuries; as a result, a substantial share of English vocabulary is quite close to the French, with some minor spelling differences (word endings, use of old French spellings etc.), as well as occasional differences in meaning.
Distribution of native English speakers by country (Crystal 1997)
English is the second or third most widely spoken language in the world today. A total of 600-700 million people use the various dialects of English regularly. About 377 million people use one of the versions of English as their mother tongue, and an equal number of people use them as their second or foreign language. English is used widely in either the public or private sphere in more than 100 countries all over the world. In addition, the language has occupied a primary place in international academic and business communities. The current status of the English language at the start of the new millennium compares with that of Latin in the past. English is also the most widely used language for young backpackers who travel across continents, regardless of whether it is their mother tongue or a secondary language.
English is the primary language in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia (Australian English), the Bahamas, Barbados (Caribbean English), Bermuda, Belize, Canada (Canadian English), the Cayman Islands, Dominica, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guernsey, Guyana, Ireland (Irish English), Isle of Man, Jamaica (Jamaican English), Jersey, Montserrat, New Zealand (New Zealand English), Saint Helena, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the United Kingdom (various forms of British English), the U.S. Virgin Islands and the United States.
English is also an important minority language of South Africa (South African English), and in several other former colonies and current dependent territories of the United Kingdom and the United States, for example Guam and Mauritius.
In Hong Kong, English is an official language and is widely used in business activities. It is taught from infant school, and is the medium of instruction for a few primary schools, many secondary schools and all universities. Substantial numbers of students acquire native-speaker level. It is so widely used that it is inadequate to say that it is merely a second or foreign language, though there are still many people in Hong Kong with poor or no command of English.
The majority of English native speakers (67 to 70 per cent) live in the United States. Although the U.S. federal government has no official languages, it has been given official status by 27 of the 50 state governments, most of which have declared English their sole official language. Hawaii, Louisiana, and New Mexico have also designated Hawaiian, French, and Spanish, respectively, as official languages in conjunction with English.
In many other countries, where English is not a major first language, it is an official language; these countries include Cameroon, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Ghana, Gambia, India, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liberia, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Malaysia, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
English is the most widely learned and used foreign language in the world, and as such, some linguists believe that it is no longer the exclusive cultural emblem of 'native English speakers', but rather a language that is absorbing aspects of cultures world-wide as it grows in use. Others believe that there are limits to how far English can go in suiting everyone for communication purposes. Many people feel that the use of English through media such as the Internet and its constant, informal use by others has led to a diminution in the importance of using the language correctly, thus resulting in a 'dumbing down' of the English language. English is the language most often studied as a foreign language in Europe (32.6 per cent), followed by French, German, and Spanish. It is also the most studied in Japan, South Korea and in the Republic of China (Taiwan), where it is compulsory for most secondary school students. See English as an additional language.
I.3 English as a Global Language
Because English is so widely spoken, it has been referred to as a "global language". While English is not an official language in many countries, it is the language most often taught as a second language around the world. It is also, by international treaty, the official language for aircraft/airport communication. Its widespread acceptance as a first or second language is the main indication of its worldwide status.
There are numerous arguments for and against English as a global language. On one hand, having a global language aids in communication and in pooling information (for example, in the scientific community). On the other hand, it leaves out those who, for one reason or another, are not fluent in the global language. It can also marginalise populations whose first language is not the global language, and lead to a cultural hegemony of the populations speaking the global language as a first language. Most of these arguments hold for any candidate for a global language, though the last two counter-arguments do not hold for languages not belonging to any ethnic group (like Esperanto).
A secondary concern with respect to the spread of global languages (including major non-English languages such as Spanish) is the resulting disappearance of minority languages, often along with the cultures and religions that are primarily transmitted in those languages. English has been implicated in a number of historical and ongoing so-called 'language deaths' and 'linguicides' around the world, many of which have also led to the loss of cultural heritage. Language death caused by English has been particularly pronounced in areas such as Australia and North America where speakers of indigenous languages have been displaced or absorbed by speakers of English in the process of colonisation.
Dialects and regional variants
List of dialects of the English language
Mid Ulster English
African American Vernacular English
North Central American English
Southern American English
New Zealand English
Hong Kong English
Sri Lankan English
South African English
The expansiveness of the British and the Americans has spread English throughout the globe. Because of its global spread, it has bred a variety of English dialects and English-based creoles and pidgins.
The major varieties of English in most cases contain several subvarieties, such as Cockney within British English, Newfoundland English within Canadian English, and African American Vernacular English ("Ebonics") within American English. English is considered a pluricentric language, with no variety being clearly considered the only standard.
Some consider Scots as an English dialect. Pronunciation, grammar and lexis differ, sometimes substantially.
Because of English's wide use as a second language, English speakers can have many different accents, which may identify the speaker's native dialect or language. For more distinctive characteristics of regional accents, see Regional accents of English speakers. For more distinctive characteristics of regional dialects, see List of dialects of the English language.
Just as English itself has borrowed words from many different languages over its history, English loanwords now appear in a great many languages around the world, indicative of the technological and cultural influence wielded by English speakers. Several pidgins and creoles have formed on an English base - Tok Pisin was originally one such example. There are a number of words in English coined to describe forms of particular non-English languages that contain a very high proportion of English words - Franglais, for example, is used to describe French with a very high English content.
IPA Description word
i/i? Close front unrounded vowel bead
? Near-close near-front unrounded vowel bid
? Open-mid front unrounded vowel bed
ж Near-open front unrounded vowel bad
? Open back rounded vowel bod 1
? Open-mid back rounded vowel pawed 2
?/?? Open back unrounded vowel bra
? Near-close near-back rounded vowel good
u/u? Close back rounded vowel booed
?/? Open-mid back unrounded vowel, Near-open central vowel bud
?/?? Open-mid central unrounded vowel bird 3
? Schwa Rosa's 4
? Close central unrounded vowel roses 5
e? Close-mid front unrounded vowel
Close front unrounded vowel bayed
o?/?? Close-mid back rounded vowel
Near-close near-back rounded vowel bode
a? Open front unrounded vowel
Near-close near-front rounded vowel buy
a? Open front unrounded vowel
Near-close near-back rounded vowel bough
?? Open-mid back rounded vowel
Close front unrounded vowel boy
Where symbols appear in pairs, the first corresponds to the sounds used in North American English, the second corresponds to English spoken elsewhere.
1. North American English lacks this sound; words with this sound are pronounced with /?/ or /?/. According to The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (1998), this sound is present in Standard Canadian English.
2. Many dialects of North American English do not have this vowel. See Cot-caught merger.
3. The North American variation of this sound is a rhotic vowel.
4. Many speakers of North American English do not distinguish between these two unstressed vowels. For them, roses and Rosa's are pronounced the same, and the symbol usually used is schwa /?/.
5. This sound is often transcribed with /i/ or with /?/.
6. The letter U can represent either /u/ or the iotated vowel /ju/.
This is the English Consonantal System using symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).
dental dental alveolar post-
alveolar palatal velar glottal
plosive p b t d k g
nasal m n ? 1
flap ? 2
fricative f v и р 3 s z ? ? 4 x 5 h
affricate t? d? 4
approximant ? 4 j
lateral approximant l, ?
approximant ? w6
1. The velar nasal [?] is a non-phonemic allophone of /n/ in some northerly British accents, appearing only before /g/. In all other dialects it is a separate phoneme, although it only occurs in syllable codas.
2. The alveolar flap [?] is an allophone of /t/ and /d/ in unstressed syllables in North American English and increasingly in Australian English. This is the sound of "tt" or "dd" in the words latter and ladder, which are homophones in North American English. This is the same sound represented by single "r" in some varieties of Spanish.
3. In some dialects, such as Cockney, the interdentals /и/ and /р/ are usually merged with /f/ and /v/, and in others, like African American Vernacular English, /р/ is merged with /d/. In some Irish varieties, /и/ and /р/ become the corresponding dental plosives, which then contrast with the usual alveolar plosives.
4. The sounds /?/, /?/, and /?/ are labialised in some dialects. Labialisation is never contrastive in initial position and therefore is sometimes not transcribed.
5. The voiceless velar fricative /x/ is used only by Scottish or Welsh speakers of English for Scots/Gaelic words such as loch /l?x/ or by some speakers for loanwords from German and Hebrew like Bach /bax/ or Chanukah /xanuka/, or in some dialects such as Scouse (Liverpool) where the affricate [kx] is used instead of /k/ in words such as docker /d?kx?/. Most native speakers have a great deal of trouble pronouncing it correctly when learning a foreign language. Most speakers use the sounds [k] and [h] instead.
6. Voiceless w [?] is found in Scottish, Irish, some upper-class British, some eastern United States, and New Zealand accents. In all other dialects it is merged with /w/.
Voicing and Aspiration
Voicing and aspiration of stop consonants in English depend on dialect and context, but a few general rules can be given:
* Voiceless plosives and affricates (/p/, /t/, /k/, and /t?/) are aspirated when they are word-initial or begin a stressed syllable and are not part of a consonant cluster--compare pin [p??n] and spin [sp?n].
o In some dialects, aspiration extends to unstressed syllables as well.
o In other dialects, such as Indian English, most or all voiceless stops may remain unaspirated.
* Word-initial voiced plosives may be devoiced in some dialects.
* Word-terminal voiceless plosives may be unreleased or accompanied by a glottal stop in some dialects (e.g. many varieties of American English)--examples: tap [t?жp?], sack [sжk?].
* Word-terminal voiced plosives may be devoiced in some dialects (e.g. some varieties of American English)--examples: sad [sжd?], bag [bжg?]. In other dialects they are fully voiced in final position, but only partially voiced in initial position.
English is an intonation language. This means that the pitch of the voice is used syntactically, for example, to convey surprise and irony, or to change a statement into a question.
In English, intonation patterns are on groups of words, which are called tone groups, tone units, intonation groups or sense groups. Tone groups are said on a single breath and, as a consequence, are of limited length, more often being on average five words long or lasting roughly two seconds. The structure of tone groups can have a crucial impact on the meaning of what is said. For example:
-/du? ju? ni?d ??n??и??/ Do you need anything?
-/a? d??nt | n??/ ''I don't, no''
-/a? d??nt n??/ I don't know
Characteristics of intonation
Each tone group can be subdivided into syllables, which can either be stressed (strong) or unstressed (weak). There is always a strong syllable, which is stressed more than the others. This is called the nuclear syllable. For example:
That | was | the | best | thing | you | could | have | done!
Here, all syllables are unstressed, except the syllables/words "best" and "done", which are stressed. "Best" is stressed harder and, therefore, is the nuclear syllable.
The nuclear syllable carries the main point the speaker wishes to make. For example:
John had stolen that money. (... not I)
John had stolen that money. (... you said he hadn't)
John had stolen that money. (... he wasn't given it)
John had stolen that money. (... not this money)
John had stolen that money. (... not something else)
The nuclear syllable is spoken louder than all the others and has a characteristic change of pitch. The changes of pitch most commonly encountered in English are the rising pitch and the falling pitch, although the fall-rising pitch and/or the rise-falling pitch are sometimes used. For example:
When do you want to be paid?
Nуw? (rising pitch. In this case, it denotes a question: can I be paid now?)
Nтw (falling pitch. In this case, it denotes a statement: I choose to be paid now)
English grammar displays minimal inflection compared with some other Indo-European languages. For example, Modern English, unlike Modern German or Dutch and the Romance languages, lacks grammatical gender and adjectival agreement. Case marking has almost disappeared from the language and mainly survives in pronouns. The patterning of strong (eg. speak/spoke/spoken) versus weak verbs inherited from Germanic has declined in importance and the remnants of inflection (such as plural marking) have become more regular.
At the same time as inflection has declined in importance in English, the language has developed a greater reliance on features such as modal verbs and word order to convey grammatical information. Auxiliary verbs are used to mark constructions such as questions, negatives, the passive voice and progressive tenses.
Almost without exception, Germanic words (which include all the basics such as pronouns and conjunctions) are shorter and more informal. Latinate words are regarded as more elegant or educated. However, the excessive use of Latinate words is often mistaken for either pretentiousness (as in the stereotypical policeman's talk of "apprehending the suspect") or obfuscation (as in a military document which says "neutralise" when it means "kill"). George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" gives a thorough treatment of this feature of English.
An English speaker is often able to choose between Germanic and Latinate synonyms: "come" or "arrive"; "sight" or "vision"; "freedom" or "liberty"--and sometimes also between a word inherited through French and a borrowing direct from Latin of the same root word: "oversee", "survey" or "supervise". The richness of the language is that such synonyms have slightly different meanings, enabling the language to be used in a very flexible way to express fine variations or shades of thought. See: List of Germanic and Latinate equivalents.
An exception to this and a peculiararity arguably unique of English is that the nouns for meats are commonly different from and unrelated to those for the animals from which they are produced, the animal commonly having a Germanic name and the meat having a French derived noun. Examples include deer and venison, ox or cow and beef, or swine and pork. This is assumed to be a result of the aftermath of the Norman invasion where a French speaking elite were the consumers of the meat, produced by English speaking lower classes.
In everyday speech, the majority of words will normally be Germanic. If a speaker wishes to make a forceful point in an argument in a very blunt way, Germanic words will usually be chosen. A majority of Latinate words (or at least a majority of content words) will normally be used in more formal speech and writing, such as a courtroom or an encyclopedia article.
English is noted for the vast size of its active vocabulary and its fluidity. English easily accepts technical terms into common usage and imports new words which often come into common usage. In addition, slang provides new meanings for old words. In fact this fluidity is so pronounced that a distinction often needs to be made between formal forms of English and contemporary usage. See also sociolinguistics.
Number of words in English
As the General Explanations at the beginning of the Oxford English Dictionary state:
The Vocabulary of a widely diffused and highly cultivated living language is not a fixed quantity circumscribed by definite limits.... there is absolutely no defining line in any direction: the circle of the English language has a well-defined centre but no discernible circumference.
The vocabulary of English is undoubtedly vast, but assigning a specific number to its size is more a matter of definition than of calculation. Unlike other languages, there is no Academy to define officially accepted words. Neologisms are coined regularly in medicine, science and technology--some enter wide usage; others remain restricted to small circles. Foreign words used in immigrant communities often make their way into wider English usage. Archaic, dialectal, and regional words might be considered as "English" or not.
The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition) includes over 500,000 headwords, following a rather inclusive policy:
It embraces not only the standard language of literature and conversation, whether current at the moment, or obsolete, or archaic, but also the main technical vocabulary, and a large measure of dialectal usage and slang (Supplement to the OED, 1933).
The difficulty of defining the number of words is compounded by the emergence of new versions of English, such as Asian English. Word origins
Influences in English
Lists of English words of international origin
One of the consequences of the French influence is that the vocabulary of English is, to a certain extent, divided between those words which are Germanic (mostly Old English) and those which are "Latinate" (Latin-derived, either directly or from Norman French or other Romance languages).
A computerised survey of about 80,000 words in the old Shorter Oxford Dictionary (3rd ed.) was published in Ordered Profusion by Thomas Finkenstaedt and Dieter Wolff (1973) which estimated the origin of English words as follows:
* French, including Old French and early Anglo-French: 28.3%
* Latin, including modern scientific and technical Latin: 28.24%
* Old and Middle English, Old Norse, and Dutch: 25%
* Greek: 5.32%
* No etymology given: 4.03%
* Derived from proper names: 3.28%
* All other languages contributed less than 1%
James D. Nicoll made the oft-quoted observation: "The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary."
I.4 Writing System
English is written using the Latin alphabet. The spelling system or orthography of English is historical, not phonological. The spelling of words often diverges considerably from how they are spoken, and English spelling is often considered to be one of the most difficult to learn of any language that uses an alphabet. See English orthography.
Basic sound-letter correspondences
IPA Alphabetic representation Dialect-specific
t t, th (rarely) thyme, Thames th thing (African-American, New York)
d d th that (African-American, New York)
k c (+ a, o, u, consonants), k, ck, ch, qu (rarely) conquer, kh (in foreign words)
g g, gh, gu (+ a, e, i), gue (final position)
? n (before g or k), ng
f f, ph, gh (final, infrequent) laugh, rough th thing (many forms of English used in England)
v v th with (Cockney, Estuary English)
и th : there is no obvious way to identify which is which from the spelling.
s s, c (+ e, i, y), sc (+ e, i, y)
z z, s (finally or occasionally medially), ss (rarely) possess, dessert, word-initial x xylophone
? sh, sch, ti portion, ci suspicion; si/ssi tension, mission; ch (esp. in words of French origin); rarely s sugar
? si division, zh (in foreign words), z azure, su pleasure, g (in words of French origin)(+e, i, y) genre
x kh, ch, h (in foreign words) occasionally ch loch (Scottish English, Welsh English)
h h (initially, otherwise silent)
t? ch, tch occasionally tu future, culture; t (+ u, ue, eu) tune, Tuesday, Teutonic (Australian English)
d? j, g (+ e, i, y), dg (+ e, i, consonant) badge, judg(e)ment d (+ u, ue, ew) dune, due, dew (Australian English)
? r, wr (initial) wrangle
j y (initially or surrounded by vowels)
w w, wh
? - wh (Scottish English)
American and British English spelling differences
In the early 18th century, English spelling was not standardized. Different standards became noticeable after the publishing of influential dictionaries. Current BrE spellings follow, for the most part, those of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755). Many of the now characteristic AmE spellings were introduced, although often not created, by Noah Webster in his An American Dictionary of the English Language of 1828.
Webster was a strong proponent of spelling reform for reasons both philological and nationalistic. Many other spelling changes proposed in the US by Webster himself, and, in the early 20th century, by the Simplified Spelling Board never caught on. Among the advocates of spelling reform in England, the influences of those who preferred the Norman (or Anglo-French) spellings of certain words proved decisive. Subsequent spelling adjustments in the UK had little effect on present-day US spelling, and vice versa. While, in many cases, AmE deviated in the 19th century from mainstream British spelling; on the other hand, it has also often retained older forms.
* Full stops/Periods in abbreviations: Americans tend to write Mr., Mrs., St., Dr., while British will most often write Mr, Mrs, St, Dr, following the rule that a full stop is used only when the last letter of the abbreviation is not the last letter of the complete word. This kind of abbreviation is known as a contraction in the UK. Still, many British writers would also tend to write other abbreviations without a full stop, such as Prof, etc, eg, and so forth (as recommended by OED). The use of periods after most abbreviations can also be found in the UK, although publications generally tend to eschew the use of American punctuation. Unit symbols such as kg and Hz are never punctuated.
* Both styles hyphenate multiple-word adjectives (e.g. "a first-class ticket"), but some British writers omit the hyphen when no ambiguity would arise.
* Quoting: Americans begin their quotations with double quotation marks (") and use single quotation marks (') for quotations within quotations. BrE usage varies, with some authoritative sources such as The Economist and The Times recommending the same usage as in the U.S., whereas other authoritative sources, such as The King's English, recommend single quotation marks. In journals and newspapers, quotation mark double/single use depends on the individual publication's house style
* Quotation marks with periods and commas: Americans always place commas and periods inside quotation marks. Exceptions are made only for parenthetical citation and cases in which the addition of a period or comma could create confusion, such as the quotation of web addresses or certain types of data strings. In both styles, question marks and exclamation points are placed inside the quotation marks if they belong to the quotation and outside otherwise. With narration of direct speech, both styles retain punctuation inside the quotation marks, with a full stop changing into a comma if followed by explanatory text, also known as a dialogue tag.
o Carefree means "free from care or anxiety." (American style)
o Carefree means "free from care or anxiety". (British style)
o "Hello, John," I said. (Both styles)
o Did you say, "I'm shot"? No, I said, "Why not?" (Both styles)
o To insert a long dash, type "—". (Both styles)
The American style was established for typographical reasons, a historical legacy from the use of the handset printing press. It is used by most American newspapers, publishing houses, and style guides in the United States and Canada (including the Modern Language Association's MLA Style Manual, the American Psychological Association's APA Publication Manual, the University of Chicago's Chicago Manual of Style, the American Institute of Physics's AIP Style Manual, the American Medical Association's AMA Manual of Style, the American Political Science Association's APSA Style Manual, the Associated Press' The AP Guide to Punctuation, and the Canadian Public Works' The Canadian Style). It also makes the process of copy editing easier, eliminating the need to decide whether a period or comma belongs to the quotation.
Hart's Rules and the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors call the British style "new" quoting. It is also similar to the use of quotation marks in many other languages (including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Catalan, Dutch, and German). A few U.S. professional societies whose professions frequently employ various non-word characters, such as chemistry and computer programming, use the British form in their style guides (see ACS Style Guide). According to the Jargon File, American hackers switched to what they later discovered to be the British quotation system because placing a period inside a quotation mark can change the meaning of data strings that are meant to be typed character-for-character. (It may be noted that the current American system places periods and commas outside the quotes in these cases anyway.)
Parentheses in American English, brackets in British English.
In both countries, standard usage is to place punctuation inside or outside parentheses/brackets according to the stop:
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