Differences between American English and British English

Lexical and grammatical differences between American English and British English. Sound system, voiced and unvoiced consonants, the American R. Americans are Ruining English. American English is very corrupting. A language that doesn’t change is dead.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
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Язык английский
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The differences between American and British are not due to Americans changing from a British standard. American is not corrupt British plus barbarisms. Rather, both American and British evolved in different ways from a common sixteenth-century ancestral standard. Present-day British is no closer to that earlier form than present-day American is. Indeed, in some ways present-day American is more conservative, that is, closer to the common original standard than is present-day British.

Americans generally retain the r-sound in words like more and mother, whereas the British have lost it

Some examples of American conservatives versus British innovation are these: Americans generally retain the r-sound in words like more and mother, whereas the British have lost it. Americans generally retain the `flat a' of cat in path, calf, class,whereas the British have replaced it with the `broad a' of father. Americans retain a secondary stress on the second syllable from the end of words like secretary and dictionary, whereas the British have lost both the stress and often the vowel, reducing the words to three syllables, `secret'ry'. Americans retain an old use of the verb guess to mean `think' or `suppose' (as in Geoffrey Chaucer's catch-phrase `I gesse'). Americans have retained the past participle form gotten beside got, whereas the British have lost the former. (The British often suppose that Americans use only gotten, in fact they use both, but with different meanings: `I've got a cold' = `I have a cold' and `I've gotten a cold' = `I've caught a cold'). Americans retain use of the subjunctivein what grammarians call `mandative' expressions: `They insisted that he leave,' whereas the British substituted for it other forms, such as `that he should leave' or `that he left'.

On the other hand, the British are more conservative than Americans in other ways. Thus, they continue to distinguish atom (with a t-sound) and Adam (with a d-sound), whereas Americans typically pronounce the two words alike, with a flap sound that is more d- than t-like. Similarly, in standard British callous and Alice do not rhyme, whereas they usually do in standard American, both having a schwa. So too, the British have different stressed vowels in father and fodder, whereas Americans pronounce those words with the same first vowel. The British have retained an old use of reckon in the sense `think' or `suppose'in serious discourse, whereas that use in America is old-fashioned or rural, a comic marker of `hick' talk. The British have retained the term fortnight, whereas Americans have lost it. The British have retained the primary meaning of corn as `grain', whereas Americans have changed it to `maize' (the image many Americans have of `Ruth amid the alien corn' being both anachronistic and ectopic). The British have retained the inversion of have with its subject in questions: `Have you the time?' whereas Americans use the auxiliary verb do with it: `Do you have the time?'

On balance, it is hard to say which variety of English, American or British, is the more conservative and which the more innovative. A lot depends on how you look at the question. It is clear that the British are keen on (Americans would say `fond of') the pluperfect, whereas Americans prefer the simple past: British `He had left before they arrived' versus typical American `He left before they arrived.' But it is less clear which usage should be regarded as older. Is the American preference a degeneration of the tense system? Or a preservation of the English of the Anglo-Saxons, who had little truck with complex tenses?

Both American and British have changed and go on changing

Both American and British have changed and go on changing today. Among recent innovations in British English, in addition to the pronunciation of controversy already cited, are such vocabulary novelties as gazumping and gazundering, Essex man and Estuary English, toy boy, and redundancy for `sacking' or `firing' (a bureaucratic euphemism fit to exercise the spleen of a British Edwin Newman). Paralleling the American retention of the mandative subjunctive (`They insisted that he leave') is a British innovative use of the indicative in such expressions: `They insisted that he left,' which in American use could only be a statement of fact (`They insisted it was a fact that he had left').

British speakers have also been extraordinary fertile in expanding the range of use for tag questions. Tag questions are little bobs at the end of sentences that can turn them into questions, or sometimes into something else. The basic tag questions are general English, shared by British and American:

informational: `You don't wear glasses, do you?' (I'm not sure, but think you don't. Am I right?)

inclusive: `It's a nice day, isn't it?'(It obviously is - I'm not really asking, but just making polite remarks so you can join in the conversation).

emphasizing: `I made a bad mistake, didn't I?' (This is a soliloquy. I'm not talking to anybody but myself and don't expect an answer to the rhetorical question. It's the verbal equivalent of underlining.)

The last of the above types is more characteristic of British than of American use, but the next two are distinctively British and are relatively recent contributions of British English to the rhetorical inventory of impoliteness:

peremptory: `Is the tea ready?' `The water has to boil, doesn't it?' (Everybody knows you can't make tea without boiling hot water, and you can see that the water has not come to a boil yet, so stop bothering me with idiotic questions.)

antagonistic: `I telephoned you this morning, but you didn't answer.' `I was in the bath, wasn't I?' (The reason I didn't answer was that I was in the bath, and it was a great annoyance having you phone at that time; if you had any sense and consideration, you would not have called then. [Never mind that the caller could not possibly know all that - I was annoyed at the time and I'm even more annoyed now at what I perceive to be a complaint when I am the one who was put upon.])

Both Americans and the British innovate in English pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. British people, however, tend to be more aware of American innovations than Americans are of British ones. The cause of that greater awareness may be a keener linguistic sensitivity on the part of the British, or a more insular anxiety and hence irritation about influences from abroad, or the larger number of American speakers and their higher prominence in fields that require innovation, or perhaps the fact that present-day Americans have cultural rootlets all over the world and so are less aware of the British Isles.

Perhaps Americans do innovate more; after all, there are four to five times as many English speakers in the United States as in the United Kingdom. So one might expect, on the basis of population size alone, four to five times as much innovation in American English. Moreover, Americans have been disproportionately active in certain technological fields, such as computer systems, that are hotbeds of lexical innovation.

It is curious and remarkable that the present state of affairs was foreseen with great accuracy by John Adams, who in 1780, even before it was obvious that the American Revolution would succeed, wrote:

English is destined to be in the next and succeeding centuries more generally the language of the world than Latin was in the last or French is in the present age. The reason of this is obvious, because the increasing population in America, and their universal connection and correspondence with all nations will, aided by the influence of England in the world, whether great or small, force their language into general use.

So is America ruining the English language? Certainly, if you believe that extending the language to new uses and new speakers ruins it. Certainly, if you believe that change is ruin. Certainly, if what John Adams foresaw was ruination.

John Algeo is Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia and was Alumni Foundation Distinguished Professor of English until his retirement. He has been a Fulbright Research Fellow and a Guggenheim Fellow at the University of London. He is a past President of the American Dialect Society, the American Name Society, and the Dictionary Society of North America. He was editor of American Speech, the journal of the American Dialect Society, for ten years and is the author of numerous academic books and articles dealing with the history of the English language, British-American differences, and current usage. With his wife, Adele, for ten years he co-edited "Among the New Words," a quarterly article concerning additions to the English vocabulary. His most recent academic work is as editor and contributing author of volume 6 of the Cambridge History of the English Language (Cambridge University Press) on the history of English in North America. He is currently revising his and Thomas Pyles's textbook, Origins and Development of the English Language for its fifth edition. He has spoken at academic and Theosophical meetings throughout the United States and in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, India, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, and Wales.

In the early part of the seventeenth century English settlers began to bring their language to America, and another series of changes began to take place. The settlers borrowed words from Indian languages for such strange trees as the hickory and persimmon, such unfamiliar animals as raccoons and woodchucks. Later they borrowed other words from settlers from other countries - for instance, chowder and prairie from the French, scow and sleigh from the Dutch. They made new combinations of English words, such as backwoods and bullfrog, or gave old English words entirely new meanings, such as lumber ( which in British English means approximately junk ) and corn ( which in British means any grain, especially wheat ). Some of the new terms were needed, because there were new and un-English things to talk about. Others can be explained only on the general theory that languages are always changing, and American English is no exception.

Aside from the new vocabulary, differences in pronunciation, in grammatical construction, and especially in intonation developed. If the colonization had taken place a few centuries earlier, American might have become as different from English as French is from Italian. But the settlement occurred after the invention of printing, and continued through a period when the idea of educating everybody was making rapid progress. For a long time most of the books read in America came from England, and a surprising number of Americans read those books, in or out of school. Moreover, most of the colonists seem to have felt strong ties with England. In this they were unlike their Anglo-Saxon ancestors, who apparently made a clean break with their continental homes.

A good many Englishmen and some Americans used to condemn every difference that did develop, and as recently as a generation ago it was not unusual to hear all “Americanisms” condemned, even in America. It is now generally recognized in this country that we are not bound to the Queen's English, but have a full right to work out our own habits. Even a good many of the English now concede this, though some of them object strongly to the fact that Americanisms are now having an influence on British usage.

There are thousands of differences in detail between British and American English, and occasionally they crowd together enough to make some difficulty. If you read that a man, having trouble with his lorry, got out his spanner and lifted the bonnet to see what was the matter, you might not realize that the driver of the truck had taken out his wrench and lifted the hood. It is amusing to play with such differences, but the theory that the American language is now essentially different from English does not hold up. It is often very difficult to decide whether a book was written by an American or an English man. Even in speech it would be hard to prove that national differences are greater than some local differences in either country. On the whole, it now seems probable that the language habits of the two countries will grow more, rather than less, alike, although some differences will undoubtedly remain and others may develop.

It also seems probable that there will be narrow-minded and snobbish people in both countries for some time to come. But generally speaking, anybody who learnsto speak and write the standard English of his own country, and to regard that of the other country as a legitimate variety with certain interesting differences, will have little trouble wherever he goes.

Studying foreign languages is important for everybody. People learn foreign languages from various reasons. They want to travel abroad a lot, they want to read foreign materials (books, newspaper, magazines..). Many people need knowledge of foreign languages for their work, for example translators, interprets airport staff, shop assistants, waiters etc. People working in so called tourist industry or in export section of a firm can't work without knowing foreign languages. The students make the largest group of people who learn foreign languages.

Most students in the world study English. It is one of the compulsory subjects at school all over the world. English is the most widely spread language. It's the mother tongue for people in the English speaking countries. It means in Great Britain, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is the second language in former British colonies (India, Pakistan, African countries…).

English is working language of many international organizations and events. And if somebody wants to take place in a world congress or to be successful in business he must master 4 skills in every language. 4 skills mean reading, speaking, writing and understanding. I think that all four skills are necessary but speaking is the most important.

English belong together with European languages to a large family of Indo-European languages. This family has seven branches. English is one of Germanic languages. It is coming form three languages - from Old German, Old Norse and French. These three languages merged.

Nowadays about 420 million people use English which means that English is the most widespread language in the world. It is used not only as a native language but also for practical purposes - in administrative, business, technology, education, sport etc. English become so important only in the 17th century with the first settlements outside Europe.

The English language is of Germanic origin. Old English had many inflections to show various grammar forms (e.g. singular, plural, tense, person). The pronunciation was different as well. But over centuries words have been simplified and in fact have very few inflections now, but pronunciation and spelling become more difficult. English borrowed words from many other languages - French, Spanish, even Czech.

There ate five main types of English which differ in pronunciation, spelling and vocabulary but the differences are not so crucial. There are: British English, American English, Australian English, Indian English and African English.

Now we will meet with some differences between British (so called “King's “) English and American English. American English has been the language of American continent for more that three centuries. These two versions of English are the results of the different historical development of England and America.

There is number of similar differences in vocabulary, there are also differences in spelling, grammar, intonation and pronunciation.

1. Spelling: reading American books without having been told about peculiarities of American spelling, we might regard as a misprint what is in fact correct American spelling. E.g. the endings “-our”, “-re”, are written “-or”, “-er” (color, labor, center, theater). The “l” isn't doubled in such word as traveller, travelling etc. The Americans have also adopted a simplified way of spelling certain words as program, catalog, check, thru, tho instead of programm, catalogue, cheque, through, though.

2. Grammar: the differences in grammar are also so few. E.g. most American say: „Do you have? I don't have” where an Englishman would say:“ Have you got? I haven't got”.

3. Vocabulary: there are the great differences in vocabulary. These differences are important, because our ignoring them may lead to unpleasant misunderstanding. There are many differences in the names of foodstuffs, shop and clothing.

In the USA in Great Britain

a billion is called a thousand million

a trillion is called a billion

first floor is called ground floor

check is called bill

bill is called banknote

gasoline (or “gas”) is called petrol

pants is called trousers

store is called shop

general store is called department store

4. Pronunciation: the American pronunciation has preserved a feature of the language in its earlier stages of development while the British pronunciation of these days appears to be more developed in comparison with it. The American speak somewhat more slowly than the English.

A. The /-r/ sound is also pronounced when final (e.g. far, four, were) or when followed by a consonant (farm, force, work)

B. The /-o/ sound is so open that is sometimes seems to us as if the Americans pronounced /-a/ instead (e.g. on, not, dollar).

C. The /-a:/ sound in such words as class, past half, after, can't dance, example is pronounced something like “a” is bad.

5. Intonation: intonation is “melody” of speech. In comparison with the lively British intonation, the American intonation seems to be somehow monotonous. The melody of the speech is simpler as there are not rises and falls of the speech and that is why American English is easier to understand than British English.

We must not begin to mix the two, but to concentrate on learning either British or American English.

Once you have thoroughly studied intonation and word connections, you can begin to address pronunciation.

The three most important vowels are [?], [a], and [ ].

This last symbol, called the schwa, is represented with an upside down e, and is the most common sound in the English language. These are the vowels found in cat, caught and cut.

When people in NYC meet, they always ask where the other is from. Actual New Yorkers are something of a rarity here. But when I tell them I'm from Georgia, people are quick to point out that I really don't have much of a southern accent.

Point of fact, I make an effort not to have much of an accent. Last night, my roommate's boyfriend excoriated me for this.

His argument is that I should just be myself and I shouldn't pander to ignorant people who would judge me based on something so superfluous as my accent. He also says that by accepting and embracing the "cultural marker" that is the way I speak, I am doing more to effect social change and eradicate that same ignorance.

He went so far as to say that intentionally masking one's accent or affecting another is fraudulent.

My argument is that I don't care about society. I have to deal with individuals and even ignorant ones may have something that I want. I adopt a neutral American accent to avoid distracting people from the more important items on the agenda.

Southerners in particular regard their accents as charming and enjoy the attention it gets them. They object vehemently to those who would assume that they are uneducated based on the fact that they have an accent.

But they like to ignore the fact that the South is a region whose population is afflicted with a few types of rather pernicious stupidity, namely racism, homophobia, sexism, and religion.

The NIL/NALS report confirms once again that Southern US states continue to have the most deplorable social conditions in the country, including the highest rates of adult illiteracy. Mississippi ranked worst among the 50 states, with every third adult in the state, 30 percent of its adult population, placed in Level I. Louisiana has the second highest illiteracy rate with 28 percent of its adult population in Level I, followed by Alabama, Florida and South Carolina, each with 25 percent. In these states the combined Level I and Level II literacy rates would push the level of illiteracy and near-illiteracy to nearly 70 percent of the adult population.

III. Conclusion

3.1 Illiteracy on the rise in America

So, the southern reputation for ignorance and stupidity is not unwarranted.

I also contend that an accent is not like skin color in that you aren't born with it and you can change it. I don't disagree that it's difficult to get rid of an accent because so often one can't hear it, but that is beside the point. You can be rid of it.

And most fundamentally, being rid of an accent aids clarity and understanding when communicating verbally.

I have a friend named Brian. The name "Brian" has two syllables, Bri-an, in standard American pronunciation. My friend pronounces it with one syllable, "Braan." Last night, we went out to a bar and every single person we met could not get his name right until I repeated his name for them.

Southerners also add syllables where none are in standard American pronunciation. Take the word "pet." Now, that is a simple, one-syllable word. Pet. But a southerner with a particular type of accent will turn it into two syllables, "pay-et." To many, this pronunciation mangles the word to the point of unintelligibility.

In business school, we were encouraged to rid ourselves of our accents. The point was that even though it might be cute and help you with the ladies (or gentlemen), in business it is a distraction and may cost you business with people who find it difficult to take you seriously when you speak like Scarlet O'Hara or Foghorn Leghorn.

To the argument that it is dishonest to change one's accent, I think this contradicts the premise behind the other arguments. If accents shouldn't matter, then what difference should it make if one changes them? But I regard changing one's accent as similar to changing one's shirt.

If you are American and you put on a British accent, I may not notice that you're a faker, but if I find out you're a faker, I will think of you as I do those 50 year-old men who wear clingy, ripped up Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirts, as a person with pretentions.

If you adopt a neutral American accent, which originates in the Midwest, by the way, there's nothing to think of you by the way you speak. You could say you're from wherever you please and the worst that people will say is, "Where's your accent?" And you can simply say, "I don't have one."


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I. Introduction.

1.1 General American

II. Main Part.

2.1 Pronunciation symbols

2.2 Pronunciation challenges

2.2.1 Use of the present perfect

2.2.2 Possession

2.2.3 The verb “get”

2.2.4 Vocabulary

2.2.5 Prepositions

2.2.6 Past Simple

2.2.7 Spelling

2.3 Differences between American English and British English

3.2.1 Lexical differences

3.2.2 Grammatical differences

3.2.3 Punctuation

4.2 Sound system

4.2.1 Voiced and unvoiced consonants

4.2.2 The American R.

5.2 Another set of “Ears”

5.2.1 Spectrography

5.2.2 The low-back merger

5.2.3 The Northern cities shift

5.2.4 The southern shift

5.2.5 The California shift

6.2 Americans are Ruining English

6.2.1 American English is very corrupting

6.2.2 A language that doesn't change is dead

III. Conclusion


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