American English is now different from its British mother and we could say it is more than another dialect due to its importance nowadays. At the beginning of its history, after the American emancipation, there were two opposite attitudes towards the language: those who wanted to eradicate any legacy from the colonization and did not want a British model for their language and those who felt language loyalty towards mother- English. But finally, as in many British colonies, linguistic emancipation was a consequence of politics.
The growing importance of American English is also due to politics: after World War II, when the United States assumed a more global role and had greater influence in fields such as economic, technological and political, America became a linguistic model. As well as this American English has a dominant influence in the world because in US there is 70% of the native English speakers’ population, for its big publishing industry and mass media technology and for the magnitude of higher education.
The main differences between British English and American English are pronunciation, spelling and lexicon. However, syntax is not a big difference. Now we are going to have a glimpse at each, illustrating them with some examples.
Referring to pronunciation we can settle some basic parameters to see the difference between dialects. First we have the merger of [I] and [å] before nasal consonants, makes pin and pen homophones in the American dialect. Many words that used to be stressed on their second syllable are now stressed in their first syllable (like reconcile) but in America nowadays this process is even more rapid. Words like cigar, hotel and Detroit are now front-stressed. Then there is the deletion or reduction of weakly stressed syllables, a process that has been really important in English phonetics.
- A. Introduction
Today, English has become the universal language. It is spoken all over the world. British and American English are the two national varieties of English. American English is not a separate language as an American language. Yet it is a distinct kind of English. British and America are “two great countries separated by the same language”. It should be remembered English are two different national verities of English. American English is now not only a variety of English but an independent language. Difference between British English and American English in the way that the same language is spoken in different places are called varieties or dialects. These varieties may be regional or national. The differences between American English and British English in the field of syntax, pronunciation, spellings, and vocabulary.
- A. LEXICAL DIFFERENCES
Overview of lexical differences
Note: A lexicon is not made up of different words but different “units of meaning” (lexical units or lexical items e.g. “fly ball” in baseball), including idioms and figures of speechThis makes it easier to compare the dialects.
Though the influence of cross-culture media has done much to familiarize BrE and AmE speakers with each other’s regional words and terms, many words are still recognized as part of a single form of English. Though the use of a British word would be acceptable in AmE (and vice versa), most listeners would recognize the word as coming from the other form of English and treat it much the same as a word borrowed from any other language. For instance a British speaker using the word chap or mate to refer to a friend would be heard in much the same way as an American using the Spanish word amigo.
Words and phrases that have their origins in BrE
Most speakers of AmE are aware of some BrE terms, although they may not generally use them or may be confused as to whether someone intends the American or British meaning (such as for biscuit). It is generally very easy to guess what some words, such as “driving licence”, mean. However, use of many other British words such as naff (slang but commonly used to mean “not very good”) are unheard of in American English.
Words and phrases that have their origins in AmE
Speakers of BrE are likely to understand most common AmE terms, examples such as “sidewalk”, “gas (gasoline/petrol)”, “counterclockwise” or “elevator (lift)”, without any problem, thanks in part to considerable exposure to American popular culture and literature. Certain terms that are heard less frequently, especially those likely to be absent or rare in American popular culture, e.g. “copacetic (satisfactory)”, are unlikely to be understood by most BrE speakers.
An early factor in the evolution of American English was the need to name unfamiliar features of the landscape, flora, and fauna of the New World. One source for such words was the rich, but often difficult (for English speakers) vocabulary of the Native Americans. Captain John Smith, in trying to transcribe the Algonquian word meaning “he scratches with his hands”–arakun– wrote rahougcum (1608). This is the source of our now-familiar word, raccoon. Other words derived from Native American languages include: caucus (possibly from Algonkin cau’-cau-as’u, used by Captain John Smith, who spelled it “Caw-cawaassough”), hickory (< pohickery), hominy, moccasin, moose, muskrat (< muskwessu), opossum, papoose, pecan, persimmon, pone, powwow, skunk, squash (< asquutasquash), squaw, succotash (from Narragansett msiquatash), terrapin, toboggan, tomahawk, totem, wigwam, and woodchuck (< otchek).
Earlier Spanish and Portuguese explorers, encountering Native Americans in the West Indies, Mexico, and Central and South American, had provided forms that became the English words barbecue (<Arawak barbacoa, “a raised platform of sticks”), cannibal, canoe (<Arawak canoa), chocolate (<Nahuatl chocolátl), maize (<Arawak marisi), potato, tomato (<Nahuatl tomatl), and savannah. Although it enters the language somewhat later (ca. 1825), the word coyote also derives from the Nahuatl word coyotl (via Spanish).
- B. SYNTATIC DIFFERENCES
The differences in grammar and syntax between American English and British English are small but notable. The two minor differences are concerned with word from ‘dive’ and the phrase ‘do have’. The American use the from dived and the phrase do have. The American use the from dove for the from dived in British English. Another difference of grammar is concerned with the pronoun ‘one’. An American will say, “ if one loses his temper, one should apologies.” Thus he will use the third person pronoun for ‘one’ , but an Englishman will say: “if one loses one’s temper, one should apologies”. Thus an Englishman will use the pronoun ‘one’ for all the times.
Another difference of syntax between these two varieties of English lines in the use of collective nouns. In British English both singular and plural verbs can be used for the collective nouns. The syntactic differences between British English and American English are particularly noticed in the expression of time.
The American says ‘five after eight’
The Englishman say ‘five past eight’.
Am. English – I haven’t see her in ages.
Br. English – I haven’t seen her for ages.
Am. English – Monday through Friday.
Br. English – Monday to Friday inclusive.
Am. English – I looked out the window.
Br. English – I looked out of the window.
One more difference lies in the use of the preposition after the verb differently. In American English ‘than’ is used but in British English, ‘from or to’ is used. ‘shall is rarely used in American English except in formal styles used. Will is commoner:
|I shall ask you later.
||I will ask you later.
|Shall I close the door?
||Should close the door?
|I shall be able to do it.
||I won’t be able to do it.
Would and will in British English is often used in predictive sense where as in American English should or must is used for ex.
Br. English – ought we always to tell you?
Am. English – should we always tell you?
Br. English – you oughtn’t to have done.
Am. English – you shouldn’t have done that.
The copular verbs seem, act, look and sound are normally followed by the preposition like in American English and seem by the infinite to be.
In British English on the other hand by an indefinite N.P.for ex.
Br. English – she acted real clever.
Am. English – she acted like real clever.
Br. English – That sound a bad idea.
Am. English – That sounds like a bad idea.
Br. English – The car looks a nice one.
Am. English – The car looks like a nice one.
Humorous other deviations mark the American English from the British English regarding preposition placing use of adjectives and adverbs etc.
Thus, there are certain syntactic differences between American English and British English.
Differences in Punctuation, Grammar and Syntax
The most obvious punctuation difference between the two versions is the way quotations are marked. The original American version uses quotation marks (“xx”), while the British version employs inverted commas (‘x’). American and British English also use inverted commas and quotation marks differently, respectively, when marking a quotation within another quotation:
- U.S.: “’Oh, is that your suit?’ I said. ‘This is the first I ever heard about it.’…” p.35
- U.K.: ‘…”Oh, is that your suit?” I said. “This is the first I ever heard about it.”…’ p.41
Also, in American English commas and periods are always inside closing quotation marks, whereas the British may place them either inside or outside, depending whether they were part of the text quoted, as can be seen from the following examples:
- U.S.: “I think he killed a man,” and… p.49
- U.K.: ‘I think he killed a man’, and… p.55
In general, the British version had more commas than the American one, as can be seen in the table below.
The use of commas 1
|The American Version
||The British Version
|broke off ceasing to compel my attention
||broke off, ceasing to compel my attention
|days under sun and rain
||days, under sun and rain
|afternoon and when
||afternoon, and when
|went toward the little office mingling immediately
||went toward the little office, mingling immediately
|discussing in impassioned voices whether
||discussing, in impassioned voices, whether
There were, however, occasions when the person “translating” the novel from American to British English has removed commas instead of adding them:
The use of commas 2
|The American Version
||The British Version
|the evening, too, would be over
||the evening too would be over
|introduced himself, a butler
||introduced himself a butler
|tongue, and, moreover, you
||tongue and, moreover, you
- C. Phonological differences
American English differs from British English in the field of pronunciation also. The first difference is concerned with the vowel sound. In such words as “grass”, “dance” and “fast”. In British English all these words are spoken with the vowel / a: / but in American English they are spoken with the vowel /x /.
The second difference of pronunciation is concerned with the consonant / r /. In British English /r/ is pronounced only before a vowel. An Englishman will not pronounce in the words like “farm, lord, and door. But in American English /r/ is pronounced in all position.
The third difference of pronunciation is noticed in stress or accent and intonation. In American English both word stress and sentence stress are weaker than in British English. Similarly intonation in American English is more leveled as consequently American conversation is more monotonous than British English. The differences for instance between American English and British English intonation of question, calling for an answer of Yes or No.
Am. English – Did it all happen yesterday?
Br. English – Did it all happen yesterday
The rhythm of general American English speech shows characteristics of its own connected with the treatment of unstressed and secondarily stressed syllables. A more even distribution of conspicuous syllables reflects an older pronunciation of many polysyllabic words.
Another point of pronunciation difference between the two varieties of English is found in the utterance of syllables. The American pronounce the unstressed syllables with greater clearness as compared to the English for ex.- they will pronounce the necessary as / / rather pronouncing it is
/ / , dictionary – / / as / /,
Oratory – / / as / /.
Thus there are certain differences between American English and British English as far as pronunciation is concerned. The differences make American English slower in pronunciation and also give it a nasal effect.
- D. Spelling differences
There are many spelling differences between the two varieties in the field of spelling is notable. These differences are made by Noah Webster.
1) There are words without the “u” in British English. Such words are:
In American English are words with “er” instead of “re” of British English.
2) Certain words are spelled with an “s” replaced by “c”.
3) There are certain modern technical words in American English and British English.
4) In British English are some words use single “L” and the American English some words use double “LL”.
“Same pronunciation, but different spelling”
||Elimination of “u”
||“y” becomes “i”
||“e” becomes “a”
||“e” and “r” switch places
In this way, American English has its own peculiarities or features which differentiate it from British English that is syntactic, pronunciation, spellings and vocabulary. But there are remarkable differences between the two. They are national verities of English. Many old usages of English of 17 century have been survived in standard American English. New words also are added.