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Language Differences in the English Speaking World.

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posted on Apr, 22 2011 @ 10:26 AM
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To find out the origins of any English word, a good dictionary will do. You can also google “[word] definition”, which will give you a whole selection of online dictionaries to look up.

For example, I just did this and found that gasoline (originally spelled gasolene) is a Civil War-era American coinage, while petrol entered the English language from the Latin petroleum via the French word petrole around the turn of the sixteenth century.

Of course, this doesn’t tell us why Americans (and Filipinos, and quite a few Arabs) use one word and English speakers in the rest of the world use another. But these things tend to be unique historical accidents – meaning there’s a different explanation for the emergence of each individual word.

One thing worth remembering is that there is no fixed standard in English or any other language. This applies to grammar and syntax just as much as it does to vocabulary. For example, I just spent some time wondering whether I should type ‘English or any other language’ in the preceding sentence, or type ‘English or in any other language’ instead, or even ‘English, nor in any other language’. A grammar or style pedant might insist on one or another. In fact, all three are acceptable because they are clear and comprehensible, and the choice between them is merely one of relative formality, fashion or personal taste. Such choices are made every time a speaker of English opens his or her mouth, puts pen to paper or sits down at a keyboard.

The sum of all these choices is the direction of evolution of the English language, and this varies in different cultures and societies around the world.

American English began evolving away from British English from the very outset, the time of the first Virginia plantations. But British English didn’t stand still in the meantime; it, too, has continued to evolve, and quite energetically at that. Notice, for example, that the word plantation no longer carries the same meaning it did in the sixteenth century, when it meant ‘colony’ (which is the sense in which I used it in the previous sentence). Both the American and British ‘metadialects’* have changed enormously since their first divergence, and continue to do so to this day.

Language, you see, changes to suit the needs of the people who speak it. It changes as society changes.

The early settlers of North America found themselves in a new country, full of new animals, plants and geographical formations, all of which needed new names. They evolved new social institutions, laws and customs, and these, too, demanded new names. The result was a flood of new coinages, hugely enriching the English language.

Some of these new words were borrowed or adapted from the languages of other European settlers in North America. The ancient tradition of borrowing words from French, which goes all the way back to the Norman conquest of England, continued in the New World with such borrowings as bayou and cache; Spanish contributed a flood of new words, such as arroyo, burro, mesa and mesquite. Early Dutch settlers brought words like coleslaw and stoop, while German ones contributed noodle and pretzel. The first Native American borrowing was raccoon; many more followed. And of course the African-American linguistic tradition not only stands proudly distinguished from ‘standard’ American English as a variation in its own right (it has, for example, its own very highly developed grammatical features); it also contributes words and forms of speech to the standard canon. Such English words as banjo, goober, mojo and okra are of African origin, but entered the English language in America. African-Americans have always been prolific coiners, too: from jazz to gangsta, the tradition is remarkable in its fertility.

Loanwords continued to figure strongly in the later evolution of American English, with Italian (pizza, espresso, mafia, ravioli) being a particularly strong contributor. But they were only one source of the new American vocabulary. Venerable English words were also given new meanings (such as trunk, which in addition to its many existing definitions acquired a new one, ‘luggage compartment of an automobile’; automobile itself is a French borrowing, although the usual word for ‘automobile’ in French is voiture, and the rest of the English-speaking world says ‘car’.) Some new words were created by joining old ones together (angleworm, backwoodsman, groundhog). Others seemed to arrive right out of the blue: pizzazz, oomph.

Of course, the main difference most people notice between American and ‘British’ English is the spelling: aluminum vs. aluminium, color vs. colour, gray vs. grey, socialize vs. socialise. Many of these differences are the result of a self-conscious movement to create a new American English that flowered in the springtime of the new republic. Thomas Jefferson was one of the animating spirits of this movement, and Noah Webster the chief architect of its execution. Originally the planned reform was highly ambitious, with proposals to rationalize grammar, etc., but in the end, only the spelling reform (which mostly consisted of dropping ‘silent’ letters from words, or replacing s with z in certain verb endings, as in the examples given above) was carried through.

There is another reason for such spelling differences, and it is that British English, too, has been changing. Americans spell the word for the colour (color?) between black and white gray, while English speakers in the rest of the world spell it grey. At first glance you might think this was another Websterian ‘rationalization’; in fact, gray is the older spelling of the two, abandoned in Britain and the rest of the former Empire but retained in America. Linguistics is full of little oddities like this, which is what makes it such a fascinating subject.

A last, gentle word of remonstration to the OP. The ‘English-speaking world’ does not consist solely of the UK and the USA. There are probably more fluent English speakers in India than there are in both those countries combined. Indian English has a particularly rich tradition of its own: a unique vocabulary (to which the once-derogatory name ‘Hobson-Jobson’ is sometimes applied), its own regional accents and dialects, its own peculiarities of grammar and syntax, and its own literary tradition. Tens, no, hundreds of millions of people in other parts of the former British Empire are also members in good standing of the ‘English-speaking world’. For many of us, English is not even a second language, but our mother tongue.

Each of these countries, from Australia to Zimbabwe, has its own varieties of English. I’m not talking about patois and pidgin. I’m talking about good, solid versions of Standard English, comprehensible by English speakers from any country of origin, though with more or less minor local variations in accent, vocabulary and grammar. All these are English; and their speakers, collectively, are the 'English-speaking world’. It is no longer possible, as it was in 1927, for a reader to write to the editor of the New Statesman** that


The English language proper belongs to the people who dwell south of Hadrian’s Wall, east of the Welsh hills and north of the English Channel

That linguistic revanchist was centuries too late with his letter even then; by the 1920s, the ‘English language proper’ already ‘belonged’ to tens of millions of people who had never so much as set foot in England. Today, it belongs unequivocally to the world.

 

*Forgive the neologism. I’m sure professional linguists have a special word for this, but I don’t know it, and I’m sure my spur-of-the-moment coinage is easy enough to understand.

**A venerable British political and cultural-affairs magazine

Acknowledgement: This post was largely inspired by a reading of The Stories of English by David Crystal, and many of the examples quoted above are from that book.


edit on 22/4/11 by Astyanax because: of linguistic developments (typos).




posted on Apr, 22 2011 @ 01:08 PM
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Here’s an interesting example of how English is constantly evolving. I recall seeing, as recently as the 1970s, the form kidnaping commonly used in American English. ‘British’ English, on the other hand, stuck with an older spelling: kidnapping. In this instance, the American form has died out (deservedly so, in my opinion) and the older, British form has prevailed. Nowadays it’s ‘kidnapping’ the world over.

Spelling, however, is the least consistent thing about language apart from pronunciation. Both are subject to constant change. Here’s a little conundrum: which is the correct spelling, judgement or judgment? Or, if they are Anglo-American alternatives, which one is British and which one is American?

I’d be interested to see your answers, O fellow ATSers.



posted on Apr, 22 2011 @ 02:00 PM
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Gas is short for Gasoline. Pants, trousers and slacks my be interchanged but in my neck of the woods, trousers and slacks are usually terms used to describe dress pants.


Pretty much nails it. Also, trousers is rarely uttered by anyone under the age of 40. They are pants (or slacks, if dress pants).

Gas is also a verb, such as in "I gas up my car". Likewise, it can also mean a fart, as in "passing gas"...or, "oh, that food gives me gas"...

I've been around both during my childhood, English and American (and Metric and English measurements..which is a whole other ball of wax, especially since England doesn't use it anymore!). To this day, I still occasionally have to correct my spelling to fit the readers (either color or colour?) (airplane or aeroplane), etc...though mostly back to American these days, but with occasional slips.

I still can't believe we're still using miles, pounds, inches, gallons, etc. I guess it's just stubbornness.



posted on Apr, 23 2011 @ 06:39 PM
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reply to post by WeBrooklyn
 


ummmm ya.. thats what i meant.. "a couple gay guys killing a guy in an alley"... but.. i see your point now.. " a couple of gay guys giving oral sex to a guy (bum) in an alley"... yuck!! how distgusting is that?.. even if you were gay.. im sure the "bum" hasnt bathed in the last week... and if he did.. well i guess they were "lucky"... even still... yuck........

so what kinda slang meanings does "smoking" have in the UK...?



posted on Apr, 23 2011 @ 09:44 PM
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Originally posted by Astyanax

Spelling, however, is the least consistent thing about language apart from pronunciation. Both are subject to constant change. Here’s a little conundrum: which is the correct spelling, judgement or judgment? Or, if they are Anglo-American alternatives, which one is British and which one is American?

I’d be interested to see your answers, O fellow ATSers.

Judgement is correct - it's British English, but also, it's objectively right...
Vicky



posted on Apr, 24 2011 @ 08:41 PM
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Originally posted by Vicky32

Originally posted by Astyanax

Spelling, however, is the least consistent thing about language apart from pronunciation. Both are subject to constant change. Here’s a little conundrum: which is the correct spelling, judgement or judgment? Or, if they are Anglo-American alternatives, which one is British and which one is American?

I’d be interested to see your answers, O fellow ATSers.

Judgement is correct - it's British English, but also, it's objectively right...
Vicky


Yeah - I gotta go with Judgement too.

Someone mentioned 'Lorry' earlier - I spent almost a day searching through my wife's book removing 'Lorry' for the American market and replacing it with 'truck' - then half way through an American friend said 'No we call it a semi...' So yet another change then another friend from NY said 'No we call it a rig.'

I thought 'what the hell' and went back to truck again...

Oh another thing which confuses me - I swear I've heard or seen folks on TV in old movies in a 'Drug Store' but they were drinking soda??? Or am I confused again?

Oz
edit on 24-4-2011 by Ozscot because: (no reason given)



posted on Apr, 24 2011 @ 11:43 PM
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Even in the states "American" English has it's regional dialects. Is it a soda, "coke", or a pop? Is it a bubbler or a drinking fountain? Is it a bomber, a hoagie, or a submarine sandwich? Is it a (hot) dog or a (beef) frank? Is an old worn out car a beater, junker, hooptie, or whip?

Not just variations in accent between coasts...

And although British English sounds similar to Aussie or New Zealand English, I've heard that it's still often not. And even the more recent former British colonies like India or Hong Kong are starting to spin-off a little in their way of using the language.

And of course there's pidgin English, Spanglish, and net-speak... I'm sure we can all figure it out.



posted on Apr, 25 2011 @ 02:22 PM
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Oh another thing which confuses me - I swear I've heard or seen folks on TV in old movies in a 'Drug Store' but they were drinking soda??? Or am I confused again?


Up until about the late 70's, many drugstores had soda fountains. (Picture a bar, but instead of booze, you got sodas, maybe snack foods, and/or ice cream). They also typically had malts (which is like a milkshake). Most of these drug stores also served breakfast foods, like Woolworths, etc. up until about the same time frame. These are almost nonexistent these days. (Last time I was in my hometown, the drug store there still did all this, but that was a few years back).

Another (older name) for drugstores are five and dimes (or 5/10). This was like the dollar stores of today, but almost everything was either a nickel (five cents) or a dime (ten cents).

Soda is a term interchangeable with pop (short for soda pop), or what some areas in Europe call carbonates. These days, we have machines that mix the soda water and the flavoring syrup for the soda, whereas these drug stores had "soda jerks" (so named because they'd jerk the flavoring handles, I'm assuming) that mixed the soda. There are still a few places (mostly ice cream shops or parlours/parlors) that still make sodas this way (and they do taste better).



posted on Apr, 28 2011 @ 10:25 PM
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reply to posts by Vicky32 and Ozscot
 

Actually, both spellings are equally acceptable. 'Judgment’ tends to be the lead spelling in American dictionaries, since this was one of the words that lost a letter in Noah Webster’s post-Revolutionary spelling reform. All the same, neither spelling is wrong, any more than ‘gray’ is a misspelling of ‘grey’ or vice versa, or ‘criticise’ a misspelling of ‘criticize’. And ‘judgment’ is not specifically American; the Supreme Court of India, not an institution much given to American English, seems to prefer the spelling judgment.

Judgement/judgment at

Dictionary.com

Merriam-Webster

Judgment at The Free Dictionary

Judgement at The Free Dictionary

The whole idea of ‘correct’ spelling is actually rather new, having entered the language only after the development of printing in the fifteenth century drove a trend toward standardization. The First Folio edition of Shakepeare, published in 1623, contains the following spellings of briefly: breefly, briefelie, briefly. And aid is spelled aide, aid, ayde and ayd. Nobody minded; the idea that there was only one way an educated person could spell a word didn’t exist at the time (examples from Crystal, The Stories of English).

As recently as 1800, Jane Austen insisted on the following spellings in her novels: dropt, stopt, wrapt. Is there anything intrinisically superior about dropped, stopped or wrapped compared to these spellings?



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