One language – different cultures

American English as an essential and legitimate part of British English. Different opinions whether it is a variety of English or an independent language, differences in vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation and grammar. The history of American English.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
Вид реферат
Язык английский
Дата добавления 15.04.2011
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One language - different cultures


The theme of my work is «One language - Different cultures».

Nowadays more and more people want to study American English. It is less rigid than British English. It is a more lively and flexible language, open to change. The most popular reasons have to do with travel and business. America's colourful pop culture is one more reason, why many learners prefer the American variant. I am also interested in American English, because I want to have pen friend in the USA.

For many years American English has been the subject of linguistic, cultural and sociological investigation in many countries. Some linguists and scholars viewed it as an independent language as there are differences in vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation and grammar. Still people from Great Britain and America understand each other perfectly most of the time, because the differences are not very considerable. That's why we can't regard the language of the USA as the peculiar American language. On the other hand, the language of the USA is the national language of the independent nation, the language of the American nation, the economic and military superpower.

The aim of my work is to present American English as an essential and legitimate part of British English and not an independent language in spite of all differences existing in it.

The goals are:

1) to present American English as a variety of English

2) to describe the history of formation of American English

3) to describe some differences in

a) vocabulary

b) spelling

c) pronunciation

d) grammar

e) patterns of speech of American English

4) to show the influence of American English on Britain English.

Having studied the material about the history of American English, about different opinions whether it is a variety of English or an independent language, about differences in vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation and grammar, having read the letters of American girls and having studied the language of the letters I can make the following conclusions:

1. The theory that American English is essentially different from British English doesn't hold up.

In spite of all differences in vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation and grammar existing in American English and British English cannot be regarded as different languages, since they have essentially the same grammar system, phonetic system and one vocabulary.

So, we can't but agree with those scholars of English who claim: «one language - different countries».

2. Still my work on the theme has to be continued and developed because besides the differences described in my work, there are some other differences dealing with the usage of language units in American English and British English: in semantics, morphology, syntax and stylistics.

1. American English: just a variety of English or the American language?

If one proceeds from understanding the English language as «a complex unity of its dialects and variations», then American English should be viewed and is viewed by most modern linguists the world over, as a variety of English spoken in the USA.

The history of opinion on this subject, however, deserves attention for in all the assertions and speculations that so far have been put forward, we may discern certain attitudes or bases of judgements.

In 1789 Noach Webster asserted the claim of American English to separate status. He published «An American Dictionary of the English Language» in which he insisted upon American spelling. Webster provided the country with the first native dictionary. Since that time the hypothesis of the so-called «American language» has had several champions and supporters, especially in the United States. One of the most popular books dealing with the problem is «The American Language» by H.L. Mencken published in New York in 1957. In his book he insisted on the opinion that the language of the USA is a peculiar American language having nothing in common with English besides the origin.

Mr. Mencken's favourite theme was that «England, now displaced by the United States as the most powerful and populous English-speaking country, is no longer entitled to pose as arbiter of English usage».

One can agree that nowadays the USA is an economic and military superpower, currently unmatched by any other country in the world but it is not the reason to announce American as an independent language and to consider it superior to British English and other varieties of English: Australian English or New Zealand English. The reason is that to meet the linguistic requirements a language is supposed to posses a sound system, a vocabulary and a grammar system of its own, as «a natural language is a communication tool, consisting, in most terms, of a vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and spelling rules governing their use in speech and writing».

Close inspection of the USA language shows that the differences are immediately noticeable in the field of phonetics, variations in vocabulary and some dissimilarities of some phonemes (e.g. `r' - pronouncing), to some differences in the use of others and to the differences in the rhythm and intonation of speech.

Dissimilarities in grammar like American English `gotten, proven' are scarce. For the most part these dissimilarities consist in the preference of this or that grammatical category or form to some others, like, for example, a tendency to substitute The Past Simple for The Present Perfect Tense, especially in oral communication. As to the variations in the vocabulary, they are most numerous and fascinating, no, wonder, they have been the subject of linguistic, cultural and sociological investigation in many countries, including Russia. (So, A.B. Bushuyev, T.S. Bushuyeva and A.L. Utcin published «A short English-English Dictionary of Americanisms and Slang» in 1997).

In spite of all these and some other differences, British English and American English have essentially the same grammar system, phonetic system and one vocabulary, used differently in the two different environments, and so, they cannot be regarded as different languages.

american english language history

2. The History of formation of American English

The early 1600s saw the beginning of a great tide of emigration from Europe to North America. Spanning more than three centuries, this movement grew from a tickle of a few hundred English colonists to a flood of millions of new comers. Most European emigrants left their homelands to escape political oppression, to seek the freedom, to practice their religion, or for adventure and opportunity denied them at home. Impelled by powerful and devise motivations, they built a new civilization on the northern part of the continent. The early English colonists in the new world were speaking Elizabethan English, the language of Shakespeare and Marlow, when they came to America. This is important and necessary for our understanding of some of the features, which American English was to develop later on.

There are very few pure languages. English has been known as a word borrower. In the formation of the American English, the English-speaking colonists were brought into contact with different peoples who spoke different languages. Many words, derived from these languages, were added to the seventeenth century from of English. First in importance come the words derived from the speech of various Indian tribes. This was caused by the necessity of talking about new things, qualities, operations, concepts and ideas. The movement of a people to a new and different environment not only creates a problem of communication but also makes it urgent.

The first colonists saw plants and animals, which were new to them. Some of the fish they caught in the coastal water were unlike anything they had seen before. The land was occupied by tribes who spoke strange languages, wore strange clothing, and prepared strange foods. Even the landscape was greatly different from the neatly tailored English countryside. Names had been given to all these aspects of their new life. So, from the Indians were borrowed not only the many geographical names of rivers, lakes, mountains, but names for objects: such strange plants as hickory, persimmon, egg-plant and red cedar; such unfamiliar animals as raccoons and woodchucks, as well as implements and food preparations of a new kind, such as canoe, moccasin, wigwam, toboggan, tomahawk, totem, igloo, hammock and others. Besides the various Indian influences, American English reflects the other non-English cultures which the colonists met in their conquest of the continent. In the westward expansion of their territory the English-speaking colonists soon came into contact with the casual French settlements in the Middle West. From the French a considerable number of words were derived: rapids, prairies, chowder and others. More substantial borrowings were made from the Spanish colonization and culture as the English-speaking settlers moved southward and westward toward the Pacific Ocean. Spanish words were adopted at two different periods. In the early colonial days, American English received Creole, mullatto. Then after the Mexican war (1846-48) contact with the Spanish-speaking inhabitants of Texas and the Spanish West resulted in borrowing of such words as canyon, ranch, sombrero and others. The Dutch settlers of New York contributed to American English the following words: boss, cookie, scow, Santa Claus.

Other waves of emigrations brought Germans, Italians and representatives of some Western Slavic nationalities. They also enriched the vocabulary of American English.

3. Differences in Vocabulary

As we can see differences in vocabulary can be explained by turning to American history. Another thing is that some words which had the same meanings on both sides of the Atlantic during the 17 and 18th centuries were given a new meaning either in England or in America: British `chips' are American `French fries'. Sometimes there are completely different words for the same thing: `a lorry' in British English is called `a truck' in American English.

So, there are number of cases in which British and American people continue to use different words to mean the same. These words are still in constant use and have retained their national character. There are a few examples of misunderstanding between Americans and the English.

A smart English woman to smart American woman on a Californian beach: It's the fist time I've bathed for years.

American (amazed): Is that so? I can't believe it.

English woman: It's true. You see, the water at home's always so cold.

American: But… but surely you have hot water in England?

English woman (laughs): of course, but not in the sea!

In American English `to bathe' means `to wash, have a bath'. In British English it means `to go swimming'.

There can be similar misunderstanding over the word `pants', though most English people know that Americans call trousers `pants'.

American girl: I never wear pants. They don't suit me.

English girl: Really? Couldn't that be a bit embarrassing?

American girl: Embarrassing? Why?

English girl: Well, that short shirt you are wearing…

American girl: Oh my! But I wear panties!

In British English `pants' are undergarments. However, young people in Britain do sometimes say `pants' for, trousers, too.

4. Differences in Spelling

There are a number of differences in spelling, too. In American English, there is an increasing tendency to employ a simplified spelling. The American spelling usually tries to correspond more closely to pronunciation that makes American spelling really simplified. Some of the changes in spelling were suggested by N. Webster, the author of «An American Dictionary of the English language».

1) The commonest feature of this simplified spelling is the use of - or in all words that in British English contain - our, e.g. color/colour, labor/labour, honor/honour, etc.

2) Ending - er is written instead of - re, e.g. center/centre, theater/theatre, kilometer/ kilometer, exceptions: ogre and the word ending in-cre, e.g. massacre, nacre.

3) Instead of - ce, - se is written: defense/defence, license/licence, and instead of - se, - ze is written: realize/realize, analyze/analyse, apologize/apologise.

4) In all the words derived from the verbs ending in I or - p these letters are not doubled: travel - traveler, traveled, traveling; worship - worshiper, worshiped, worshiping.

5) In some words, the mute e is omitted: abridgment, acknowledgment, judgment, and ax.

6) In some words the prefix in - is preferred to - en:

inclose - enclose

insnare - ensnare

7) The spelling of ae or oe is often exchanged by simple:

anemia - anaemia

diarrhea - diarrhoea

8) Mute ending in words of French origin is often omitted:

catalog - catalogue

program - programme

prolog - prologue

chech - cheque

5) Many Americans write thru for through, tho for though, Marlboro for Marlborough.

6) There are some more differences in spelling:

favorite - favourite

mold - mould

stanch - staunch

molt - moult

gray - grey

plow - plough

skillful - skilful

fulfill - fulfil

tire - tyre

5. Differences in pronunciation

Pronunciation is the most striking difference. Foreign students with the knowledge of English often experience considerable difficulty in their first contacts with American speakers. The problem hare, however, usually has more to do with pronunciation than with the language itself. Apart from typically nasal quality of American speech, there are a number of basic differences between British and American pronunciation:

1) Americans often pronounce [r] in the position where it is not pronounced in British English: car, hare, port.

2) Americans pronounce the letter `a' as [ж] instead of [a:] in words: ask, answer, past, can't, half, after, example and others.

3) In such words as news, dew, duke the American pronunciation will be [nu:z], [du:], [du:k].

4) They pronounce [h^t], [n^t], [t^p], [?k^mon], [^n] in the words hot, not, top, common, on.

5) The words better, butter, city are pronounced as [?bed?r], [b^d?], [?sidi].

6) Tomato, address and schedule are pronounced differently too: [t?'meit?u], ['жdres], [?skedju:l].

7) Words ending in - ary and - ory have a stress on the next to last syllable in American: secretary, laboratory.

8) One can notice dropping of [h] in the front position: his, him, her, humor, humidity, history and others.

6. Differences in Grammar

There are a few grammatical differences between British and American English:

1) In American English The Past Simple is often used instead of Present Perfect to give new information or to announce a recent happening:

- I lost my key. Can you help me to look for it?

The Past Simple is used with just, already, yet:

- I'm not hungry. I just had lunch.

- Don't forget to post the letter.

- I already posted it.

- I didn't tell them about the accident yet.

2) In American English the forms (I have/I don't have/Do you have?) are more usual than I've got/I haven't/ have you got?

- We have a new house

- Do you have a sister?

3) A number of verbs in American English and British English have different verb forms in Past Simple and Past Perfect:

a) These verbs to burn, to learn, to lean are normally regular in American English: burned, learned and leaned, while in British English are regular and irregular.

b) Such verbs as to spill, to spell, to smell, to leap, to dream, to spoil are irregular in British English but regular in American English.

c) The Past Participle of get is gotten, prove - proven

- Your English has gotten much better since I last saw you.

- He has proven his innocence.

d) The verb to quit has the same 3 forms while in British English it is regular.

4) Americans often use the infinitive (without to) in structures with insist/suggest.

- They insisted that we have diner with them.

- Jim suggested that I buy a car.

This structure is also used in British English.

5) They also omit to after the verb help.

- He helped me carry the bag.

6) Americans say the hospital.

- The injured man taken to the hospital.

7) Americans say on a team.

- He is the best player on the team.

8) Americans say on the weekend/over the weekend not at weekend.

9) In American English different than is also possible as well as different from. Different to is not used.

10) Americans say write someone (without to).

- Please, write me soon.

7. Patterns of speech of American English

Spoken English is rather different from other forms of English spoken throughout the world. One of the fist things everyone may notice in the USA is that American usage of English doesn't always conform to strict rules. So, sometimes a question coincides with the statement. The difference is shown by the intonation. The auxiliary verb may be omitted and the subject be implied.

You know something? = Do you know something?

Looking for him? = Are you looking for him?

Got a problem? = Do you have a problem?

Ever been in London? = Have you ever been in London?

Need a job? = Do you need a job?

Even among well-educated Americans, spoken English is very flexible and popular idioms are common - another example of American informality. To understand American English, it's necessary to listen carefully and to be aware that idioms are often used. For example, an American might greet you with «How ya doin? as a way of saying «Hello». Other common phrases include «absolutely» (yes, no doubt about it), «take it easy» (calm down), «I don't get it» (I don't understand), «have a nice day» (good-bye), «hold on» (wait), «how come» (why is it), «no way» (never), «you bet, sure» (of course), «suit yourself» (do as you please), «knock it off» (stop, what are you doing?) and lots of others.

Americans also use such colloquialisms as:

Yep, yup, yeah = yes; Nope, naw, nah = no; Ya = you;

Hafta = have you; hasta = has you; don'tcha = don't you;

Gonna = going to; wanna = want to; gotta = have got;

Lemme = let me; lotta = a lot of; outta = out of;

Gimmie = give me; I dunno = I don't know.

I wanna tell you something. Ya gotta choices.

Ain't = am not, is not, are not, have not, has not.

It ain't right.

That(this) = so.

I've never been out this late before. It's that easy.

So, we can see that the American English is very lively and flexible.

8. The Spreading of American English into British English

The increasing influence of the mass media has caused a steady infiltration of Americans words and expressions into British English. Many American English words are now becoming quite common in British English, e.g. movie (Br. = film), apartment (Br. = flat), semester (Br. = term).

The word «okay» once exclusively American is today normal British usage. Serious English authors and other people, without knowing it, use many words and phrases of American origin, e.g. a way of life, teenager, boyfriend, girlfriend, baby-sister, TV, home town.

The word «commuter» meaning a person, who travels to and from his work daily with a season ticket, is rapidly passing into British English. It's shorter and easier than the British equivalent «season ticket holder».

Americans are constantly inventing new words, many of which have found a permanent place first in American and then in British usage. In this category we have formations like «to televise» from «television» and compound words like «cablegram» from «cable», «telegram» and «sportscast» from «sport» and «broadcast». The use of nouns as verbs and vice versa has also given rise to new words. Thus, «to park» which now means «to put in a safe place until needed», and today not only cars but also children, dogs and even chewing gum «are parked». A cheap article of good quality is a «good buy», things to eat are «eats», and a technical designer who produces a perfect «lay-out» has «know-how».

Many British people complain about Americanisms entering the English language but they don't realize how many of the words they use come from American English. There is the opinion that it's because of the USA that English is now truly a world language.


1. The theory that American English is essentially different from British English doesn't hold up.

In spite of all differences in vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation and grammar existing in American English and British English cannot be regarded as different languages, since they have essentially the same grammar system, phonetic system and one vocabulary.

So, we can't but agree with those scholars of English who claim: «one language - different countries».

2. Still my work on the theme has to be continued and developed because besides the differences described in my work, there are some other differences dealing with the usage of language units in American English and British English: in semantics, morphology, syntax and stylistics.

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