Lexical peculiarities of American English

The history of the peculiarities of American English. Lexical features differences in the American and English vocabulary. The differences in the American and English pronunciation. Features and differences between American and British spelling.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
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Язык английский
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ФЕДЕРАЛЬНОЕ Государственное БЮДЖЕТНОЕ Образовательное Учреждение Высшего профессионального образования

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Лингвистический центр

Курсовая работа

по дисциплине «Лексикология»

на тему: «Lexical peculiarities of American English»

Выполнил: ст. Пигарёв С.Д.

Проверила: к.ф.н., доц. Овчинникова Н.Д.



  • Introduction
    • Historical background
    • 1. Differences in American and English vocabulary. Lexical peculiarities
    • 2. Differences in American and English pronunciation
    • 3. Differences in American and English spelling
    • Conclusion
    • Bibliography
    • Partical part
    • Introduction
    • American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), also known as United States English or U.S. English, is a set of dialects of the English language used mostly in the United States. Approximately two thirds of native speakers of English live in the United States.
    • The variety of English spoken in the USA has received the name of American English. The term variant or variety appears most appropriate for several reasons. American English cannot be called a dialect although it is a regional variety, because it has a literary normalised form called Standard American (or American National Standard), whereas by definition given above a dialect has no literary form. Neither is it a separate language, as some American authors, like H.L. Mencken, claimed, because it has neither grammar nor vocabulary of its own. From the lexical point of view we shall have to deal only with a heterogeneous set of Americanisms. american english vocabulary pronunciation spelling
    • An Americanism may be defined as a word or a set expression peculiar to the English language as spoken in the USA. E. g. cookie `a biscuit'; frame-up `a staged or preconcerted law case'; guess `think'; mail `post'; store `shop'.
    • A general and comprehensive description of the American variant is given in Professor A.D. Schweitzer's monograph. An important aspect of his treatment is the distinction made between Americanisms belonging to the literary norm and those existing in low colloquial and slang. The difference between the American and British literary norm is not systematic.
    • The American variant of the English language differs from British English in pronunciation, some minor features of grammar and spelling, but chiefly in vocabulary.
    • Historical background
    • Speaking about the historic causes of these deviations it is necessary to mention that American English is based on the language imported to the new continent at the time of the first settlements, that is on the English of the 17th century. The first colonies were founded in 1607, so that the first colonisers were contemporaries of W. Shakespeare, E. Spenser and J. Milton. Words which have died out in Britain, or changed their meaning may survive in the USA.
    • 1. Differences in American and English Vocabulary. Lexical peculiarities
    • For more than three centuries the American vocabulary developed more or less independently of the British stock and was influenced by the new surroundings. The early Americans had to coin words for the unfamiliar fauna and flora. Hence bullfrog `a large frog', moose (the American elk), opossum, raccoon (an American animal related to the bears) for animals; and corn, hickory, etc. for plants.
    • The opposition of any two lexical systems among the variants described is of great linguistic and heuristic value, because it furnishes ample data for observing the influence of extra-linguistic factors upon vocabulary. American political vocabulary shows this point very definitely: absentee voting `voting by mail', dark horse `a candidate nominated unexpectedly and not known to his voters', gerrymander `to arrange and falsify the electoral process to produce a favourable result in the interests of a particular party or candidate', all-outer `an adept of decisive measures'.
    • Both in the USA and Great Britain the meaning of leftist is `an adherent of the left wing of a party'. In the USA it also means a left-handed person and lefty in the USA is only `a left-handed person' while in Great Britain it is a colloquial variant of leftist and has a specific sense of a communist or socialist.
    • Many of the foreign elements borrowed into American English from the Indian languages or from Spanish penetrated very soon not only into British English but also into several other languages, Russian not excluded, and so became international due to the popularity of J.F. Cooper and H. Longfellow. They are: canoe, moccasin, squaw, tomahawk, wigwam, etc. and translation loans: pipe of peace, pale-face and the like, taken from Indian languages. The Spanish borrowings like cafeteria, mustang, ranch, sombrero, etc. are very familiar to the speakers of many European languages. It is only by force of habit that linguists still include these words among the specific features of American English.
    • As to the toponyms, for instance Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Utah (all names of Indian tribes), or other names of towns, rivers and states named by Indian words, it must be borne in mind that in all countries of the world towns, rivers and the like show in their names traces of the earlier inhabitants of the land in question.
    • In the course of time with the development of the modern means of communication the lexical differences between the two variants show a tendency to decrease. Americanisms penetrate into Standard English and Britishisms come to be widely used in American speech. Americanisms mentioned as specific in manuals issued a few decades ago are now used on both sides of the Atlantic or substituted by terms formerly considered as specifically British. It was, for instance, customary to contrast the English word autumn with the American fall. In reality both words are used in both countries, only autumn is somewhat more elevated, while in England the word fall is now rare in literary use, though found in some dialects and surviving in set expressions: spring and fait, the fall of the year are still in fairly common use.
    • Cinema and TV are probably the most important channels for the passage of Americanisms into the language of Britain and other languages as well: the Germans adopted the word teenager and the French speak of l'automatisation. The influence of American advertising is also a vehicle of Americanisms. This is how the British term wireless is replaced by the Americanism radio.
    • The personal visits of British writers and scholars to the USA and all forms of other personal contacts bring back Americanisms.
    • The existing cases of difference between the two variants are conveniently classified into:
    • 1) 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'.
    • 2) 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.
    • 3) 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'.
    • 4) 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.
    • 5) 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 polities', 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.
    • 6) 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.
    • This question of different frequency distribution is also of paramount importance if we wish to investigate the morphological peculiarities of the American variant.
    • Practically speaking the same patterns and means of word-formation are used in coining neologisms in both variants. Only the frequency observed in both cases may be different. Some of the suffixes more frequently used in American English are: -ее (draftee n `a young man about to be enlisted'), -ette (tambour-majorette `one of the girl drummers in front of a procession'), -dom and -ster, as in roadster `motorcar for long journeys by road' or gangsterdom.
    • American slang uses alongside the traditional ones also a few specific models, such as verb stem+-er+adverb stem+-er, e. g. opener-upper `the first item on the programme' and winder-upper `the last item'. It also possesses some specific affixes and semi-affixes not used in literary colloquial: -o, -eroo, -aroo, -sie, -sy, as in coppo `policeman', fatso `a fat man', bossaroo `boss', chapsie `fellow'.
    • The trend to shorten words and to use initial abbreviations in American English is even more pronounced than in the British variant. New coinages are incessantly introduced in advertisements, in the press, in everyday conversation; soon they fade out and are replaced by the newest creations. Ring Lardner, very popular in the 30s, makes one of his characters, a hospital nurse, repeatedly use two enigmatic abbreviations: G.F. and B.F.; at last the patient asks her to clear the mystery.
    • “What about Roy Stewart?” asked the man in bed.
    • “Oh, he's the fella I was telling you about,” said Miss Lyons. “He's my G.F.'s B.F.”
    • “Maybe I'm a D.F. not to know, but would you tell me what a B.F. and G.F. are?”
    • “Well, you are dumb, aren't you!” said Miss Lyons. “A G.F. that's a girl friend, and a B.F. is a boy friend. I thought everybody knew that.”
    • The phrases boy friend and girl friend, now widely used everywhere, originated in the USA. So it is an Americanism in the wider meaning of the term, i.e. an Americanism “by right of birth", whereas in the above definition we have defined Americanisms synchronically as lexical units peculiar to the English language as spoken in the USA.
    • Particularly common in American English are verbs with the hanging postpositive. They say that in Hollywood you never meet a man: you meet up with him, you do not study a subject but study up on it. In British English similar constructions serve to add a new meaning.
    • With words possessing several structural variants it may happen that some are more frequent in one country and the others in another. Thus, amid and toward, for example, are more often used in the United States and amidst and towards in Great Britain.
    • The lexical peculiarities of American English are an easy target for ironical outbursts on the part of some writers. John Updike is mildly humorous. His short poem “Philological” runs as follows:
    • The British puss demurely mews;
    • His transatlantic kin meow,
    • The kine in Minnesota moo;
    • Not so the gentle Devon cows:
    • They low,
    • As every schoolchild ought to know.
    • A well-known humourist G. Mikes goes as far as to say: “It was decided almost two hundred years ago that English should be the language spoken in the United States. It is not known, however, why this decision has not been carried out.” In his book “How to Scrape Skies” he gives numerous examples to illustrate this proposition: “You must be extremely careful concerning the names of certain articles. If you ask for suspenders in a man's shop, you receive a pair of braces, if you ask for a pair of pants, you receive a pair of trousers, and should you ask for a pair of braces, you receive a queer look.
    • There is some confusion about the word flat. A flat in America is called an apartment; what they call a flat is a puncture in your tyre (or as they spell it, tire). Consequently the notice: FLATS FIXED does not indicate an estate agent where they are going to fix you up with a flat, but a garage where they are equipped to mend a puncture.”
    • Disputing the common statement that there is no such thing as the American nation, he says: “They do indeed exist. They have produced the American constitution, the American way of life, the comic strips in their newspapers: they have their national game, baseball -- which is cricket played with a strong American accent -- and they have a national language, entirely their own, unlike any other language.”
    • This is of course an exaggeration, but a very significant one. It confirms the fact that there is a difference between the two variants to be reckoned with. Although not sufficiently great to warrant American English the status of an independent language, it is considerable enough to make a mixture of variants sound unnatural and be called Mid-Atlantic. Students of English should be warned against this danger.
    • 2. Differences in American and English pronunciation
    • Another big group of peculiarities as compared with the English of Great Britain is caused by some specific features of pronunciation, stress or spelling standards, such as [ж] for [a:] in ask, dance, path, etc., or [e] for [ei] in made, day and some other.
    • On the other hand, most Americans sound the short [o] in such words as box, hot, lot, not, pot, and top almost as the broad [a:] in father, while the English (and some New Englanders) give it a more open sound, with the lips rounded.
    • And some are just unique pronunciations of individual words. Such miscellaneous differences in pronunciations include:
    • ate, Americans say "eight"--"et" is an accepted English pronunciation.
    • been, Americans say "bin"--the English say "bean."
    • clerks- "dark."
    • either, neither, most Americans say, "e-ther, ne-ther"--"I-ther, ni-ther" is the English pronunciation.
    • issue, Americans say "ish-you"--the English say "is-sue."
    • leisure, most Americans say "le-sure"--the English say "laysure."
    • lieutenant, Americans say "lew-tenant"--the English say "lef-tenant."
    • nephew, Americans say "nef-hew"--the English say "nev-hew."
    • schedule, Americans say "sked-ule"--the English say "shed-ule."
    • 3. Differences in American and English spelling
    • The American spelling is in some respects simpler than its British counterpart, in other respects just different. The suffix -our is spelled -or, so that armor and humor are the American variants of armour and humour. Altho stands for although and thru for through. The table below illustrates some of the other differences:
    • Conclusion
    • In this work paper we investigated the peculiarities of American English emphasizing especially the etymology of American English words.
    • So in the research it was proved that:
    • North America has given the English lexicon many thousands of words, meanings, and phrases. Several thousand are now used in English as spoken internationally; others, however, died within a few years of their creation. The process of coining new lexical items started as soon as the colonists began borrowing names for unfamiliar flora, fauna, and topography from the Native American languages. Among the earliest and most notable regular "English" additions to the American vocabulary, dating from the early days of colonization through the early 19th century, are terms describing the features of the North American landscape.
    • American settlers combine descriptive words to give many vivid names for the animals, reptiles, fish, birds, and insects--and Americans have continued to name animals by descriptive combinations ever since.
    • Americans have given many of their native trees, grasses, flowers, and shrubs descriptive names, often by combining two old words.
    • The early settlers and frontiersmen also borrowed many plant names from the Indians, French, and Spanish. Other plants and trees are named after people. Other native American plants were misnamed, merely because the settlers who first saw them thought they were identical to those back home in England when they weren't.
    • Americans borrowed the names for their money generally from such languages as Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, German and French. Or they merely used the money from some foreign country such as Spain, Italy or France.
    • As for Mailing system Americans generally took the names of Mail sphere from British English. So British contribution to postal language was major. Then with the development of this industry Americans began to use new terms invented with the help of Postal business.
    • Indians greatly influenced American English vocabulary. The Indian words Americans still use include: (1) thousands of place names; (2) scores of words about Indians used in our history and mythology; and (3) hundreds of names of plants, animals, and landscapes which have become part of American everyday speech. The words Americans use in talking about Indians include some real Indian words plus others from our conceptions and misconceptions of Indians, words from American history and from American fiction.
    • As for the automobile it completely changed American life and language. The car created the gasoline industry and all its words reshaped the family vacation and resort industry and spawned many of travel and recreational terms.
    • Also appearance of the car greatly influenced the names of roads and everything connected with the traffic. The rise of capitalism, the development of industry and material innovations throughout the 19th and 20th centuries were the source of a massive stock of distinctive new words, phrases and idioms.
    • Most of American English Idioms are not purely American. Almost all of them were borrowed from British English. Also many proverbs came from Indians.
    • Many of the Italian words in English entered the language dur¬ing the Renaissance when Italian culture was very much in vogue. Most Italian borrowings are only partially naturalized, still being associated mainly with Italians or things Italian which includes dozens of Italian food terms.
    • French has had a direct influence on American English: via French explorers, trappers, and fur traders. The French have also given many place names, especially along the Canadian border, around the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi, throughout the old French Louisiana Territory, and in the plains and mountain regions of the West.
    • American English has borrowed more words from Spanish than from any other language, and is still borrowing them-- there are hundreds of thousands of Mexicans living in the Southwest; 650,000 Puerto Ricans in New York City; and 100,000 Cubans in New Orleans, plus several hundred thousand more in the Miami area. Spanish has also given many American place names, including the names of six states, over 2,000 names of U.S. cities and towns, and thousands of names of rivers, mountains, valleys, etc.
    • So in the end of our work paper we can assume that American English vocabulary was formed in general under the influence of environment and with the help of borrowings.
    • Bibliography

1) Арнольд И. В. - Лексикология современного английского языка: Учеб. для ин-тов и фак. иностр. яз. -- 3-е изд., перераб. и доп. -- М.: Высш. шк., 1986. -- 295 с., ил. -- На англ. Яз

2) Гинзбург Е.Л. Конструкции полисемии в современном русском языке. - М., 1985.

3) Антрушина Г.Б., Афанасьева О.В., Морозова Н.Н. Лексикология английского языка. - М., 1999.

Practical part

Exercise 1

Match the two words with similar meaning:

British English American English

1. to queue to stand in line

2. biscuit cookie

3. petrol station gas station

4. Mum Mom

5. cafй diner

6. pavement sidewalk

7. tap faucet

8. bathroom restroom

9. dust bin trashcan

10. autumn fall

Exercise 2

Here is a list of American English words - find the correct British English expression:

elevator (lift) - potato chips (crisps) - baggage (luggage) - notebook (exercise book) - subway (underground train) - railroad (railway) - vacation (holiday)- movies (cinema) - flashlight (torch) - truck (lorry) - automobile (car) - candies (sweets)- pants (trousers)- sneakers (trainers) - drugstore (chemist's)

Exercise 3

Decide whether these sentences were said by an American or a British person:

1) I already took the trash out. (American)

2) I've got to put some petrol in the car. (British)

3) I just spilt wine on my pants. (American)

4) Take the elevator up to my apartment. (American)

5) Have you changed the baby's nappy yet? ( British)

Exercise 4

Decide whether the sentence is written in British or American English:

1) Sales tax is not included.

American English

2) The car had to stop because of a flat tire.

American English

3) Shouldn't we take the tram?

British English

4) It was the worst railroad disaster in the history of our country.

American English

5) His sister attends the primary school in our town.

British English

6) Cellphones are not allowed in the hospital.

American English

7) Jim is our new neighbor.

American English

8) Should we really put the bottles into the boot of the car?

British English

9) Andy and Tom, would you read the dialog, please?

American English

10) I think I'll change Mary's nappy.

British English

Exercise 5

Now choose the correct word in each sentence, using the type of English written at the end of the sentence:

1. I'm really hungry. Could I have a biscuit please? (British English)

2. You have to visit New England in the fall. The colours are incredible. (American English)

3. He put the suitcase in the boot of the car and then remembered that he'd forgotten to pack his camera. (British English)

4. In England people stand in line for the bus while on the Continent everyone just rushes on. (American English)

5. Someone had turned the tap on and not turned it off. The room was flooded! (British English)

6. The child ran down the pavement in spite of his mother calling for him to stop. (British English)

7. Let's catch a quick coffee in the diner before we go to the movies. (American English)

8. Would you believe it! All the gas stations have run out of fuel! I waited for more than an hour to fill up but when I got there they had sold out. (American English)

9. Please don't leave your cigarette end on the floor. Put them in the dust bin. (British English)

10. She'd forgotten to send her Mom a birthday card so had to phone her instead. (American English)

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