American English Pronunciation

Consideration of the characteristics of the common American language. Characteristics of the historical past. Study of dialects of American English. Establishment of a difference in American and English. Definition of the features of pronunciation.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
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American English Pronunciation



General American

Historical background

Dialects of American English

Differences in American and English



аmerican language pronunciation dialect


American English 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.

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 normalized form called Standard American, 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 one shall have to deal only with a heterogeneous set of Americanisms.

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' ; with boards or shingles laid on; ' frame-up ' a staged or preconcerted law case ; guess 'think'; store 'shop' .

A general and comprehensive description of the American variant is given in Professor Shweitzer'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. Current Americanisms penetrate into Standard English. 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 automatisation. The influence of American publicity is also a vehicle of Americanisms. This is how the British term wireless is replaced by the American radio. The jargon of American film-advertising makes its way into British usage; i.e. of all time (in "the greatest film of all time"). The phrase is now firmly established as standard vocabulary and applied to subjects other than films. The personal visits of writers and scholars to the USA and all forms of other personal contacts bring back Americanisms. Cooperation between the USA and the other countries increases from day to day. American English integrates in every side of our life. USA presents us its culture through movies, music, advertisement, business. All this aspects are reflected in the language. Language is the mirror of the culture .

General American

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. The problem of the theme is that the problem of the theme is that: 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.

The aim of the theme is to study deeply the differences of American and British English. 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. General American--like the British Received Pronunciation as well as most standard language varieties of many other societies--was never the accent of the entire nation. Rather, it is most closely related to a generalized Midwestern accent and is spoken particularly by many newscasters, in part because the national broadcasters preferred to hire people who exhibited similar speech. Famous news anchor Walter Cronkite is a good example of a broadcaster using this accent. Since Cronkite was born in Missouri, and spent his first dozen years there, some assumed that General American was the regional accent of the state, although Cronkite's teen years were spent in Texas, which is not known for having "accentless" speakers. General American is sometimes promoted as preferable to other regional accents; in the United States, classes promising "accent reduction" generally attempt to teach speech patterns similar to this accent.

The well-known television journalist Linda Ellerbee, who worked hard early in her career to eliminate a Texas accent, stated, "in television you are not supposed to sound like you're from anywhere." Some sources[attribution needed] F.R.Palmer. Semantics. A new outline. - M. V.Sh. 1982 suggest this is less true today than it was formerly. GeneralAmerican is also the accent generally taught to individuals from other countries learning English as a second language in the United States, as well as outside the country to anyone who wishes to learn "American English."

Historical background

Since America originally meant the continent, American was originally used (1578) to mean a native of it, an Indian. Many British writers, including essayist Joseph Addison, used American to mean Indian well into the 18th century, calling the colonists not Americans but transplanted Englishmen. Beginning in 1697, however, Cotton Mather popularized the word American to mean an English colonist in America. The language was called American by 1780; a citizen of the United States was called an American by 1782; and Thomas Jefferson used Americanism to mean United States patriotism in 1797.The name the United States of America is said to have been created by Tom Paine; it was first used officially in the Declaration of Independence, whose subtitle is "The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America".

This distinction between colonies and states confused many people and throughout the Revolutionary War many called the new country the United Colonies. In 1776, too, the name the United States of America was already shortened to the United States (in the proceedings of the Continental Congress) and even to the shorter the States. George Washington wrote the abbreviation U.S. in 1791, and the abbreviation U.S.A. was recorded in 1795. Even though the United States of America appeared in the Declaration of Independence, the new government used the official title the United States of North America until 1778, when the "North" was dropped from the name by act of the Continental Congress.

When this new nation took its first census in 1790 there were four million Americans, 90% of them descendants of English colonists. Thus there was no question that English was the mother tongue and native language of the United States. By 1720, however, some English colonists in America had already begun to notice that their language differed seriously from that spoken back home in England. Almost without being aware of it, they had:

(1) coined some new words for themselves;

(2) borrowed other words from the Indians, Dutch, French, and Spanish;

(3) been using English dialect words in their general speech;

(4) continued to use some English words that had now be come obsolete in England;

(5) evolved some peculiar uses, pronunciation, grammar, and syntax.

Many of the coinages and borrowings were for plants, animals, landscapes, living conditions, institutions, and attitudes which were seldom if ever encountered in England, so the English had no words for them. The widespread use of English dialect words was also natural: most of the Puritans came from England's southern and southeastern counties and spoke the East Anglia dialect, most of the Quakers spoke the midland dialect, and after 1720 many new colonists were Scots-Irish, speaking the Ulster dialect. The continuing use of words that had become obsolete in England, and of unusual usage, pronunciation, grammar, and syntax, was also natural for colonists isolated from the niceties of current English speech and English education. Thus, naturally, a hundred years after the Pilgrims landed, English as spoken in America differed from that spoken in England.

In 1756, a year after he published his Dictionary of the English Language, "Doctor" Samuel Johnson was the first to refer to an American dialect. In 1780, soon after the American Revolution began, the word American was first used to refer to our language; in 1802 the term the American Language was first recorded, in the U.S. Congress; and in 1806 Noah Webster coined the more precise term American English.

Was American English good or bad? By 1735 the English began calling it "barbarous" and its native words barbarisms. When the anti-American Dr. Johnson used the term American dialect he meant it as an insult. Such English sneering at the language continued unabated for a hundred years after the Revolutionary War. The English found merely colorful or quaint such American terms as ground hog and lightning rod and such borrowings as oppossum, tomahawk, and wampum (from the Indians), boss (Dutch), levee (French), and ranch (Spanish). They laughed at and condemned as unnecessary or illiterate hundreds of American terms and usages, such as:

Examples: allow, guess, reckon, meaning “to think”, which had all become obsolete in England.

bluff, used in the South since 1687, instead of tte British river "bank." This has the distinction of being the first word attacked as being a "barbarous" American term.

bureau, meaning “chest” of drawers, which was obsolete in England.

It wasn't only American words that the English disliked, but American pronunciation and grammar as well. They jeered when Americans said "missionary" instead of "mission'ry," "shew" for "show," and "whare" and "bhar" for "where" and "bear." In 1822 visitor Charles Dickens said that outside of New York and Boston all Americans had a nasal drawl and used "doubtful" grammar. In 1832 Mrs. Trollop said that during her visit in America she seldom heard a correctly pronounced sentence. And in 1839 visitor Captain Frederick Marryat said it was remarkable how debased the English language had become in such a short time in America.

On the other hand, during and after the Revolutionary War Americans became proud of American language. It was a badge of independence. In 1778 the Continental Congress recommended that when the French minister visited "all replies or answers" to him should be made "in the language of the United States" (not only as opposed to French but also as opposed to English English). Americans were bound to continue to develop their own brand of English. What the English called barbarisms Americans proudly called American isms. John Witherspoon coined this word in 1781, in a series of papers he wrote for rhe Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, and defined it as any word or usage peculiar to English as used in America.

Later, of course, Americans were to add more Indian and Spanish words to their language, borrow words and intonations from such immigrant groups as the Germans and Italians, and --like the English themselves --continue to coin new words and change the meanings of old ones, develop their own dialects and pronunciations, and evolve more of their own grammatical and syntactical uses and misuses. Since World War II, however, best-selling books, movies, TV shows, popular songs, and jet-propelled tourists have spread American English to England and English English to the U.S. Modern politics, pop culture, jet planes, and electronics seem to be bringing the two "languages" closer together again.

Dialects of American English

Early Americans had more sharply differentiated dialects than they do today. The Puritans in New England spoke the English East Anglia dialect, the Quakers in Pennsylvania spoke the English midland dialect, the Scotch-Irish in the Blue Ridge Mountains spoke the Ulster dialect, etc.--and they and their speech patterns were separated by wilderness, bad roads, and lack of communications. Then geographical and social mobility began to homogenize the language, with people from all regions moving to all others, people from all walks of life mixing and mingling. Better roads and wagons, trains, cars, moving vans, high-speed printing presses, the telegraph, the typewriter and teletype, telephones, record players, duplicating machines, radios, movies, and TV mixed and melded American speech into a more and more uniform language. In addition, our dialects were smoothed out by generations of teachers and by two crucial series of elementary school books: the various editions of Noah Webster's The American Spelling Book, "the Blue-Backed Speller" that sold over 80 million copies and from which generations of Americans from the 1780s to the 1880s learned to spell and pronounce the same words in the same way, and Professor William Holmes McGuffey's six series of Eclectic Readers,which sold over 122 million copies between 1836 and the 1920s, giving generations of Americans a shared vocabulary and literature. Thus American mobility, educational systems, and improved means of transportation and communications have given Americans an increasingly more standardized vocabulary and pronunciation. When we hear America talking today we usually hear only a touch of a regional "accent"; American dialects are fading away.

Depending on how precise one need be, one can say that America has from three to a dozen dialects. There are three overall, major ones: the New England, the Southern, and the General American (sometimes erroneously called the Midwest or Western dialect). Here are brief descriptions of three major regional dialects:

New England dialect is spoken from the Connecticut River north and eastward through Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. New England was nor misnamed: between 1620 and 1640, 200 ships brought 15,000 English colonists to the region, two-thirds of them from East Anglia, the Puritan stronghold. Those colonists from East Anglia, and other parts of southern and southeastern England, gave New England its distinct dialect, first called the New England dialect in 1788. It is still closer to English English than any other dialect of American English. Some of its characteristics are:

(1) pronouncing the a in such words as ask, brass, can't, class, fast, grass, half, last, and path somewhat like the broad a in father, and lengthening the a sound in such words as bar, dark, far, farm, and heart to a sound somewhat be tween the sound the rest of us pronounce in hat and father (this last a sound is also found in eastern Virginia and elsewhere in the tidewater region). Thus we tease Bostonians for saying "ahnt" (aunt) and "vahz" (vase).

(2) pronouncing the o in such words as box, hot, not, pot, and top with the lips rounded, forming an open o sound. The rest of us tend to pronounce this o more as the broad a sound of father.

(3) omitting, slighting, or shortening some r sounds, thus car, dear, and door sound like "cah," "deah," and "doah" to the rest of us. The broad a sound and the slighted r cause the rest of us to hear "pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd" (park the car in Harvard yard).

Southern dialect could be divided into separate dialects for the upper and lower South or into several smaller dialects, such as the Virginia Tidewater, South Carolina Low Country, local dialects with Charleston and New Orleans as focal points, etc. In general, however, Southern dialect is used south and east of a line drawn along the northern boundary of Maryland and Virginia and the southern boundary of West Virginia,the southern part of Missouri and down through southeastern Oklahoma and eastern Texas. It is characterized by:

(1) the Southern drawl: a slower enunciation than used in the rest of the country, combined with a slow breaking, gliding, or diphthongization of stressed vowels. Thus to the rest of us the Southern class sounds like "clae-is"; yes like "yea-is" or "yea-yis"; fine, I, ride, and time like "fi-ahn," "I-ah," "ri-ahd," andu ti-ahm" (these all being long i sounds).

(2) some of this slow dwelling on the vowel sounds weakens the following final consonants, especially d's, Vs, r's, andt's, giving southerners such pronunciations as fin(d), he(l)p, se(l)f, flo(or), mo(re), po(or), yo(ur), bes(t), kep(t). (3) using such terms as the stereotyped Southern honey- chil(d) and you all as well as bucket (for pail), heap (for very), raise (for rear, children), reckon (think, judge), right (for very), snap bean (string bean), spigot (for faucet) and tote (for carry).

General American dialect is spoken in 4/5ths of the nation's area and by 2/3rds of the population, but is still a dialect. It is not called General American because that is what Americans should speak but because it just happens to be the dialect heard in the general regions outside of New England and the South. It is heard in the area which starts as a wedge between New England and the South, in western Connecticut, New York State, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, then broadens out to include West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, northern Missouri, northwestern Oklahoma and west Texas, and finally encompasses the entire western half of the country. It actually includes at least four dialects: the North Central, the New York City Metropolitan Area dialect (including parts of Connecticut and New Jersey), the Middle Atlantic, and the Midlands dialect (Philadelphia to the Rockies and the Potomac to New Mexico, sometimes considered as separate Northern Midland and Southern Midland dialects). All these have more in common with each other than with the New England and Southern dialects, so can be grouped together as General American. It is characterized by:

(1) using the short flat a in such words as ask, brass, can't, class, dance, fast, grass, half, last, and path.

(2) sounding the unrounded o in such words as box, hot, lot, not, pot, and top almost as the broad a in father.

(3) the retention of a strong r sound in all positions, as caR, haKd, etc.

Americans are still moving and communicating from one part of the country to another. As easterners and midwesterners continue to move to the Sun Belt (1950s) the local Florida and Texas speech patterns will be diluted; as people continue to leave large cities for small ones and for rural areas, pockets of local dialects will tend to weaken or disappear. Perhaps someday in the future regional dialects will be no more. Then we may have only two dialects, that of educated, urban Americans and that of rural and poor Americans. Such dialects already exist, heard mainly in grammar and usage.

Differences in American and English


The major difference in American and English pronunciation is in intonation and voice timbre. Americans speak with less variety of tone than the English. American voice timbre seems harsh or tinny to the English, their's gurgling or throaty to Americans. English conclusion: Americans speak shrilly, monotonously, and like a schoolboy reciting. American conclusion: the English speak too low, theatrically, and swallow their syllables.

The more precise differences include:

Americans pronounce the a in such words as ask, brass, can't, dance, fast, grass, half, last, and path as a short, fiat [a ];the English pronounce it more as the broad [a: ]in father . American shorter, flatter [a ]is just a continuation of the way first colonists from Southern England pronounced it; the English dropped this pronunciation in the 18th century and began to use the broad [a: ](this same change took place in parts of New England and the South, giving some Americans the pronunciation of aunt as "ahnt" and vase as "vahz").

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."

Pronunciation Challenges Confusions and Controversy Differences Between American and British English

While there are certainly many more varieties of English, American and British English are the two varieties that are taught in most ESL/EFL F.R.Palmer. Semantics. A new outline. - M. V.Sh. 1982 programs. Generally, it is agreed that no one version is "correct" however, there are certainly preferences in use. The most important rule of thumb is to try to be consistent in your usage. If you decide that you want to use American English spellings then be consistent in your spelling (i.e. The color of the orange is also its flavour - color is American spelling and flavour is British), this is of course not always easy - or possible. The following guide is meant to point out the principal differences between these two varieties of English.


In this work paper we investigated the peculiarities of American English emphasizing especially the etimology 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 mammals, 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.


1. Bartlett, John R. (1848). Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases Usually Regarded As Peculiar to the United States . New York: Bartlett and Welford. <>

2. Kenyon, John S. (1950). American pronunciation (10th ed.). Ann Arbor: George Wahr. <>

3. Kortmann, Bernd; Schneider, Edgar W.; Burridge, Kate; Mesthrie, Rajend; & Upton, Clive (Eds.). (2004). A handbook of varieties of English: Morphology and syntax (Vol. 2). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. <>

4. MacNeil, Robert; & Cran, William. (2005). Do you speak American? New York: Nan A. Talese, Doubleday.<>

5. Mathews, Mitford M. (ed.) (1951). A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles . Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <>

6. Mencken, H. L. (1936, repr. 1977). The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States (4th edition) . New York: Knopf. (1921 edition online:

7. Simpson, John (ed.) (1989). Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition . Oxford: Oxford University Press.<>

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