PDA

View Full Version : British vs. American English



thomas
04-11-02, 23:07
Being a non-native English speaker, I found the following article quite interesting (taken from another board):

= = = = = = = =

There are different stories for different groups of words.

The standardization of English spelling was a long, slow process, extending over centuries and full of hiccups and reversals.

For the words like “center,” both the “center” and “centre” spellings were widely used in the Middle Ages. By the 16th century, however, the spelling “center” had largely won out in Britain. This is the spelling preferred by Shakespeare, Milton, and other writers of the 16th and 17th centuries, and it is the spelling preferred in most dictionaries of the period. Naturally, therefore, “center” was the spelling carried to the American colonies in the 17th century.

In the US, therefore, nothing much has happened. The prevalent spelling “center” was endorsed by Noah Webster’s famous and influential American dictionary in 1828, and it has never since been threatened.

In Britain, however, the French-style spelling “centre” made a comeback in the 18th century. This was preferred by several lexicographers, including the enormously influential Dr. Johnson in his 1755 dictionary, and, as a result, “centre” displaced “center” as the British spelling.

Something similar happens with the “-ize” / “-ise” words, like “civilize” / “civilise.” In this case, though, the etymological spelling is that with “-ize” (which derives from the Greek suffix <-izein> ), and the “-ize” spelling was universal in English until around the 18th century. But then British writers noticed that the French had changed the spelling of their cognate suffix from <-izer> to <-iser>. The British began aping the French, and writing “-ise” instead of “-ize.” This new spelling was endorsed by Dr. Johnson, and it has since become very widespread in Britain. But not universal: some conservative quarters in Britain still insist on “-ize.” An example is the august Oxford University Press, which still prefers “-ize.” If you look up the suffix in the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, you will find a firm little lecture on the foolishness of writing “-ise.”

In the US, none of this ever happened, and Americans continue to use the traditional “-ize.”

But the “color” words are different. Though the spelling had earlier fluctuated, “colour” was pretty much established as the usual spelling in Britain by the 14th century, though “color” continued to be used occasionally, under the influence of the Latin <color>, the ultimate (but not direct) source of the word.

But in 1828 Noah Webster opted for “color.” He did this, apparently, partly because he preferred simpler spellings, and partly because he was eager to distinguish American English from British English. In fact, his dictionary contains a number of novel spellings for these reasons, but many of his proposals never caught on. However, Americans took a liking to his “color,” and have made it their invariable spelling.

So, the chief reasons for the differences are the varying preferences of influential lexicographers, plus a substantial French influence on British English but not on American English.

= = = = = = = =

Maciamo
05-11-02, 03:32
That was very interesting ! I knew about the French influence in words in "-er/-re" and "-or/-our", but not about the historical context. I also didn't know that "-ize" was the usual form in UK till the 18th century. I guess it doesn't really matter which one one uses.

This site (http://www.people.cornell.edu/pages/jjh26/) gives similar explantations, with also the difference between "programme" (UK) and "program" (US) - the first is the original in French, Latin and Greek, so the American version is just a simplification. For "pyjama" (UK) and "pajama" (US), the Hindi and Persian roots give reason to the latter. Note that French also spell it with a "y" (and pronounced it like in "pit"). I guess the word first came into the English language, where the "y" is pronounced "e", then came with this spelling into French who have pronounced it like it was written (as all French vowels only have one pronouciation). But it may have happened the other way round too.

I would like to point at the link between AmE and Japanese English as well. As explained on the same site (phonology section) (http://www.people.cornell.edu/pages/jjh26/) some Americans tend to pronounce some short "e" sounds (like in cut or rung) and short "o" sound (box, hot) like "a" (such as the final of "sofa"). I guess that's why Japanese people, heavily influenced by the US after the WWII, have adopted English words like "coktail" saying "kakuteeru", "color" saying "karaa or else "cover" pronouced "kabaa. They could have spelt them with a "o" instead. That would have made them easier to understand for foreigners and closer to international English.

Maciamo
05-11-02, 03:41
There are quantities of site offering BE vs AmE glossaries. Here are the two most entertaining I have found. One has anAmerican point of view (http://www.travelfurther.net/dictionaries/), while the other (really recommended) is made by a Brit for Americans (http://www.effingpot.com/).

What would an non-British think if I said my grandmother made me a big nice joint last night ?

thomas
05-11-02, 09:59
Highly interesting, thanks for the links, I'll have a closer look at them.


some Americans tend to pronounce some short "e" sounds (like in cut or rung) and short "o" sound (box, hot) like "a" (such as the final of "sofa"). I guess that's why Japanese people, heavily influenced by the US after the WWII, have adopted English words like "coktail" saying "kakuteeru", "color" saying "karaa or else "cover" pronouced "kabaa.

Isn't that simply "lingua vulgaris" aka slang? I doubt that any ivy league prof orders a "caacktail". :)

Twisted
05-11-02, 11:49
I think it's simply phonetics. Listen to the original word, write it down in hiragana and then let a random person pronounce it again.

I never realized the subtle differences between American and British English, but in the past i have been in doubt about the spelling of many of these words and i find that i'm using both ways at inconsequently.

I've learned most of my written English from magazines. The internet is a bit of a dangerous tool to learn from, since there's no telling what is the right way.

thomas
05-11-02, 13:48
I'm also using a jumble of BE and AmE and try to read as much as possible in order to iron out netphrases/netspeech/neticisms. Reading offline, that is.
:)

samuraitora
06-11-02, 14:48
I think that the differences between the 2 englishes is funny. I have a lot of friends in England and speaking with them can be interesting some times.

miki
07-11-02, 03:49
didn't know there're so much difference between the BE & AE...

as a former british colonial country, we are educated in BE.. however, due to heavy influence from the west (mostly hollywood movies, tv shows)... we then picked up the american slang as well...

till now, most of the time i got confused between AE & BE... :p

moyashi
07-11-02, 09:27
I grew up in Western New York and some how learned both.
What a pain!

I guess it's a personal preference.

But the funniest thing is that I've heard that even in London different accents exists, so much that you can tell what part of town they live in. Go Prince Charles!

Rosie
16-08-03, 00:55
My first year in the United States was a complete disaster. You see, I had learned British English since I was a child. In my younger years, I had also learned to speak English with British accent from the Brits. When I landed in the U.S., I had to learn English almost all over again. My accents and the expressions I used were just not comprehensible to many of my peers in college. I had to write what I wanted to say on pieces of papers. It's my third year in the land of the free, I'm speaking English with American accent and some slangs too!

mdchachi
16-08-03, 06:12
I doubt that any ivy league prof orders a "caacktail".

I bet they do. At least the American ones. So, how do you pronounce it? coke-tail?

I've never heard it pronounced any other way than the pronunciation you hear at www.m-w.com. Is there an online British English dictionary like M-W that we can use to compare?

Rachel
16-08-03, 15:18
Originally posted by moyashi

But the funniest thing is that I've heard that even in London different accents exists, so much that you can tell what part of town they live in. Go Prince Charles!

Yep ! It's true.
The hardest accent to understand over here is glaswegen (Bad spelling, sorry). They slide their words together then accelerate the end result. also they pronance "J" as "Ja". When their talking, your brain picks up on the fact it's english but you still have no idea what their saying. It's a nightmare !

neko_girl22
16-08-03, 15:22
and cockney (sp?) don't they -or they did- have their own language almost?
e.g "can you adam and eve it?" adam and eve = believe.
Is this cockney or am I getting confused with another accent over there?
My Grandma was from Yorkshire and I've heard they almost speak another language at times!
Interesting country - must visit someday :)

Maciamo
16-08-03, 15:47
Yes that's cockney, but don't adam and eve that everybody can understand it or even less speak it. It's a typically working class way of speaking that probably less than 1% of the people actually use (mostly in East London, where it originated). Lot's of Australian also use it (maybe more than in England). Hey me old China, have a captain at who's comin' there ! (old China = china plate = mate ; captain = captain cook = look :mad: ). You need the accent with it too : "Oroit mite ?" (= alright mate ? = how are you ?).

Rachel
16-08-03, 15:52
Originally posted by nzueda
and cockney (sp?) don't they -or they did- have their own language almost?
e.g "can you adam and eve it?" adam and eve = believe.
Is this cockney or am I getting confused with another accent over there?
My Grandma was from Yorkshire and I've heard they almost speak another language at times!
Interesting country - must visit someday :)

No your not getting confused, it's cockney rhyming slang.
And I think your thinking about old rural yorkshire, they have several words you won't find in the english dictionary. I have no idea what they are tho.

Maciamo
16-08-03, 16:02
Originally posted by Rosie
My first year in the United States was a complete disaster. You see, I had learned British English since I was a child. In my younger years, I had also learned to speak English with British accent from the Brits. When I landed in the U.S., I had to learn English almost all over again. My accents and the expressions I used were just not comprehensible to many of my peers in college. I had to write what I wanted to say on pieces of papers.

Yeah, the average Americans are much less exposed to foreign accents than Brits, Australian or whoever else. That already holds to the fact that US pronunciation is much more standard all over the country, eventhough its so huge. In the UK, there are Scottish, Welsh and Irish accents, then all the dialects that change almost from town to town. Liverpudlian (i.e. people from Liverpool) would just say "toon" for "town" or "hoos" for "house" (from the original pronuciation before the 15th century).

Then everybody is used to American English (accent + voc.) through Hollywood movies and TV series. Nowadays, Australian drama are also popular in Britain, so Brits start using Aussie expressions too.

Last but not least, English people travel a lot. It's very common for people in their twenties to take a "gap year" (=year off), buy a round the world plane ticket and travel on their own in the backpacker fashion. That helps a lot understanding whatever foreign English accent : Indian, Thai, Spanish, Japanese... It forms the ear. In all my travel, I've seen very few Americans (about 1% of Brits and Dutch people together only). Even the Lonely Planet guidebook for the USA advice travellers there to adapt their pronuciation if they want to be understood (like in "bath" that should be pronounced "baeth" in the US instead of "baaath"). That's strange that they should understand, as I usually don't have any problem understanding any accent, foreign or native, in English (except sometimes a strong outback Aussie accent).

Maciamo
16-08-03, 16:13
Originally posted by Rachel
No your not getting confused, it's cockney rhyming slang.
And I think your thinking about old rural yorkshire, they have several words you won't find in the english dictionary. I have no idea what they are tho.

Well they may say "chab" or "chabby" for "child", but they say "bairn" further North and that's not easier to understand. Any road they don't allus like to walk on the coursey when it's right parky, you know (translation : "Anyway they don't always like to walk on the pavement/sidewalk when it's very cold" ; I made it up just to give an example).

Happen Sekabin can help us with his Yorkshire dialect.

nekosasori
08-06-04, 18:09
... and then there are marked differences between Canadian and American English (pronunciation and orthography) ...

Sorry to resurrecting a long-dead thread (I found this in a "related threads" list).

iceman
15-01-10, 17:25
there are a lot of difference even between UK , England, Scotland, Ireland and Weals.

I'm studying English literature RP , but I like the American Accent .

zvira
29-01-10, 13:52
It's easier to speak American English than British English, they have that weird accent

Andalublue
27-02-10, 00:52
There are quantities of site offering BE vs AmE glossaries.

What would an non-British think if I said my grandmother made me a big nice joint last night ?

Brit for Americans is quite fun but clearly written by quite a posh person. It's also got quite a few mistakes in it e.g. Saying the word "Ta" is short for "Thank you", when it is a quite separate word, coming from Old Norse. Norwegians still say "Tak" for thank you, I believe.

That's being picky though, I know. It's fun.

Mycernius
27-02-10, 11:50
It's easier to speak American English than British English, they have that weird accent
Which weird accent, we have several in the UK? Welsh, Yorkshire, Geordie, Brummie, Cockney, Scouse are just a few.


there are a lot of difference even between UK , England, Scotland, Ireland and Weals.

I'm studying English literature RP , but I like the American Accent .
As above, which American accent? Deep southern is very distinctive drawl, or the nasal New York. America also has a variety of accents, as do Canadians.

Andalublue
07-03-10, 14:03
No your not getting confused, it's cockney rhyming slang.
And I think your thinking about old rural yorkshire, they have several words you won't find in the english dictionary. I have no idea what they are tho.

Yorkshire is the biggest county in England and as such has not one but many different accents. It also used to have a number of related dialects. My favourite example of these old dialects is the counting system used by sheep farmers.

In Swaledale, one of the most remote corners of Yorkshire, they would count thus:


Yan
Tan
Tether
Mether
Mimph
Hither
Lither
Anver
Danver
Dick
Yan dick
Tan dick
Tether-a-dick
Mether-a-dick
Mimphit
Yan-a-mimphit
Tan-a-mimphit
Tether-a-mimphit
Mether-a-mimphit
Jiggit

There are still many dialect words still used today although very few people use dialect as their main mode of communication. Some Yorkshire dialect words have found their way into mainstream English, such as cadge (to ask to borrow), ta (thank you), mardy (moody, bad tempered), skint (penniless).

You can find some lovely examples of Yorkshire dialect on the internet, much of it in verse, it really does lend itself well to humour.

Here's a short example, something my dialect-speaking grandfather always liked to recite...

Hear all, see all say nowt
Eat all, sup all, pay nowt
An if tha ivver dus owt fer nowt
Do it fo thi'sen

Owt = something
Nowt = nothing
Ivver = ever
Tha = you
Thi'sen = yourself

Gwyllgi
08-03-10, 13:44
there are a lot of difference even between UK , England, Scotland, Ireland and Weals.

I'm studying English literature RP , but I like the American Accent .

Weals?

WEALS?


Iesu Grist man! Even in English (spit) it’s spelt Wales, and in yr iaith Gymraeg, (the PROPER language) it’s Cymru!

Actually the Welsh language is closer to the true language of these Islands. Very close to the Scottish Galic, Irish, Manx, and Cornish it is.

Niroa
26-03-10, 15:19
Hey,

I just find the Scottish accent funny - because they roll sometimes the R and drop letters while they pronunce words, it isn't that weird but it sounds "different" compared to other variants of English.

By the way, is it the truth that Britons don't pronunce the final "R" as in "war" not that strong as US Americans do it? I've never noticed a difference.

bcrich67
18-09-10, 04:47
There are actually a pretty large number of different accents and dialects in america.
You have what I call the foghorn accent: "pahk the cah by the hahbah so we can go see the red sawx at fenway pahk" (park the car by the harbor so we can go see the red socks at fenway park) The new yorker: "I'm goin to woyk on thoity thoid street" (I'm going to work on thirty third street) The southerner: "aww hail! gee'it yer car out the road!" (ah hell! get your car out of the road) The louisianna: "nuu'allins" (new orleans) "ebonics" or AAvE: "we scrate man" (we're straight man) and etc. There are plenty more, I'm just too lazy and/or ignorant of them to post them

Aristander
18-09-10, 05:01
A few of the British spellings always catch me by surprise when I read them in print.
Gaol or the American spelling Jail and Kerb or the American spelling Curb.

Antigone
13-02-11, 05:46
Many US English words are carry overs from old English via early immigrants. The word fall was once commonly used in Britain but was gradually replaced with the word autumn, whereas in the US fall remained in use. Diaper is another word that has remained in use in the US but in Britain was replaced with the word nappy.

It is the different spellings that I find difficult, check instead of cheque. Two different words with two different meanings in British English but in the US mean the same. And US keyboards are a pain after using British ones for a lifetime!

Glückspilz
13-02-11, 14:50
A a native German speaker this is really nervwrecking sometimes. Even some verbs have a different spelling:(e.g. BE-dreamt, AE-dreamed) If I remember right, Noah Webster modified the American English how it is nowadays. He literally erased the french influence in the English language (cheque - check, centre - center, theatre - theater)

Regulus
13-02-11, 18:37
Many US English words are carry overs from old English via early immigrants. The word fall was once commonly used in Britain but was gradually replaced with the word autumn, whereas in the US fall remained in use. Diaper is another word that has remained in use in the US but in Britain was replaced with the word nappy.

It is the different spellings that I find difficult, check instead of cheque. Two different words with two different meanings in British English but in the US mean the same. And US keyboards are a pain after using British ones for a lifetime!


A very interesting point. Languages do have a tendency to conservatism and less changes at the outer fringes of where they are spoken.

Regulus
13-02-11, 18:46
A a native German speaker this is really nervwrecking sometimes. Even some verbs have a different spelling:(e.g. BE-dreamt, AE-dreamed) If I remember right, Noah Webster modified the American English how it is nowadays. He literally erased the french influence in the English language (cheque - check, centre - center, theatre - theater)

You did bring up a good point, but Webster seems to have been more focused on standardizing and modernizing the spelling of the words more than anything else. He did the same thing with words that had a Germanic origin like changing waggon into wagon. American English in Webster's time was a kaleidoscope of various forms of spelling, even among reasonably educated people. There was a movement among some Americans at the time that held that our English would at one point become completely different from the King's. Modern communications that began shortly after in the same century put a stop to that idea.

Glückspilz
13-02-11, 23:21
You did bring up a good point, but Webster seems to have been more focused on standardizing and modernizing the spelling of the words more than anything else. He did the same thing with words that had a Germanic origin like changing waggon into wagon. American English in Webster's time was a kaleidoscope of various forms of spelling, even among reasonably educated people. There was a movement among some Americans at the time that held that our English would at one point become completely different from the King's. Modern communications that began shortly after in the same century put a stop to that idea.


Thanks for clearing that up Regulus. As for the german words, I noticed there are a lot of used by Americans lately like kindergarden, auto, uebermensch, zeitgeist...ect. at least what I read on the internet.

Regulus
14-02-11, 03:04
That is correct, even more so today. A point that gets brought up quite a bit here is that if we don't have a word for something, the Germans probably do.

Much of these words have come into the vernacular here.

Antigone
14-02-11, 07:22
A very interesting point. Languages do have a tendency to conservatism and less changes at the outer fringes of where they are spoken.

Yes, I also think that languages are subject to outside influences and evolve accordingly. What influences English in Britain is not the same as what would influence the language in the US, Australian and New Zealand English is another that is evolving differently due to its own set of circumstances.

In the US you now use the word stoop instead of the British porch (or is that change only regional?). Stoop or stoep was a word bought with Dutch immigrants and adopted into US English but people in Britain and Australia would still use porch.

If any of that would make any sense? It is an interesting topic anyway.

Regulus
09-03-11, 20:05
Yes, I also think that languages are subject to outside influences and evolve accordingly. What influences English in Britain is not the same as what would influence the language in the US, Australian and New Zealand English is another that is evolving differently due to its own set of circumstances.

In the US you now use the word stoop instead of the British porch (or is that change only regional?). Stoop or stoep was a word bought with Dutch immigrants and adopted into US English but people in Britain and Australia would still use porch.

If any of that would make any sense? It is an interesting topic anyway.

Agreed about the outside influences. Interesting point about stoops. Stoop is commonly used in Brooklyn NY. That area had a strong Dutch presence for quite a along time. Most of the US uses 'porch' instead.

When I was a kid, I thought that stoop meant the sort of wall where the porch or front patio met the sidewalk. I guess that from growing up in a small town in NJ where we used 'porch' I never quite figured out what was meant by 'stoop'. That is surprising since my town is full of street names, family names, etc. that are clearly Dutch.

Reinaert
09-03-11, 21:44
The right word is ... Stoep.

Dutch for the stone path near a house.
In French they call it trottoir.

The "stoep" is an old word for a gangway that is made with stones.
So it means an area around the house, where you won't get your boots sucked in by mud.

Joosepinpoika
15-08-11, 05:15
Being Canadian gives us some opportunity to get a taste of both AmE and BE...however, that does not prevent us from having trouble understanding both..I believe we have it right though. A little British, and a little American and all Canadian, eh.
;)