Differences and Continuities Between British and American English

Topics: English language, United Kingdom, American English Pages: 5 (1953 words) Published: May 7, 2013
DIFFERENCES AND CONTINUITIES BETWEEN BRITISH AND AMERICAN ENGLISH (main information taken from BB1 pp. 79-81 and 152-57)
Stress on difference and continuity has characterised the story of the relationship between British and American English over the centuries. For instance, difference was strongly wanted in the US after Independence and emphasised by the British as sign of their distinction from the new, less cultured, nation for at least the two following centuries. On the other hand, continuity is being emphasised nowadays by the British as mark of the solid long-settled and international influence of today’s ‘world language’, of which British and American English are the two major models. LESS VARIATION IN THE US THAN IN THE UK

Compared to the language variance existing in the UK, in the US ‘there is little variation between one speaker and another.’ In Britain English has been established for 1500 years and over the centuries most people in the British Isles have spent all their lives in the localities where they were born, whereas in the US since the 19th century there has been an enormous expansion and movement of the English-speaking population. Geographically, three main dialect areas broadly characterise linguistic variation in the US: 1. Northeastern, 2. Southern, 3. General American. The Northeastern accent is heard in New England and NY State, not in NY City (extending to west, to include Pennsylvania and the Midwestern states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and north-west into the Dakotas); the Southern from Virginia along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf coast states and inland into Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas); (MA in the east-coast region separating the NE from the S, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh); General American (or Network English) is what is spoken in the rest of the country often divided into two: a western region (most of the Pacific coast, the Rockies, the Great Planes and the western Mississippi Valley) and an eastern region (from Pennsylvania to the eastern Mississippi region). It is used by most Americans, although we can’t say it’s a single unified accent. It’s a standard variety having no marked regional characteristics, somewhat comparable to RP in Britain although unlike it, it has no connotation of eliteness. The Northeastern accent is characterised by the dropping of ‘r’ after vowels (as in vigor). “Park the car in Harvard yard” is rendered as pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd. Most Americans would laugh at this, except in the South East where main features are shared. The Southern accent is also non-rhotic and recognizable for its slow delivery and its tendency to form diphthongs where pure vowels are found in other accents. The ‘South drawl’ refers to the lengthening of vowels in stressed syllables, turning them into diphthongs (man>mæIn). An exception to this diphthongizing tendency, is the pure vowel in words like ‘I’ and ‘my’ > ‘ah’ and ‘ma’. In the US Linguistic variation may also be described by ethnic dialects (C, SE, 17): Anglo (of European British ancestry, mainly in the northern region); African-American (of African ancestry, mainly in the southern region); Hispanic (of Central American ancestry, mainly in the south-western area). THE DIFFERENCE THAT NOAH WEBSTER MADE

Soon after Independence years Noah Webster made his best to make American English different from British English. By the 19th century BE had achieved standardisation resulting into a variety whose character was supra-regional within Britain. For a few decades (1760-1800) the English-speaking world was rather unified in the way spelling, grammar and vocabulary were taught than had ever been before – and would ever be again. However, SE, conceived as a uniform mode of linguistic behaviour uniting English speakers everywhere, began to fragment as soon as it had appeared. While Johnson and others were busy finishing dictionary and grammars which they though would keep English under control, in the North...
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