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Did You Know?
American English is the most influential English accent globally.
The americanization of global English is considered one of the most prominent trends in the evolution process of the contemporary English language.
American vocabularies are now frequently used in European countries; even the Brits have adopted a few words.
American spelling is preferred in the postcolonial varieties of English spoken in South-East Asia.
History of American English
Sometime during early 17th century, the English language was brought to the United States by the British colonizers. Settlers from other European countries also began to pour in during the second half of the 17th century. Initially, the early Americans used to speak British English. However, in the following years, due to extensive migration from different regions of England and the British Isles, various regional dialects started to get mixed with British-style English. Other European languages also had an impact on the vocabulary of the people in the New World.
However, it was not until the mid-18th century that a distinct dialect known as American English began to shape up. The evolution was not necessarily spontaneous, and patriots like Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, and many others made conscious efforts to ‘Americanize’ the language. As time progressed, many new words and phrases were introduced to the vocabulary of America. Besides borrowing from other European languages like Spanish, French, and German, Americans also borrowed words from native American languages.
As the War of Independence brought the colonial period to a close, the Americans realized political freedom was not enough; they needed cultural independence, as well. This was when they took the initiative to reform the spelling and define the grammar to differentiate their language from the colonizers.
Noah Webster was instrumental in formalizing American English, his American Spelling Book (1783), and American Dictionary of the English, 2 vol. (1828, 1840) were the founding stone of the language that we know as American English. Webster believed the spelling and grammar of a language should reflect the living spoken language rather than super-imposed rules. He also was of the view that language independence is critical to achieve complete freedom. Webster said, “The reasons for American English being different than English English are simple […as] an independent nation, our honor requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government.”
In the following years, American English continued to expand and borrow words from other languages from across the world. Now, the English spoken in America is fairly homogeneous with some variations in accent.
While Americans were trying to achieve language independence, the British elites were also keen to differentiate themselves from their earlier colony. As a result, the upper classes of Southern England came up with a different accent as a signifier of the aristocracy. Later, the accent was widely adopted across England.
What Dialects Are There?
Who Needs to Improve Their Accent?
American English or British English, which one to learn?
Although there are differences in terms of spelling, vocabulary, grammar, and accent, American English and British English are not radically different and mutually intelligible. If you learn one, you will be able to understand both. However, to sound natural, try to be consistent and don’t mix them up. For a non-native speaker learning American English can be a little easier because the spelling and grammar are less complicated and more intuitive.
Difference between American English and British English
Pronunciation: The pronunciations for both vowels and consonants are slightly different. Also, there are differences in intonation and stress.
One of the most glaring differences is in the sound of the letter R. Brits mute the sound of R in a word unless it is in the initial syllable. Americans always pronounce the letter independent of its position. Similarly, the stress can fall on different syllables. Like, while a British speaker says weekend, the stress falls on the end, but in an American accent, the stress will be on week.
Spelling: There are thousands of minor spelling differences between the two variants of English. Americans use a simplified spelling method and often omit letters from a word. For example, in British English, it is Aeroplane. Americans spell it as Airplane. There are many similar examples like humour/humor, programme/program, etc.
Sometimes, the position of the vowel in a word also changes, like theatre/theatre, centre/center, etc. Moreover, there are some spellings where Americans use different letters, like tyre/tire, anaemia/anemia, visualise/visualize, and so on.
Vocabulary: British and American speakers sometimes use different words to describe the same thing, and that can be a little confusing for a non-native speaker. For example, what is called football in British English, is soccer in America, and America has a different game which they call football. Besides, how Americans and British describe the floor numbers also varies. The floor at the street level is called the ground floor in Britain, and the floors above are the first floor, second floor, and so on. In American English, the floor at the street level is called the first floor, and the floor above is the second floor.
Some other examples are flat/apartment, autumn/fall, lorry/truck, toilet/restroom, etc.
Grammar: The grammatical system is also slightly different between the two variants; however, the basic syntax of the sentences is the same. Britishers use present perfect tense to describe a past action that they consider to have relevance to the present. Whereas an American speaker will simply use past tense.
Another example is the usage of the word shall. The word exists in the American vocabulary, but Americans do not use it often in daily conversations. The Brits will say, ‘Shall we go?’, but an American English speaker will say, ‘Should we go?’
There are many such differences between the two languages that are small but have a significant effect.