Regular readers will be aware that I have raised the subject of the ‘AmericaniZation‘ of our language before. E.g. https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/americanization/. There’s also a tendency towards misunderstanding between our cultures: e.g. https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/people-are-rude/ which was written after several years of trans-Atlantic comments on a YouTube posting.
Roger Elmore [email@example.com] has kindly offered a considered response to the matter. We would both welcome your comments to this special Guest Post.
Oceans Apart: American and British English and the Importance of Knowing the Difference
Whether we like it or not, English is a fractured language, and the deepest fault line is the Atlantic Ocean. As any American who has visited England knows, we Americans speak a completely different language than our English brethren do.
Of course, America’s relentless cultural imperialism has served in many ways to dilute the distinctiveness of British English, much to the chagrin of many residing in the UK. Matthew Engle, in a Daily Mail article published earlier this year, made his disappointment about America’s invading Americanisms clear, and reader responses demonstrated resounding agreement.
Although we could argue all day long about which English is superior, we Americans must acknowledge and respect the fact that American English isn’t the only one in existence. In our increasingly globaliz(s?)ed world, we should become more familiar with the differences in language before either engaging in business with UK partners, creating software programs that may be consumed by Britons, or simply going on holiday to England.
Engel does concede in his article that language usage inevitably expands and contracts, but our American cultural hegemony has expanded to a degree that is unfair. This is especially true of software and online or mobile applications. Engel notes:
“We have to be realistic: languages grow. The success of English comes from its adaptability and the British have been borrowing words from America for at least two centuries…But the process gathered speed with the arrival of cinema and television in the 20th Century. And in the 21st it seems unstoppable. The U.S.-dominated computer industry, with its ‘licenses’, ‘colors’ and ‘favorites’ is one culprit. That ties in with mobile phones that keep ‘dialing’ numbers that are always ‘busy'”
To American ears, Engel’s grievances may sound more like the grumblings of a language snob, but we can’t forget that being ignorant of the differences between American and British usage of English can have very real consequences for certain people. For example, eLearning students in the UK, especially those with learning disabilities like dyslexia, are unfairly marginalized when they must use American software that requires learners to spell words in American English or that uses phrases and expressions with which an English learner would be unfamiliar.
For Americans who would like to become better acquainted with British usage, grammar, and spelling, there are various sources on the Internet from which to find out more. Wikipedia gives a fairly comprehensive overview, and an additional Engel article notes more Americanisms that have “snuck” into British usage.
Above all, if both Americans and Britons alike educate themselves about the differences–not just in language usage but in terms of culture, too–between us, we can avoid misunderstandings and celebrate what makes our common but diverse mother tongue so unique.