Regular readers will be aware that I have occasionally presented ‘Guest Posts’ on behalf of colleagues. I’d like to introduce yet another Trans-Atlantic contribution.
This time the post is by Angelita Williams [see by-line below]. We would both welcome your comments to this special Guest Post, especially as the differences between our written languages is such an issue (especially for me!!!)
Differences in the English Language in a Post-Cultural World
I know; the title of this post is quite a mouthful. Not to worry though; I plan to take this topic in stride, offering first a brief history of American English and how it has differed from British English. As for the “post-cultural” idea, I will in essence be describing the evolution of the English language in the midst of the uprising of the Internet as a primary communication tool, particularly for international correspondence.
Brief History of American and British English
Aside from natural differences in dialect and culture that occurred between the isolation of these two English speaking countries, one of the first “active” catalysts which has differentiated American from British English is Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language.
Make no mistake, Webster was a politically charged revolutionary aiming for American independence from British culture. While this may seem a bit extreme or xenophobic even for our modern, melting-pot standards, do remember that Webster’s dictionary was published just over a decade after the War of 1812. And at this time, most nations were much more filled with nationalist pride than our modern day standards (particularly in America … despite what our Republican party may have you believe).
To be honest, most of Webster’s dictionary involved hair-splitting differences, notably in spelling (such as color rather than colour or center rather than centre or defense rather than defence). Some innovations never even caught on, like his spelling of tung as opposed to tongue. While many of these changes were discrete, I feel that they opened the doors of divergence between the two dialects. Also, I find it interesting that these differences have become more noticeable now that text has become the most popular communication tool online (a noticeable jump from previous mass media such as television or radio).
Since that publication, most changes between the two dialects have been due to natural variations of usage trends and connotations of various words. There are few words with completely different meanings between the dialects; more likely, there are words with both multiple shared and different meanings between the two. For example, the word “fall” means “to descend” in both languages but also means “to become pregnant” in British English and “autumn” in American English.
Before I dig into this idea, I would like to disclaim that this term is entirely made up by myself and stems from the idea that an unofficial standard English has developed through mass media and the internet. For a good time, this spoken standard was American-favored, as American media has left its mark in Europe and the rest of the world for quite a few decades in the late 21st century. As demonstrated by the guardian, Hollywood still has a strong influence over British culture.
However, what are we to make of the English language as it appears on the internet? The memes, the multitude of abbreviations (“wut r u up 2?”), and, most importantly, the slang that passes for the English language is beyond puzzling. And it is also incredibly hard to track or even assess on a holistic scale because every site seems to have a wide variance of what it views as acceptable language. Take, for example, Hipster Runoff as opposed to Wikipedia. Or, for better measure of how massive amounts of people use English on the internet, compare Reddit and 4chan.
While perhaps none of these sites (with maybe the exception of Wikipedia) have set any sort of standard for an online dialect of the English language, they do all seem to have self-contained dialects that also share odd similarities, an online community dialect so to speak. And it is difficult to tell which country (if any) is responsible for these trends in online dialect. If anything, I would say that it’s not necessarily one place as it is one range of age (mostly young adolescents but as old as mid-twenties) from which these trends in internet language originate.
If I am to see any good come of these trends in online communication (trust me, I cannot see many), it would be that those exhibits of language encourage advocates of thoughtful, well-versed words such as myself (and I assume many of you readers) to cling tighter to our written roots. For every online community filled with shallow, poorly executed thoughts, a community like this one has an opportunity to emerge and demonstrate the English language as it should be. Whether American or British, the most important aspect of English in its online form should be quality and clarity.
This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online courses. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: angelita.williams7 @gmail.com.