AD's English Literature : American English and British English : Comparative Study

Thursday, December 23, 2010

American English and British English : Comparative Study

   "We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language."
                           --   Oscar Wilde

American English is now a craze. It is obviously due to the fact that the Americans made a spectacular progress in the sphere of science and technology, in the sphere of trade and commerce, in the sphere of literature and athletics. Moreover, political power of America has assumed a formidable proportion. Naturally, the people of the world abroad, by and large, feel and urge to learn the language of the American people. But it is to be noted that American English and British English are fundamentally the same. Only in some respect, American English is a little different from British English. The points of divergence of American English from kings English can conveniently be grouped under three heads: pronunciation, spelling  & vocabulary, and idiom and usage.

In the first place, the words like ‘ask’, ‘cant’, ‘dance’, ‘half’, ‘mass’, ‘path’ are pronounced with a broad ‘a’ sound as in ‘man’ and not with a flat ‘a’ sound as a ‘father’. Next, the pronunciation of words like ‘duty’, ‘duke’ is something like ‘dooty’, ‘dooke’. Moreover, in British English ‘r’ when followed by a consonant remains unpronounced. But in American ‘r’ is always pronounced, no matter whether it is followed by consonant or vowel. Lastly, American‘t’ often sounds like‘d’. Hence ‘beating’, ‘matter’ sound like ‘beading’, ‘madder’    respectively.

In the second place, American English is peculiar in respect of spelling. There is a tendency in the language to simplify the spelling system, and make it conveniently to the way in which the word concerned is uttered. Hence, in many cases – ‘our’ becomes ‘or’ as in honour (honor), colour (color), labour (labor) etc. The words ending with ‘re’ often shift to the words ending with ‘er’. So in American English there are words like fiber (fibre), ‘center’ (center), and theater (theatre). In British English the words like ‘advice’ and ‘device’ are treated as nouns. The verb form of them being ‘advise’ and ‘devise’. But in American English noun or verb they are always ‘advise’ and ‘devise’. Lastly, in American English some unnecessary letters are dropped. So, ‘catalogue’ becomes ‘catalog’, ‘though’ becomes ‘tho’ and ‘through’ becomes ‘thru’ etc.

There are many words, which are exclusively current in English coined from America. Here are a number of samples –‘toboggan’, ‘raccoon’, ‘moose’, and ‘hickory’ etc. Besides American people use some words in a sense in which the British people do not use them. For example, in America ‘biscuit’ means cake, ‘clerk’ means shopkeeper, ‘engineer’ means driver of an engine, ‘solicitor’ means salesman etc. There is still another peculiarity in American English in respect of vocabulary. It prefers ‘apartment’ to ‘flat’, ‘baby carriage’ to ‘perambulator’, ‘baggage’ to ‘luggage’, ‘can’ to ‘tin’, ‘elevator’ to ‘life’, ‘gas’ or ‘gasoline’ to ‘petrol’, ‘information bureau’ to ‘enquiry office’,  ‘railroad’ to ‘railway’, ‘sidewalk’ to ‘pavement’, ‘truck’ to ‘lorry’ etc. There are further some words the particles of which are collected from British English but coined in America. The words are ‘behaviorist’, ‘finalize’, ‘gangster’, ‘isolationist’, ‘supermarket’, ‘multiplex’ ‘teenager’ and such alike. There are particles taken from British English and combined into the new words in America. Here is a list of some of these words: ‘back-number’, ‘best-seller’, ‘high-brow’, ‘know-how’, ‘paper-back’ ‘go-together’, ‘hide-out’ etc. Lastly, there are some phrases and idioms which owe their origin to American English i.e. ‘cash in on’, ‘go in for’, ‘go back on’, ‘fizzle out’, ‘kick the bucket’, ‘face the music’, ‘beyond the fence’ etc.

To conclude, though there are some minor peculiarities in American English and British English, its gap is so minimal that it should be overlooked. D. H. Lawrence, who writes in British English is tremendously popular in America, while Hemingway, an American novelist is appreciated by heart by the Britons. Warren and Brooks are the two outstanding literary critics from America, have their considerable hold on English scholars. Evidently, the difference between American English and British English is one of degree and not of attitude.

Ardhendu De

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