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British spelling American spelling
In the course of time with the development of the modern means of communication the lexical differences between the two variants show a tendency to decrease. Americanisms penetrate into Standard English and Britishisms come to be widely used in American speech. Americanisms mentioned as specific in manuals issued a few decades ago are now used on both sides of the Atlantic or substituted by terms formerly considered as specifically British. It was, for instance, customary to contrast the English word autumn with the American fall. In reality both words are used in both countries, only autumn is somewhat more elevated, while in England the word fall is now rare in literary use, though found in some dialects and surviving in set
expressions: spring and fait, the fall of the year are still in fairly common use.
Cinema and TV are probably the most important channels for the passage of Americanisms into the language of Britain and other languages as well: the Germans adopted the word teenager and the French speak of l’automatisation. The influence of American advertising is also a vehicle of Americanisms. This is how the British term wireless is replaced by the Americanism radio.
The personal visits of British writers and scholars to the USA and all forms of other personal contacts bring back Americanisms.
The existing cases of difference between the two variants are conveniently classified into:
1) Cases where there are no equivalents in British English: drive-in ‘a cinema where you can see the film without getting out of your car’ or ‘a shop where motorists buy things staying in the car’; dude ranch ‘a sham ranch used as a summer residence for holiday-makers from the cities’.
2) Cases where different words are used for the same denotatum, such as can, candy, mailbox, movies, suspenders, truck in the USA and tin, sweets, pillar-box (or letter-box), pictures or flicks, braces and lorry in England.
3) Cases where the semantic structure of a partially equivalent word is different. The word pavement, for example, means in the first place ‘covering of the street or the floor and the like made of asphalt, stones or some other material’. In England the derived meaning is ‘the footway at the side of the road’. The Americans use the noun sidewalk for this, while pavement with them means ‘the roadway’.
4) Cases where otherwise equivalent words are different in distribution. The verb ride in Standard English is mostly combined with such nouns as a horse, a bicycle, more seldom they say ride on a bus. In American English combinations like a ride on the train, ride in a boat are quite usual.
5) It sometimes happens that the same word is used in American English with some difference in emotional and stylistic colouring. Nasty, for example, is a much milder expression of disapproval in England than in the States, where it was even considered obscene in the 19th century. Politician in England means ‘someone in polities’, and is derogatory in the USA. Professor A.D. Schweitzer pays special attention to phenomena differing in social norms of usage. For example balance in its lexico-semantic variant ‘the remainder of anything’ is substandard in British English and quite literary in America.
6) Last but not least, there may be a marked difference in frequency characteristics. Thus, time-table which occurs in American English very rarely, yielded its place to schedule.
This question of different frequency distribution is also of paramount importance if we wish to investigate the morphological peculiarities of the American variant.
Practically speaking the same patterns and means of word-formation are used in coining neologisms in both variants. Only the frequency observed in both cases may be different. Some of the suffixes more frequently used in American English are: -ее (draftee n ‘a young man about to be enlisted’), -ette (tambour-majorette ‘one of the girl drummers in front of a procession’), -dom and -ster, as in roadster ‘motorcar for long journeys by road’ or gangsterdom.
American slang uses alongside the traditional ones also a few specific models, such as verbstem+-er+adverb stem+-er, e. g. opener-upper ‘the first item on the programme’ and winder-upper ‘the last item’. It also possesses some specific affixes and semi-affixes not used in literary colloquial: -o, -eroo, -aroo, -sie, -sy, as in coppo ‘policeman’, fatso ‘a fat man’, bossaroo ‘boss’, chapsie ‘fellow’.
The trend to shorten words and to use initial abbreviations in American English is even more pronounced than in the British variant. New coinages are incessantly introduced in advertisements, in the press, in everyday conversation; soon they fade out and are replaced by the newest creations. Ring Lardner, very popular in the 30s, makes one of his characters, a hospital nurse, repeatedly use two enigmatic abbreviations: G.F. and B.F.; at last the patient asks her to clear the mystery.
“What about Roy Stewart?” asked the man in bed.
“Oh, he’s the fella I was telling you about,” said Miss Lyons. “He’s my G.F.’s B.F.”
“Maybe I’m a D.F. not to know, but would you tell me what a B.F. and G.F. are?”
“Well, you are dumb, aren’t you!” said Miss Lyons. “A G.F. that’s a girl friend, and a B.F. is a boy friend. I thought everybody knew that.”
The phrases boy friend and girl friend, now widely used everywhere, originated in the USA. So it is an Americanism in the wider meaning of the term, i.e. an Americanism “by right of birth", whereas in the above definition we have defined Americanisms synchronically as lexical units peculiar to the English language as spoken in the USA.
Particularly common in American English are verbs with the hanging postpositive. They say that in Hollywood you never meet a man: you meet up with him, you do not study a subject but study up on it. In British English similar constructions serve to add a new meaning.
With words possessing several structural variants it may happen that some are more frequent in one country and the others in another. Thus, amid and toward, for example, are more often used in the United States and amidst and towards in Great Britain.
The lexical peculiarities of American English are an easy target for ironical outbursts on the part of some writers. John Updike is mildly humorous. His short poem “Philological” runs as follows:
The British puss demurely mews;
His transatlantic kin meow,
The kine in Minnesota moo;
Not so the gentle Devon cows:
As every schoolchild ought to know.
A well-known humourist G. Mikes goes as far as to say: “It was decided almost two hundred years ago that English should be the language spoken in the United States. It is not known, however, why this decision has not been carried out.” In his book “How to Scrape Skies” he gives numerous examples to illustrate this proposition: “You must be extremely careful concerning the names of certain articles. If you ask for suspenders in a man’s shop, you receive a pair of braces, if you ask for a pair of pants, you receive a pair of trousers, and should you ask for a pair of braces, you receive a queer look.
I should like to mention that although a lift is called an elevator in the United States, when hitch-hiking, you do not ask for an elevator, you ask for a lift.
There is some confusion about the word flat. A flat in America is called an apartment; what they call a flat is a puncture in your tyre (or as they spell it, tire). Consequently the notice: FLATS FIXED does not indicate an estate agent where they are going to fix you up with a flat, but a garage where they are equipped to mend a puncture.”
Disputing the common statement that there is no such thing as the American nation, he says: “They do indeed exist. They have produced the American constitution, the American way of life, the comic strips in their newspapers: they have their national game, baseball — which is cricket played with a strong American accent — and they have a national language, entirely their own, unlike any other language.”
This is of course an exaggeration, but a very significant one. It confirms the fact that there is a difference between the two variants to be reckoned with. Although not sufficiently great to warrant American English the status of an independent language, it is considerable enough to make a mixture of variants sound unnatural and be called Mid-Atlantic. Students of English should be warned against this danger.
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