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Is American English Going To Take Over British English Completely? (scroll.in) 526

Paul Baker, writing for The Conversation: Brits can get rather sniffy about the English language -- after all, they originated it. But a Google search of the word "Americanisms" turns up claims that they are swamping, killing and absorbing British English. If the British are not careful, so the argument goes, the homeland will soon be the 51st State as workers tell customers to "have a nice day" while "colour" will be spelt without a "u" and "pavements" will become "sidewalks." My research examined how both varieties of the language have been changing between the 1930s and the 2000s and the extent to which they are growing closer together or further apart. So do Brits have cause for concern? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, most of the easily noticeable features of British language are holding up. Take spelling, for example -- towards the 1960s it looked like the UK was going in the direction of abandoning the "u" in "colour" and writing "centre" as "center." But since then, the British have become more confident in some of their own spellings. In the 2000s, the UK used an American spelling choice about 11% of the time while Americans use a British one about 10% of the time, so it kind of evens out. Automatic spell-checkers which can be set to different national varieties are likely to play a part in keeping the two varieties fairly distinct. [...] But when we start thinking of language more in terms of style than vocabulary or spelling, a different picture emerges. Some of the bigger trends in American English are moving towards a more compact and informal use of language. American sentences are on average one word shorter in 2006 than they were in 1931. Americans also use a lot more apostrophes in their writing than they used to, which has the effect of turning the two words "do not" into the single "don't." They're getting rid of certain possessive structures, too -- so "the hand of the king" becomes the shorter "the king's hand." Another trend is to avoid passive structures such as "a paper was written," instead using the more active form, "I wrote a paper."
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Is American English Going To Take Over British English Completely?

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  • It already did (Score:4, Insightful)

    by aglider ( 2435074 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @11:22AM (#55554279) Homepage

    Didn't It?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    > Brits can get rather sniffy about the English language -- after all, they originated it.

    Old British english sounded closer to American english than modern British english.

    This is similar to the reason that Quebec is closer to old French than Parisian French.

    • The first time I heard someone from Belgique speak I thought most of it sounded more similar to Québécois than Parisian french.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      They both moved away from their common roots, but as is common (e.g. with Spanish) provincial speech retained a lot of archaisms as the language changed more rapidly in its ancestral land.

      The biggest diverging change in pronunciation for British English was that in the 1800s it became "non-rhotic". An aristocratic schoolboy affectation for dropping the "r" sound except before vowels spread through the population, much to the consternation of contemporary writers who compared the pronunciation of English y

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @11:25AM (#55554301)
    >> American English Going To Take Over British English Completely?

    Doubt it. Whatever's spoken in India will probably be the winner, and that's a mismash of British education, American use and Indian application (e.g., "do the needful").
    • Whatever's spoken in India will probably be the winner...

      More than any other language, that would be Hindi [wikipedia.org].

      • Er...that's the bit. Hindi language idioms are frequently being translated to English to create a new version of English that's neither UK or USA specific.
      • Hindi is just one of dozens of languages spoken in India. E.g. Gandhi's native language was Gujurati. I'm told that a fair number of people in the south never even learn to speak it. In the cities, in the offices and shops, English is what seems, AFAICT, to be spoken the most.

    • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @12:35PM (#55554945)

      That reminds me of a story from my time in grad school. We had these weekly seminars in my research group where we'd present papers from our field in a round robin fashion. One week, the paper being presented had a title that included "Get off of my cloud" (which was apparently a reference to a song none of us had ever heard of).

      An Indian student in the group voiced his annoyance at the use of the word "of" in the title, saying it was nonsensical and grammatically incorrect. Our Russian research advisor (who spoke English as well as any native speaker) was aware of the "of" usage, but didn't know if it was grammatically correct or not. Those of us from America all said that the usage was perfectly acceptable, no different than "get off of the bus" or the like, but we acknowledged it was a rather weird quirk of the English language and suggested that Indian English may have simply dropped it.

      But the original student was soon joined by the others from India and Bangladesh, all of whom insisted that the usage was patently incorrect, just as much as an American would agree that "get on of the bus" is patently incorrect. Eventually laptops were pulled out and Google was consulted for the answer. As it turned out, "off of" is an Americanism that none of us had been aware of, and in all other Commonwealth and former colonial territories "of" isn't used in that way.

      More broadly speaking, however, English is the lingua franca of the day, so it's a moving target. In just checking, it looks like macOS' baked-in localization has defined 135 variants of English, which is up substantially from just a few years ago. I expect, however, that with us increasingly communicating with people from around the world, English as a trend will converge on whatever's easiest, so that'd mean simpler spellings (e.g. "colour" -> "color"), the dropping of extra words (e.g. the aforementioned "of"), and a more widespread acceptance of oddball expressions (e.g. "do the needful") as people choose not to care about whether it's grammatically correct, so long as they can understand it.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @12:59PM (#55555161)

        An Americanism? Your (the whole group of you) google-fu was poor. "Get Off of My Cloud" is a song written by a British (English) band, The Rolling Stones -- specifically, the lyrics were by Mick Jagger, who was born in Kent and attended the London School of Economics.

        If it's an Americanism, it made it back to England some time before 1965.

        • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @01:33PM (#55555451)

          An Americanism? Your (the whole group of you) google-fu was poor. "Get Off of My Cloud" is a song written by a British (English) band, The Rolling Stones [...] If it's an Americanism, it made it back to England some time before 1965.

          I'm afraid you jumped to a conclusion.

          As I recall, we quickly figured out the link to The Rolling Stones in our Googling, but we also recognized that rock stars tend to be well-traveled—and thus poor indicators of regional usage—so we kept Googling to see where the usage was considered acceptable. Again, at that point we (the Americans in the room) were still trying to prove that it was Indian English that had dropped the usage, rather than that it was an Americanism. Nevertheless, the more we dug, the more we found that its acceptance was largely isolated to the US, though historically it may have been more widespread. From what we gathered, some Brits do use the term, but it's discouraged in many British English grammatical texts today and is considered by many to be just as grating as "on of" would be to an American.

        • And in that song, the line is phrased that way so it scans - poetic license. "Get off my cloud" would be more grammatical but wouldn't fit.

    • "do the needful" is one I've heard a few times though the most surprising was from someone in Texas!?!?!?


  • Where words have more specificity, use those that are more specific.

    For the summary's example of pavement versus sidewalk, pavement is less specific than sidewalk. Pavement refers to an improved surface and just as easily could mean a roadway, while sidewalk pretty specifically indicates an improved surface that is meant for pedestrians rather than vehicles.

    America still has regionalities itself though, it's not like it's one homogeneous language region. It'd be wicked pissah to spill your Moxie on the ho

    • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @11:37AM (#55554415) Homepage Journal

      I've found the language more-pleasant as I cease to end sentences in prepositions. Indeed, ending a sentence in a preposition is something up with which I will not put.

      • by TWX ( 665546 )

        Shouldn't you avoid the slang, "put up," entirely in this case? Even though there's a space in, "put up," it's essentially two words for one meaning. Splitting them in a sentence breaks the meaning.

        "Indeed, ending a sentence in a preposition is something I will not tolerate," makes more sense.

      • Says the man literally ending a sentence in "preposition".

    • by Tomahawk ( 1343 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @11:54AM (#55554599) Homepage

      Here, "pavement" means the path for pedestrians at the side of the road. "Pavement" is never used for a road surface. So, here, there is no ambiguity, and "pavement" is equally as specific as "sidewalk".

      • by TWX ( 665546 )

        And in the United States, basically any outdoor improved surface could be considered pavement. It is most commonly used for an asphalt-slurry mix road or street, but it can refer to a concrete sidewalk alongside a road or street, a concrete walking path not associated with a vehicle thoroughfare, an asphalt-slurry walking path irrespective of a roadway, an improved-surface parking lot of any kind, and even special-purpose improved surfaces like basketball courts or tennis courts in municipal parks where th

        • The result of anything where the verb to pave applies for how the surface is improved is pavement.

          This forms the basis of a lot of Americanisms. The language based on Americanisms is less rich and relies more on words that sound like other words or words that describe distinct things by appearance or function. Take for example a "movie" as a way to describe moving pictures which in British English has the historically distinct word a "film". While you go to the "movies" to watch a "movie" in the UK you would watch a "film" in a "cinema".
          A "caravan" in America is called a "trailer", which is indistinct f

          • by starless ( 60879 )

            There's also no requirement in for a verb and noun to have the same spelling in the UK which leads to differences such as your "driver's license" and the UK's "driver's licence". The difference is that the government will "license" you by giving you a "licence", something that has no distinction in American English.

            I don't currently live there, but I believe it's still a "driving license".
            (Using the gerund, I think it is.)

      • Here, "pavement" means the path for pedestrians at the side of the road. "Pavement" is never used for a road surface. So, here, there is no ambiguity, and "pavement" is equally as specific as "sidewalk".

        Are your streets not paved there?

        • Are your streets not paved there?

          Why the assumption that pavement has something to do with being paved?
          Roads in the UK are paved and not called pavement.
          Pavements in the UK do not need to be paved, they can be asphalted or otherwise prepared.

    • For the summary's example of pavement versus sidewalk, pavement is less specific than sidewalk. Pavement refers to an improved surface and just as easily could mean a roadway, while sidewalk pretty specifically indicates an improved surface that is meant for pedestrians rather than vehicles.

      You fell into a classic language trap.

      "Pavement" only describes a surface in American English.

      In British English "Pavement" is always a paved or otherwise surfaced and prepared path (as distinct from just dirt) specifically separate for the road and specifically for the use of a pedestrian.

      You just assumed that there's different specificity because you assumed both words had the same meaning in both languages. That's still a fairly innocent mistake. Just don't forget that wearing thongs in public is perfect

  • or an Airport English, is the future.

    But why not return to the roots - the Latin language, Lingua Latina.
    • by Tomahawk ( 1343 )

      English has its roots in Greek and German too.

      • by Max_W ( 812974 )
        The alphabet of English is definitively Latin. The Ancient Greek alphabet, however, strongly influenced other languages, - the Cyrillic alphabets, for example.
        • The Latin alphabet is derived from the ancient Greek alphabet. The Cyrillic alphabet is also derived from Greek, but from a different and more recent version of it.

      • British English is almost as mongrel as the inhabitants - i think i read somewhere its got words from at least 29 other languages and shares something like 800 words with French
    • by Tomahawk ( 1343 )

      People generally don't like change, especially when it comes to their culture and traditions.

    • by yobjob ( 942868 )
      I teach English in Europe. They care about the distinction quite a lot more than native English speakers. Students actually specify British/American English when looking for a teacher. To them it's primarily a stylistic concern. They want to sound a particular way and live/work in different cultural spheres. Secondly, they don't cope with regional variations in pronunciation as well. We joke as Australians that we can't understand some accents. This is an even bigger deal for non native speakers. My partner
  • I haven't done it often but sometimes I type "defence" or insert unnecessary 'u's. Usually people don't even take the bait.

    I don't think they should really worry too much about the evolution of language though. Can we still understand each other? Are people saying or writing what comes naturally?

    Then I don't see a problem.

    • by Tomahawk ( 1343 )

      People are so used to seeing bad spelling online that it's likely nobody would react.

    • I haven't done it often but sometimes I type "defence" or insert unnecessary 'u's.

      I once had a Brit call me out on the fact that I used authorize and colour in the same sentence. Stupid part is that the -ize ending is the preferred Oxford spelling with -ise having strong roots in French words.

      The distinction is complex enough that I doubt you'll find anyone who can conclusively correctly spell every different word from both countries consistently.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    American English is the same English that was spoken in England in the 1700s. Modern UK English is the English that changed. They need to get over it and get back to their roots. ;)

    https://www.becomeenglishteachers.com/what-english-is-the-original-english-british-or-american/ [becomeengl...achers.com]

  • Culture is always evolving, and with the web and social media it's doing so faster than ever, and in an online melting pot. I find it odd that the summary is using the word "careful" as if this is a precarious situation. There isn't any real danger here. Sounds like an old man yelling at a cloud. I'm happy people are finding things in common and sharing from afar. We're all learning a lot from each other and trying things we never tried before. And it's ok.

  • I English lamb has alreadui changed, a ennas na- baw rinn-!

  • Maybe this is a grey area for some people, and colour me ignorant about what spelling they favour in the UK, but here in Canada, it'd take a lot more than US influence to get me to draft up my documents the lazy way. Is there a draught in here? Well... gotta keep ploughing away here at the data centre.

  • by MouseR ( 3264 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @11:44AM (#55554491) Homepage

    It's spelt "colour".

  • English rules the world at present, but not any particular flavour (I speak Canadian English which to me usually sounds poorly enunciated, which is why I love the Standard English of the UK... anybody who speaks English should be able to hear the words even if they haven't learned their meaning).

    I personally will argue with people over the pronunciation of 'z' (where I live, it's supposed to be zed, not zee), but that's more or less habit... language is living and what is 'correct' is whatever people are us

  • by Jason1729 ( 561790 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @11:47AM (#55554519)

    Another trend is to avoid passive structures such as "a paper was written," instead using the more active form, "I wrote a paper."

    Hillary is very fond of saying "Mistakes were made" but she has never once said "I made a mistake."

  • by Tomahawk ( 1343 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @11:49AM (#55554539) Homepage

    With the amount of US TV programmes aired on this side of the Atlantic, it's getting harder and harder to differentiate between the too, mainly because of the amount of American English that has crept in to daily use. And, of course, the ubiquitous use of the Internet, where everything blends.

    I sometimes find myself debating with myself what the correct term is for various items. I'm probably one of the few that doesn't talk about 'cupcakes' (preferring Queen cake), or who might only use 'cupcakes' for the variation that has more icing that cake. I find myself using 'throttle' instead of 'accelerator', although I never use 'gas pedal'. By others, 'Sidewalk' (over pavement or path) is become more and more used, and I'd suggest that Kelly Clarkson has something to do with this (Because of You).

    Spelling gets harder too. Some words, like colour and centre (and the other -our and -re words), are fine, probably because we are more aware of these being 'wrong' on your side of the Atlantic. :P But words ending in -ize or -ise can start to get confusing. Spelling-wise, these would be the spellings I debate with myself more. Spell checkers don't always help unless you can be assured that you have the correct version of English installed -- some apps don't have British English, opting for only American English. So when you see something underlined in red, you tend to stop and think to yourself "I'm I wrong or is the computer?", and more often than it should be, it's the computer.

    And looking up words online generally means finding the US English version of the word.

    So, yeah, they are blending a lot, and there isn't much can be done about it. Thankfully kids here still say "zed" at the end of the alphabet, but I fear that'll change in the near future. "Trick or Treat" has also become prevalent here with kids going door to door for Hallowe'en - that's only in the last 20 years or so.

    • But words ending in -ize or -ise can start to get confusing. Spelling-wise, these would be the spellings I debate with myself more.

      According to my decades-old Oxford English Dictionary, typically both endings are acceptable, with the "-ize" ending preferred.

      So the ise/ize endings are an example where British English has diverged from American English in recent times.

    • by yobjob ( 942868 )
      A funny thing in Australia is people will express revulsion at Americanisms, yet those same American words are incorporated into daily expressions. Cookie instead of biscuit is bad. Yet it's perfectly normal to call a strong person a "tough cookie." Another Americanism that wormed its way in is "cheers" to toast drinks. Maybe solely attributable to the television show of the same name.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      The -ize spelling is the correct British spelling. It's actually called the Oxford spelling as it is used by the Oxford Dictionary. I prefer it, personally. Spell checkers are a bugger for it, hardly any support British spelling properly with both -ize and -our/-re words.

      I've never heard anyone in the UK say sidewalk. But really these things are pretty common for us in the UK, along with US cars getting really bad MPG ratings because a US gallon is smaller than ours. We also import quite a lot of French wor

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The future of English will probably be more different from current forms than American and British English are from each other today. Language change is as inevitable as the tide.

    What *is* irritating when people accuse others of using Americanisms when they're actually UK dialectal terms that just happen to be the same as the standard American usage. E.g. "pants" for trousers in Lancashire, "mom" instead of "mum" in Birmingham/West Midlands.

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @12:05PM (#55554687)

    Globally, English in general is dominant because of previous colonial activities by the British Empire and the prevalence of American entertainment and Internet properties. Having most of the Internet Anglo-centric is a big driver...most online discussions are in English unless it's very region-specific. Software development is a kind-of-English activity for the most part...even if someone isn't a native speaker, they're usually communicating with colleagues in English.

    What remains to be seen is whether the US will continue dominating global politics, culture and the Internet. China and India have over a billion people. I do think that as these societies mature, they present a pretty big challenge to English as the dominant language. India has an official language of English but that doesn't mean most of the population speaks it natively or is even bilingual. I think that a combination of the US and UK becoming more insular and the rise of China as a world power will shift the balance...not right away but slowly. One thing China has that the US/UK doesn't, for better or worse, is a semi-authoritarian government. They can basically make whatever they need to happen, happen -- look at how much money they threw into infrastructure to blunt the force of the 2008 financial crisis. Their current plan seems to be reaching out to developing countries in sort of a soft colonialism, doing infrastructure projects and other activities to gain influence. If these activities bring the language along with them, then I could definitely see the balance tipping away from English somewhat.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      I've noticed that Japanese engineers usually prefer datasheets to be in English. One of the reasons is that datasheets use a lot of English jargon that has come to be well understood by engineers, and there are not similar standard phrases in Japanese versions.

      On the other hand the Chinese seem to prefer Chinese datasheets. I often refer to them even when there is an English version, because the English translation doesn't seem to get checked with the same level of care and sometimes misses stuff out. I bou

  • Why would anyone care if a word is spelt with or without a "u" and in what order "r" and "e" are in? I'm an American and I couldn't care less if everyone started writing "colour" and "centre". I'm positive I'd feel the same way if I were British and everyone started writing "color" and "center". Are people actually getting paid real money to research this crap? Where do I sign up?
  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @12:07PM (#55554707)
    is Business English. Business English is the international language of commerce. It is used in offices around the world for business transactions. When I visited Europe for business, when I was in offices, the language spoken was business English, rgardless of the native tongue of the people in the office.

    So perhaps the question should be - is Business English taking over American English and British English? With the corollary - is Business English closer to British English or American English?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Crackerjack ( 15884 )

      ... and as a close relative, Technical English or Scientific English. Whether it's engineering documents, computer software, or publications in scientific journals, these closely-related dialects are what people turn to when trying to share their work with the world.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @12:08PM (#55554717) Journal
    Meanwhile the American English is being taken over by Indian English. Soon Indians who came years back will do the needful to discuss about small small things wrong in their language. Soon Americans "will go out of station" and prepone their vacation. Do one thing, please look it up and kindly revert.

    But the more educated of the Indian immigrants were brought up on a steady diet of Wren and Martin, which even the Brits will recoil in horror when the see it.

    Suppose if these Wren and Martin crowd gets going, English willl go back to 1900s.

    • Behold! Wren and Martin! [mockbank.com] Now you know why Brits ran away from India in 1947.
      • A random sample from Wren and Martin, style suggestions for informal communications:

        [Informal note of invitation.]
        12 Alwarpet
        22 November
        Dear Pramila,
        Will you give me the pleasure of your company at di
        nner on Sunday, the 27th at 8
        Yours sincerely,
        V. Saroja
        [Informal note of acceptance.]
        Poes Garden
        23 November
        My dear Saroja,
        I shall be pleased to be with you at dinner on Sund
        ay, the 27th. Thanks a lot for your
        Yours sincerely,
        S. Pramila

  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @12:09PM (#55554723)
    Go to any of the regions and tha'll be in doubt that nowt threatens English. Even if we wears 'as pants instead of troiusers.
  • Different regions within countries speak quite differently. Homogenization comes from the cities, particularly as people move around, or one city interacts with another. This can happen across an ocean, but it won't be fast. Hearing different accents isn't enough -- if it was, Hollywood movies would have given everyone an American accent by now. People have to move from one place to another, and children have to be raised in areas where both dialects are common enough that they pick up some of each.

  • Canada too! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Vegan Cyclist ( 1650427 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @12:19PM (#55554803) Homepage

    Canada also traditionally uses British English as well; I'm almost 30yrs out of elementary school, are they still spelling colour with a 'u' in Canadian schools?

  • When I first moved to the USA, there were a number of British English words that were largely unknown in the USA. Now, they appear to be understood, if not in common use. For example: "loo".

  • Bollocks to you bloody bell-ends across the pond with your minging dialect! I wouldn't adam and eve'd it if I hadn't heard it!

  • Bollocks!

  • Ever try to understand Scottish English?

    Why are the British even complaining about Americanizations compared to that level of "creative interpretation"?

  • by pecosdave ( 536896 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @12:50PM (#55555079) Homepage Journal

    and I read a lot of British origin books, or American books that were well over 100 years old and still retained some of the across the pond ways of doing things. Then as I got older and the Internet became a thing I wound up on a lot of websites either from the U.K. or at least heavily frequented by residents. I may speak with a bit of a Texas drawl, but I often catch myself writing "grey" almost as default and occasionally "centre" on rare occasion I'll insert a u, but that's a rare one for me. The fact the spell checkers in Firefox in my Debian derivative Linux distros seems to default to British English and swaps back even after being corrected on occasion doesn't exactly keep me in American spelling land. I've never gotten into the different ways of describing car types and their parts, nor words like nappy instead of diaper, but whatever got embedded in my head from reading every single Sherlock Holmes story in the sixth grade, the Bastard Operator from Hell in the early 2000's, and countless other bits of literature are rather well cemented.

    Add in the touch of autism that I have that prevented me from realizing that having a larger than average vocabulary from where I grew up was why I got into so many fist fights - and it took one of the guys who was covered in bruises afterwards telling me why he started the fight for me to realize it - and I've had to commit myself to a mental game where I shut down my vocabulary with most company and only open up with a select group of geeks. I have found it's important not to let slip with British terms even when they're one of the few that I find I like better than our own in person. The Internet on the other hand doesn't seem to care with the exception of the occasional spelling or grammar Nazi, that deserves and gets ridicule in return.

  • ... the letter "u" is sad that it will be used so much less now that it can properly be removed from words such as labor and humor among many others....

  • Like how we park in a driveway and drive on a parkway?

  • It struck me that Americans speak English as if it were their second language. Of course, it is their only language, but their fluency, vocabulary, cultural references, idioms and figures of speech are those of a non-native speaker.

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @01:18PM (#55555345)

    Automatic spell-checkers which can be set to different national varieties are likely to play a part in keeping the two varieties fairly distinct.

    In the defense of writers they should just avoid the pretence of localized spellings and simply accept both spellings as valid for those cases where there's a British spelling; both flavours are legit, and they're both English.
    This is just a case where automatic spell-checkers are harmful.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 15, 2017 @02:00PM (#55555673)


Loose bits sink chips.