Two Kinds of English

Most of us are familiar with the song lyrics “You say poTAYto and I say poTAHto, You say toMAYto and I say toMAHto - Two Kinds of English introduction. ” These lyrics exemplify one of the differences between American and British English, the two most widely spoken varieties of global English. Despite the seemingly endless number of similarities between the two, significant differences between American English and British English in three specific linguistic areas make each one quite distinct from the other. Pronunciation is perhaps the first difference that people notice between American and British English.

Some individual sounds are consistently different. For example, poTAYto in American English comes out as poTAHto in British English. WateR in American English is pronounced as wateH in British English. TUna in American English comes out as TYUna in British English. Furthermore, certain whole words are pronounced quite differently. Schedule is pronounced with a “k” sound in American English but with a “sh” sound, as shedule, in British English. The stress in the word aluminum in American English is on the second syllable, so it is pronounced aLUminum by Americans.

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Stress in this same word in British English is on the third syllable, so British English speakers pronounce it aluMInum. These pronunciation differences, though noticeable, do not impede real communication. In addition, neither American English nor British English has a better pronunciation than the other; they are simply different. A second difference is in spelling. One example of this is the spelling of the vowels preceding the letter r in certain words. Americans write color and endeavor. In British English, however, these same words would be written coloUr and endeavoUr.

Another obvious spelling difference is the final syllable of words that finish in –er in American English and –re in British English. Examples of this include centER in American English with centRE in British English. Another common example is theatER versus theatRE. Finally, perhaps the most striking difference between American and British English is vocabulary. For whatever reason, people tend to notice vocabulary much more than they do pronunciation or spelling. Some words exist in American English but not in British English, and vice versa.

For example, traffic circle and windshield are American English words while mackintosh (raincoat) and queue (a line of people) are British English words. In addition, there are words that exist in both varieties of English, but they have totally different meanings. For example, in British English biscuits are sweet (American English translation: cookies), but biscuits in American English are small, salty rounds of bread. In British English, a bonnet is the trunk of a car, while in American English, a bonnet is a kind of women’s hat.

All languages have local dialects or regional variations, but for historical, geographical, and perhaps political reasons, English has two influential varieties: American English and British English. These varieties are different, yet they are similar enough that the differences that do exist in pronunciation, spelling, and vocabulary rarely hinder communication. With modern technology making the world a better place, it is likely that these two varieties of English will gradually lose most of their unique characteristics and therefore become more similar.

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