5 differences between American and British English.
We can share a language, but there is nothing similar when it comes to listening to someone from the United States speak to someone from the United Kingdom. Everything from putting a z everywhere to words that are spelled the same way but sound completely different when you say them – there’s a whole ocean of linguistic differences between the world’s two main English-speaking players.
If you are learning English at a British Academy and you want to know what makes your accent different from that of your friend learning at a North American academy, this is what you need to know.
Differences between American and British English
# 1 American English is older than British
This is not something you should say to a British person, as England is the country that gave birth to the United States as we know it today, but this fact is true. When the first settlers sailed from England to America, they took the common language at that time, which was based on something called erotic speech (when the r sound is pronounced in a word). Meanwhile, back in the wealthy southern cities of the UK, people from the new upper classes wanted a way to distinguish themselves from everyone else, so they began to change their rhythmic speech to a soft sound, saying words like Winter. “Win-tuh” instead of “win-terr”. Of course, these people were classy and everyone wanted to copy them, so this new way of speaking, what the British now know as Received Pronunciation, spread throughout the rest of southern England. It also explains why many places outside of southern England still have a rhythmic pronunciation as part of their regional accents. Basically, if you speak English from London, you look more elegant.
# 2 British English is more like French
French has influenced English in many ways. The first time was when William the Conqueror invaded Britain in the 11th century, bringing Norman French with him and making it the most widely used language in schools, courts, universities, and the upper classes. It did not remain but evolved into Middle English, which was a mixture of all the linguistic influences of the time. The second time was during the 1700s when it became fashionable in the UK to use French-style words and spellings. Of course, Americans were already living their lives in the Atlantic and were not taking part in this trend at all. This is the reason why British English has more linguistic similarities to French than to American, and it also explains the obsession with croissants.
# 3 The American spelling was invented as a form of protest.
The American and British dictionaries are very different in that they were compiled by two very different authors with two very different perspectives on the language – the UK dictionary was compiled by academics in London (not Oxford, for some reason) who just wanted to collect English words, while the American one was done by a lexicographer named Noah Webster. Webster wanted the spelling of the United States to be not only more direct but also different from the spelling of the United Kingdom, as a way for the United States to show its independence from the former British government. He removed the letter u from words like “color” and “honor” (which had developed out of French influence in England). Did the same with words ending in -ise to turn them into -ize, because he thought the spelling of American English should reflect the way it was said. Also, z is a much cooler letter to write.
# 4 American English likes to cut words
Sometimes there are differences in American English that don’t make sense to British English speakers, such as when Americans remove entire verbs from a sentence.
When an American person tells someone they are going to write them a letter, they say “I’ll write them.” When you ask an American if he wants to go shopping, he can say “I could.”
In the UK these responses would sound really weird as they would say “I’ll write to you” and “I could go “.
Removing the verb could be because Americans want to say things faster, or perhaps because the British like to explain exactly what they are saying. There’s no one here, but if we were to declare a winner, it would be British English, because frankly, the American way doesn’t make sense.
# 5 The two types of English have borrowed words from different languages.
It is clear that British and American English have evolved differently when considering the cultural influences that have affected each independently and how words have been borrowed from those languages.
For some reason, this is very common with the words for food: examples include coriander “cilantro” (British, derived from French) and coriander (American, derived from Spanish). And aubergine “aubergine” (British, derived from Arabic) and eggplant “aubergine” (American, so-called because it looks like a purple egg).
There are many more examples, but the most important thing to remember is to do well in the country where you are studying. After all, you don’t want to ask the British for some tin foil and pronounce it aloo-minnum .