Main lexical and grammatical divergences of the British and American variants

Written and spoken forms of British and American English. Main lexical and grammatical divergences. The differences in lexis or vocabulary between British and American English. Words and phrases with different meanings. Social and cultural differences.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
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Язык английский
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Lesya Ukrainka Eastern European National University

Institute of Foreign Philology Applied Linguistics

Report on the course

English lexicology

Main lexical and grammatical divergences of the British and American variants

Olha Artyshchuk

Lutsk 2013

Introductory

British English is the form of English used in the United Kingdom. It includes all English dialects used in the United Kingdom.

American English is the form of English used in the United States. It includes all English dialects used in the United States.

Written forms of British and American English as found in newspapers and textbooks vary little in their essential features, with only occasional noticeable differences in comparable media. This kind of formal English, particularly written English, is often called "standard English".

The spoken forms of British English vary considerably, reflecting a long history of dialect development amid isolated populations. In the United Kingdom, dialects, word use and accents vary not only between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but also within them. Pronunciation refers to a way of pronouncing Standard English that is actually used by about two percent of the UK population. It remains the accent upon which dictionary pronunciation guides are based, and for teaching English as a foreign language. It is referred to colloquially as "the Queen's English", "Oxford English" and "BBC English.

An unofficial standard for spoken American English has also developed, as a result of mass media and geographic and social mobility, and broadly describes the English typically heard from network newscasters, commonly referred to as non-regional diction, although local newscasters tend toward more parochial forms of speech. Despite this unofficial standard, regional variations of American English have not only persisted but have actually intensified.

The English language was first introduced to the Americas by British colonization, beginning in 1607. Then the language spread to numerous other parts of the world as a result of British trade and colonization elsewhere.

Over the past 400 years the form of the language used in the Americas--especially in the United States--and that used in the United Kingdom have diverged in a few minor ways, leading to the versions now occasionally referred to as American English and British English. Differences between the two include pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, idioms, formatting of dates and numbers, although the differences in written and most spoken grammar structure tend to be much less than those of other aspects of the language in terms of mutual intelligibility. A small number of words have completely different meanings in the two versions or are even unknown or not used in one of the versions.

1. Main grammatical divergences

1.1 Nouns

In British English (BrE), collective nouns can take either singular (formal agreement) or plural (notional agreement) verb forms, according to whether the emphasis is on the body as a whole or on the individual members respectively. The term the Government always takes a plural verb in British civil service convention, perhaps to emphasize the principle of cabinet collective responsibility. Compare also the following lines of Elvis Costello's song "Oliver's Army": Oliver's Army are on their way / Oliver's Army is here to stay.

Some of these nouns, for example staff, actually combine with plural verbs most of the time.

In American English (AmE), collective nouns are almost always singular in construction: the committee was unable to agree.

However, when a speaker wishes to emphasize that the individuals are acting separately, a plural pronoun may be employed with a singular or plural verb: the team takes their seats, rather than the team takes its seats. However, such a sentence would most likely be recast as the team members take their seats.

The difference occurs for all nouns of multitude, both general terms such as team and company and proper nouns (for example where a place name is used to refer to a sports team). For instance:

BrE: The Clash are a well-known band;

AmE: The Clash is a well-known band.

BrE: Spain are the champions;

AmE: Spain is the champion.

1.2 Verbs

The differences in using verbs in BrE andAmE are as follows:

-The past tense and past participle of the verbs learn, spoil, spell, burn, dream, smell, spill, leap, and others, can be either irregular (learnt, spoilt, etc.) or regular (learned, spoiled, etc.). In BrE, both irregular and regular forms are current, but for some words (such as smelt and leapt) there is a strong tendency towards the irregular forms, especially by users of Received Pronunciation. For other words (such as dreamed, leaned, and learned) the regular forms are somewhat more common. In most accents of AmE, the irregular forms are never or rarely used (except for burnt, leapt and dreamt).

-Lit as the past tense of light is more common than lighted in the UK; American English uses lit to mean "set afire" / "kindled" / "made to emit light" but lighted to mean "cast light upon" (e.g., "The stagehand lighted the set and then lit a cigarette.").

-The past participle of saw is normally sawn in BrE and sawed in AmE (as in sawn-off/sawed-off shotgun).

-The past participle gotten is never used in modern BrE, which generally uses got, except in old expressions such as ill-gotten gains. According to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, "The form gotten is not used in British English but is very common in North American English." The American dictionary Merriam-Webster, however, lists "gotten" as a standard past participle of "get." In AmE gotten emphasizes the action of acquiring and got tends to indicate simple possession (for example, Have you gotten it? versus Have you got it?). Gotten is also typically used in AmE as the past participle for phrasal verbs using get, such as get off, get on, get into, get up, and get around: If you hadn't gotten up so late, you might not have gotten into this mess. Interestingly, AmE, but not BrE, has forgot as a less common alternative to forgotten for the past participle of forget.

-AmE further allows other irregular verbs, such as dive (dove) or sneak (snuck), and often mixes the preterit and past participle forms (spring-sprang, US also spring-sprung), sometimes forcing verbs such as shrink (shrank-shrunk) to have a further form, thus shrunk-shrunken. These uses are often considered nonstandard; the AP Stylebook in AmE treats some irregular verbs as colloquialisms, insisting on the regular forms for the past tense of dive, plead and sneak. Dove and snuck are usually considered nonstandard in Britain, although dove exists in some British dialects and snuck is occasionally found in British speech.

-By extension of the irregular verb pattern, verbs with irregular preterits in some variants of colloquial AmE also have a separate past participle, for example, "to buy": past tense bought spawns boughten. Such formations are highly irregular from speaker to speaker, or even within idiolects. This phenomenon is found chiefly in the northern US and other areas where immigrants of German descent are predominant and may have developed as a result of German influence.[35] Even in areas where the feature predominates, however, it has not gained widespread acceptance as standard usage.

1.3 Tenses usage

Traditionally, BrE uses the present perfect to talk about an event in the recent past and with the words already, just and yet. In American usage these meanings can be expressed with the present perfect (to express a fact) or the simple past (to imply an expectation). This American style has become widespread only in the past 20 to 30 years; the British style is still in common use as well. Recently the American use of just with simple past has made inroads into BrE, most visibly in advertising slogans and headlines such as "Cable broadband just got faster".

"I have just arrived home." / "I just arrived home."

"I have already eaten." / "I already ate."

-Similarly AmE occasionally replaces the past perfect with the simple past.

In BrE, have got or have can be used for possession and have got to and have to can be used for the modal of necessity. The forms that include got are usually used in informal contexts and the forms without got in contexts that are more formal. In American speech the form without got is used more than in the UK, although the form with got is often used for emphasis. Colloquial AmE informally uses got as a verb for these meanings--for example: I got two cars, I got to go.

-In conditional sentences, US spoken usage often substitutes would and would have for the simple past and for the pluperfect (If you'd leave now, you'd be on time. / If I would have cooked the pie we could have had it for lunch). This tends to be avoided in writing because it is often still considered non-standard although such use of would is widespread in spoken US English in all sectors of society. Some reliable sources now label this usage as acceptable US English and no longer label it as colloquial.

-The subjunctive mood is regularly used in AmE in man dative clauses (as in They suggested that he apply for the job). In BrE, this usage declined in the 20th century in favor of constructions such as: They suggested that he should apply for the job. However, the man dative subjunctive has always been used in BrE.

1.4 Transitivity

The following verbs show differences in transitivity between BrE and AmE:

agree: Transitive or intransitive in BrE, usually intransitive in AmE (agree a contract/agree to or on a contract). However, in formal AmE legal writing one often sees constructions such as as may be agreed between the parties (rather than as may be agreed upon between the parties).

appeal (as a decision): Usually intransitive in BrE (used with against) and transitive in AmE (appeal against the decision to the Court/appeal the decision to the Court).

catch up ("to reach and overtake"): Transitive or intransitive in BrE, strictly intransitive in AmE (to catch somebody up/to catch up with somebody). A transitive form exists in AmE, with a different meaning: to catch somebody up means that the subject will help the object catch up, rather the opposite of the BrE transitive meaning.

cater ("to provide food and service"): Intransitive in BrE, transitive or intransitive in AmE (to cater for a banquet/to cater a banquet).

claim: Sometimes intransitive in BrE (used with for), strictly transitive in AmE.

meet: AmE uses intransitively meet followed by with to mean "to have a meeting with", as for business purposes (Yesterday we met with the CEO), and reserves transitive meet for the meanings "to be introduced to" (I want you to meet the CEO; she is such a fine lady), "to come together with (someone, somewhere)" (Meet the CEO at the train station), and "to have a casual encounter with". BrE uses transitive meet also to mean "to have a meeting with"; the construction meet with, which actually dates back to Middle English, appears to be coming back into use in Britain, despite some commentators who preferred to avoid confusion with meet with meaning "receive, undergo" (the proposal was met with disapproval). The construction meet up with (as in to meet up with someone), which originated in the US, has long been standard in both dialects.

provide: Strictly monotransitive in BrE, monotransitive or ditransitive in AmE (provide somebody with something/provide somebody something).

protest: In sense "oppose", intransitive in BrE, transitive in AmE (The workers protested against the decision/The workers protested the decision). The intransitive protest against in AmE means "to hold or participate in a demonstration against". The older sense "proclaim" is always transitive (protest one's innocence).

write: In BrE, the indirect object of this verb usually requires the preposition to, for example, I'll write to my MP or I'll write to her (although it is not required in some situations, for example when an indirect object pronoun comes before a direct object noun, for example, I'll write her a letter). In AmE, write can be used monotransitively (I'll write my congressman; I'll write him).

2. Main lexical divergences

2.1 Introductory remarks

Most of the differences in lexis or vocabulary between British and American English are in connection with concepts originating from the 19th century to the mid 20th century, when new words were coined independently. Other sources of difference are slang or vulgar terms (where frequent new coinage occurs) and idiomatic phrases, including phrasal verbs. The differences most likely to create confusion are those where the same word or phrase is used for two different concepts. Regional variations, even within the US or the UK, can create the same problems. From mid 20th century, movies and television have spread new words in both countries, usually from US to UK.

The influence of cross-culture media has done much to familiarize BrE and AmE speakers with each other's regional words and terms, many words are still recognized as part of a single form of English. Though the use of a British word would be acceptable in AmE (and vice versa), most listeners would recognize the word as coming from the other form of English and treat it much the same as a word borrowed from any other language.

Most speakers of AmE are aware of some BrE terms, although they may not generally use them or may be confused as to whether someone intends the American or British meaning (such as for biscuit). It is generally very easy to guess what some words, such as "driving licence", mean. However, use of many other British words such as naff (slang but commonly used to mean "not very good") are unheard of in American English.

Speakers of BrE are likely to understand most common AmE terms, examples such as "sidewalk", "gas (gasoline/petrol)", "counterclockwise" or "elevator (lift)", without any problem, thanks in part to considerable exposure to American popular culture and literature. Certain terms that are heard less frequently, especially those likely to be absent or rare in American popular culture, e.g. "copacetic (satisfactory)", are unlikely to be understood by most BrE speakers.

2.2 Words and phrases with different meanings

Words such as bill and biscuit are used regularly in both AmE and BrE but mean different things in each form. In AmE a bill is usually paper money (as in "dollar bill") though it can mean the same as in BrE, an invoice (as in "the repair bill was Ј250"). In AmE a biscuit is what in BrE is called a scone. In BrE a biscuit is what AmE calls a cookie. The opposite meanings of the verb

to table can created a misunderstanding during a meeting. In BrE to table an item on an agenda means to open it up for discussion whereas in AmE, it means to remove it from discussion, or at times, to suspend or delay discussion.

The word football in BrE refers to Association football, also known as soccer. In AmE, football means American football. However, the standard AmE term soccer, a contraction of "association (football)", is also of British origin, derived from the formalization of different codes of football in the 19th century, and was a fairly unremarkable usage in BrE until relatively recently; it has lately become perceived incorrectly as an Americanism.

Similarly, the word hockey in BrE refers to field hockey and in AmE, hockey means ice hockey.

Words with completely different meanings are relatively few; most of the time there are either words with one or more shared meanings and one or more meanings unique to one variety (for example, bathroom and toilet) or words the meanings of which are actually common to both BrE and AmE but that show differences in frequency, connotation or denotation (for example, smart, clever, mad).

Some differences in usage and meaning can cause confusion or embarrassment. For example the word fanny is a slang word for vulva in BrE but means buttocks in AmE--the AmE phrase fanny pack is bum bag in BrE. In AmE the word fag (short for faggot) is a highly offensive term for a gay male but in BrE it is a normal and well-used term for a cigarette, for hard work, or for a chore, while a faggot itself is a sort of meatball. In AmE the word pissed means being annoyed whereas in BrE it is a coarse word for being drunk.

Similarly, in AmE the word pants is the common word for the BrE trousers, while the majority of BrE speakers would understand pants to mean underwear. Many dialects in the North of England agree with the AmE usage and use pants to refer to trousers; this is often incorrectly considered an Americanism by people from elsewhere in Britain. The word pants is a shortening of the archaic pantaloons, which shares the same source as the French for trousers, pantalon.

Sometimes the confusion is more subtle. In AmE the word quite used as a qualifier is generally a reinforcement: for example, "I'm quite hungry" means "I'm very hungry". In BrE quite (which is much more common in conversation) may have this meaning, as in "quite right" or "quite mad", but it more commonly means "somewhat", so that in BrE "I'm quite hungry" can mean "I'm somewhat hungry". This divergence of use can lead to misunderstanding.

2.3 Social and cultural differences

british american lexical grammatical

A lot of divergences between BrE and AmE are because of differences of culture, traditions and lifestyle. We can see a lot of examples of such differences in every part oh humans' life.

For example:

Clothes:

British English

American English

Trousers

Pants

Pants / Underwear / Knickers

Underwear / panties

Jumper / Pullover / Sweater

Sweater

Pinafore Dress

Jumper

Vest

Undershirt

Waistcoat

Vest

Wellington Boots

Galoshes

Studying:

British English

American English

Mate

Friend

Glue

Gum

Rubber

Eraser

School dinner

Hot Lunch

Public School

Private School

State School

Public School

Holiday

Vacation

Staff Room

Teachers Lounge

Play Time / Break Time

Recess

On the road:

British English

American English

Sleeping Policeman

Speed bump

Car Journey / drive

Road Trip

Zebra Crossing / Pedestrian Crossing

Cross Walk

Lorry

Truck

Motorway

Freeway

Petrol

Gas / Gasoline

Pavement

Sidewalk

Petrol Station

Gas Station

Skip

Dumpster

Buildings:

British English

American English

Semi-Detached House

Duplex

Flat

Apartment

Terrace

Town House

Chemist

Drug Store / Druggist

Cafe

Diner

Bungalow

Ranch House

Food:

British English

American English

Biscuit

Cookie

Take-away

Take out

Scone

Biscuit

Fairy Cake

Cup Cake

Eggy bread

French Toast

Sweets

Candy

Banger

Sausage

Crisps

Chips

Starter

Appetizer

Jam

Jelly

Grill

Broil

In and around the house:

British English

American English

The Toilet / Loo / The John / Bog / WC / Visiting the little boys (little girl's room)

Bathroom / Restroom

Wardrobe

Closet

Hand Basin

Sink

Tap

Faucet

Garden

Backyard / Yard

Run the bath

Fill the tub

Bin / Dut Bin

Trash Can

Conclusion

All in all, British English and American English differ both in their grammar and vocabulary. This is because of some historical events, geographical location of two countries, different culture and traditions of people who live there. Sometimes the differences may even create misunderstandings while same word or phrase is used for two different concepts in British and American English. But still most speakers of AmE or BE are aware of this differences and can easily understand them, but they may not generally use them or may be confused as to whether someone intends the American or British meaning.

Sources

1. Algeo, John (2006). British or American English?. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-37993-8.

2. Hargraves, Orin (2003). Mighty Fine Words and Smashing Expressions. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515704-4

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