Friday, March 19, 2010

Yank or Brit?

I subscribe to, and receive a daily email from, A Word A Day. It is always nice to start the day with a thought or two about a word or two. I also subscribe to Word Of The day from Oxford.

Recently, in A Word A Day, Anu Garg wrote an interesting piece regarding American English and British English.

with Anu Garg

"Recently I visited London to attend a wedding. The bride had graduated from Oxford, and among the invitees were some of her fellow graduates and a professor. During the long ceremony, we intermittently chatted about London weather, Gordon Brown, Queen Lizzie, and language.

"Among other things, we talked about the differences between British and American English. I recalled reading about the inroads American English is making even in the UK, so I decided to carry out an experiment to find to what extent American English had "corrupted" English English.

"I told them that sometimes the British write certain numerals (e.g. 1 and 7) differently from how they're written in the US, and asked them to write a short sentence so I could see if there were other differences in the script.

"I quickly thought of a sentence for them to write:

'Her favorite flavors were in the gray catalog, she realized.'

"I said it aloud and the five Oxonians and the Oxford don kindly wrote it down on their napkins (serviettes). I collected the napkins and then told them about the experiment -- it had nothing to do with handwriting. In reality, that sentence had five words that could be written with American or British spellings (favorite/favourite, flavor/flavour, gray/grey, catalog/catalogue realize/realise).

"Of the six people who participated in the experiment, three spelled (spelt) everything the British way. The other three had one or more words spelled in American English.

"What does this experiment prove? Not much, according to my 12-year-old daughter, "Your sample size is too small."

"Language, by its very definition, is a vehicle of exchange. A language means nothing in a vacuum. When two people share, they give and take, though the movement is not always equal in both directions. The US export of movies, television, music, books, technology, etc. includes something that travels under the radar: Language.

"Will American English take over the other Englishes? Probably not. Will the English language diverge into distinct languages just as Latin turned into French, Spanish, Italian, and other languages?"

I sure hope not.

I just noticed something else. After I typed the paragraph listing the five words that are different in American English from British English, the five British words had an evil-looking red line underneath. Oh well...

1 comment:

  1. Yank or Brit? How 'bout yer next door neighbour?
    As with most Canadians i think we often defer our spelling and even speak American if we know the receiver is American....we try real hard not to say eh, really we do!

    I switched to American spelling at least once tonight either in my response on your blog or in Erbunz' blog but forget what word or words.

    Love words but only have grade 8 education. I generally would have changed that statement by saying 8th grade but i think i'll stick with my Canuckityness and any unknown Canuckisms.

    I'm enjoying your blog very much so far, then back to read more of Erbunz. Meeting the most interesting people tonight!