"England and America are two countries separated by a common language."
(George Bernard Shaw, Irish writer - 1856-1950)
English is spoken differently on both sides of the Atlantic. Over the years, the differences between British and American English have given rise to much heated debate and discussion. Modern British English is heavily influencedby American English, so some contrasts are disappearing. Pronunciation is sometimes very different, but most American and British speakers can understand each other easily. Before we take a look at some of the differences between the two main types of English, we stress that these differences are somewhat minor and with the ongoing internationalization of our modern world they could even said tobe diminishing.
During much of the nineteenth century, some English people held the view that the Americans were "defiling" or "corrupting" the mother tongue. If we understand "defiling" and "corrupting" to mean "changing", then those English purists were indeed right. However, they failed to understand thatchange is the inevitable destination of all living languages.
Still, theirreaction seems understandable. Perhaps the proud citizens of the mother country thought of themselves as the "guardians" of the English Language. But even the "guardians" themselves weren't immune to attacks from their "Yankee"* brothers. The American statesman John Hays, for example, openly criticized British English as affected and pompous, while he praised American speech as incisive andstraightfoward.
Even nowadays you'll still hear people comparing British and American English and discussing which is "the best kind of English". Such discussions, however ultimately reveal nothing more than one's personal preferences. To argue that any variety of English is superior to another is like saying that roast beef is tastier than fried chicken.
There are some authors, for example, whosupports that the American Version of spoken English is becoming more and more dominant for several reasons. An example to show why American English has a stronger impact on British English than vice versa: when you go to UK and switch on the TV you will see a lot of American shows and movies which, of course, are shown in the original, American version. Thus, especially young people watching TVwill learn a lot of american vocabulary and phrases which they easily internalize and use as their own. It follows, modern British English is much more likely to be influenced by American English than the other way round because when you live in the US and watch TV you rarely will see a British show or film.
Today, English has become a lingua franca** spoken with many accents by many peoplethrougout the world. In view of this English-speaking cultural diversity, the idea that British English is the "best kind of English" is clearly an outdated notion. British English is simply one of the many unique varieties of English that now exist. Besides, the few differences that exists between British and American English tend rather to enrich communication than slow it down.
Before wedeal with the subject of British English in detail, let's first clarify the term British English. For our purposes, we're going to use the term British English to refer only to the English spoken in England. Such a distinction is necessary for the simple reason that the term British English can be misleading. It could be understood as a generic term for all or any of the varieties of English spokenin the British Isles (see the map below) wich consist of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
The idea that these countries form a homogeneous culture or linguistic group is erroneous. The Irish, Scots or Welsh would probably take offense at being called English. Unlike England, most of whose inahbitants are of Anglo-Saxon origin, the populations of Ireland, Scotland and Wales are of...