British and American English

The British and Americans All Speak English

by Anne Agard

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Sometimes it may seem that the British and the Americans are not speaking the same language. It is possible for an American tourist in London, or a British visitor to America, to become confused in a conversation when words and expressions are used differently. Also, communication can break down when two English speakers pronounce the words in different ways. But in spite of these difficulties, British and American English are one language.

First of all, it is important to understand that the biggest difference between British and American English is the pronunciation of the spoken language. An English speaker has only to say a word or two before listeners know, from his pronunciation, whether he is British or American. But it is often possible for an American to read a few pages of a book before noticing, from a few differences in spelling, grammar and word use, that the author of the book is British.

Second, although there are differences in vocabulary, expressions and word use, most English words are used by British and American speakers alike. Therefore, when communication between British and American speakers breaks down, it can quickly be repaired. One speaker says that she is confused and asks for an explanation, which the other speaker gives–all using vocabulary that both speakers understand.

British and American English are not different languages, but different dialects; that means that they are different forms of the same language. In fact, the standard dialects of British and American English, the forms of the language used on radio and television, differ from each other far less than standard American dialect differs from other dialects spoken in the U.S., or standard British differs from other dialects spoken in the United Kingdom. A speaker of standard American English in California, for example, can probably understand a BBC news broadcast more easily than he can understand some southern U.S. dialects.

A final point to think about is that media and the Internet are now causing British and American English to grow closer together, not farther apart. From the 1700’s on, the two dialects grew apart over time; but over the coming two centuries, they will grow closer together again. Perhaps two hundred years from now, we will no longer talk about “British English” or “American English”–it will all be just “English.”

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