Deprecated: mysql_connect(): The mysql extension is deprecated and will be removed in the future: use mysqli or PDO instead in /home/a26f9f83/public_html/articles/includes/config.php on line 159
The Divided Language > NetSparsh - Viral Content you Love & Share

The Divided Language

I was dismayed to learn the other day, that my all-time favourite George Bernard Shaw quote may not in fact have been uttered by him.

Nevertheless, even the misquotation that Britain and the United States are two countries divided by a common language, will ring true with any British Expat who has tried to make their new home in America.

There are hundreds and probably thousands of words that are different or embody a changed meaning or intent.

British people coming to America often assume that they've picked up everything they need to know about American English from a lifetime of consuming American movies and television.

There is, undeniably, a huge advantage Britons have over other migrants, just by speaking a variant of the same language. It is also astonishing how much British English has itself become Americanised.

Forty years ago it would have been difficult to find a British person alive who pronounced the word secretary in any way other than the short, clipped sec-rit-tree. These days, that sounds old-fashioned to many people in the U.K as the American sec-reh-tar-ee has taken full root. Mind you in Britain forty years ago, no-one said "hi" and few people knew what a teenager was.

In these globalised days American slang takes only a few months to cross the Atlantic, such as the 90's fad of adding "not"on the end of sentences, or saying "I'm like" as a substitute for "I thought" or "I said" which has regrettably survived well into the new Millennium on both sides of the Atlantic.

Perhaps it is because of the every day prevalence of American English in Britain that few British Expats realise what a linguistic minefield they are entering when they cross over that big moat.

The very worst attitude to adopt when arriving on these shores, is what the veteran transatlantic broadcaster Alasdair Cooke once referred to as immediately deciding that "....Americans are British people gone wrong."

There is a long and inglorious history of British sneering at the way Americans speak, often based on ignorant assumptions.

Now of course, we all have our own beefs about American pronunciations. I wince every time I hear the American president say noo-coo-ler for nuclear. I've never quite worked out why some Americans say eye-talians for Italians. (Does this mean the country is called eye-taly?) And I feel like inflicting a great deal of real physical pain on someone when I hear, even seasoned American sports broadcasters, call the tennis championship Wimble-ton or even more horribly Wimple-ton - as if the d in Wimbledon is somehow invisible.

But for every one of these ear-sores, we are equal opportunity manglers of American English. Brits routinely mispronounce relatively simple American place names such as Michigan, Houston and Arkansas. And despite pleas from the performer herself, the British adamantly refuse to pronounce Dionne Warwick's name the way it is pronounced in America - literally war-wick.

In fact, there is a great body of historical evidence that American English is much closer to historical English in England, than the version that is spoken today in modern day Britain.

It may come as a surprise to the sneerers to learn that words such as fall, for autumn, mad for angry, trash for rubbish and scores of other Amercanisms all come from Elizabethan England. Many linguists believe that the accent Shakespeare's plays would have been performed in would have sounded nothing like the classic renditions we've heard by Gielgud or Olivier. These linguists believe that the accent typically heard in Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, would had a distinct twang that we would associate today with the west country. A little bit more like, shock of shocks, the American accent.

Indeed, Gielgud and Olivier spoke what we know in Britain as received or BBC English. This is now largely acknowledged to be an upper-class Victorian affectation. It nevertheless became the standard English of public schools and was rammed into the consciousness of the British people with the advent of BBC radio in the 1920s. While it may have created some sort of standard out of a chaotic collection of wildly differing regional dialects, it is an artificial, almost worthless creation that has almost no historical value in the understanding of the way English was spoken.

So if we accept that those early settlers in America took with them some of the vocabulary and sound of historic England, it's still amazing that the language survived the onslaught of subsequent settlers.

In the second half of the 19th century some thirty million people poured into America, including Austro-Hungarians. Germans, Swedes, Dutch, Ukrainians, Irish, Poles and Russians. By 1890 there were over 300 German newspapers in the U.S.

French was once spoken broadly in a geographical ribbon that stretched from Quebec (where it is still the first language today) to New Orleans. Cajun - a mangling of Acadian - still survives as a language today.

Words poured into the American linguistic landscape from all these groups and others: Cookie came from the Dutch, avocado and mustang from the Spanish, canoe and tobacco from native Americans.

It may be a short history but it has been an intense one. When you really stop to consider it, it's amazing American English does bear as much similarity to what is spoken in modern day Britain. After all, the Dutch and the Belgian Flemish actually share a border, but often find each other unintelligible.

But even when you've been humbled by the historical evidence, it does not prevent the unsuspecting Brit from cocking up (to use a comforting ripe old British expression).

In fact it is because the English is so similar between the two nations that the pitfalls become bigger.

You can make a complete fool out of yourself in the simple act of ordering a cup of tea. Unless you specifically ask for "hot tea" in America you're just as likely to be served iced tea. (Of course, some would argue that even the hot tea is neither hot nor tea).

Some of the differences are extremely subtle.

A word like jolly in Britain has gained a large range of meanings. There is the jolly Father Christmas of course. But we also say somebody is jolly when they're drunk, or in the sense of humouring or appeasing: To jolly along. It's used to describe perks or salacious fun; "I see he's getting his jollies". We describe things as being "jolly good". It's also used by some British people, usually those who sound a bit like Penelope Keith, in phrases such as "I'm going to jolly well go down there and give him a piece of my mind!".

In America jolly has only one meaning - merry. Other definitions used on this side of the pond will be greeted with bewildered stares.

Some words are just designed to be confusing. A pavement in Britain is a sidewalk in America - where a pavement means the actual road or street. How potentially dangerous could that be?

I once had an extremely long and strange conversation before I determined that that an aerial is an anttena in America.

Similarly video as a noun refers only to a tape, not the machine. In the States the machine is a VCR.

I quite recently had to carry out some swift damage control when I was taken to a party consisting largely of my girlfriend's family. My host, kindly introduced me to everyone.

"This is Lee." she said and then added helpfully, "He's English."

"Well spotted!" I replied, a tad sarcastically but meant harmlessly, possibly summoning up a little Basil Fawlty humour. The whole room fell into an uncomfortable silence as I searched desperately for a hole to open in the living room carpet that would envelop me.

Not only was the jovial sarcasm completely misinterpreted but nobody in the room had a clue what "well spotted" meant anyway.

That story does however illustrate what a lonely place being caught in between two cultures can be. This can be compounded by the cruel attitude of friends looking for any evidence that you've gone soft in the head when you revisit the U.K

"Hmmmm! You've got a twang!" is a typical observation usually accompanied by knowing looks signifying an innate cultural superiority. Then, with all the human empathy found in the act of pulling wings off butterflies they'll furtively search and pounce upon every piece of newly acquired vocabulary or potentially offensive pronunciation.

Once, when submitting a story to an editor in Britain, she noticed I had repeatedly used the word "lines".

"Do you mean queues?" she asked.

"Oh yes I do." I replied, embarrassed by letting an Americanism slip in.

"Mind you, " she added generously "Line is a much more logical word."

"Oh I don't know," I replied feeling a sudden rush of British nostalgia. "I think queue is quite a charming word."

"My dear Mr. Carter," she scolded, in her best schoolmistress voice, "if you're starting to find your own people charming then you really have gone native!"

And so this is the netherworld we inhabit. Neither one nor the other

But the next time you're struggling to order a cup of tea, or to make a fool out of yourself in the drug store, or if you're called a hopeless yank by your British friends, just remind yourself that you're actually a part of a new breed of hardy internationalists.

This article was first published on http://www.britsinamerica.com

Brits In America (c) 2005 All Rights Reserved

About the author: Lee is a freelance journalist, who has worked for numerous publications and media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic including the BBC and CBC.

Lee can be contacted at lee@britsinamerica.com

In The News:

This RSS feed URL is deprecated, please update. New URLs can be found in the footers at https://news.google.com/news

Boston Herald

Study: Politics sway the 'news' we believe
Boston Herald
“Political awareness” was defined as “those who are knowledgeable about politics and regularly get political news.” They identified all five facts correctly by a 36-17 margin. “Digital savviness” was defined as “those who are highly confident in using ...

and more »

Fox News

Democratic candidate decries party's 'identity politics and victimology'
Fox News
“Our party right now, and I'm probably the only one who says this, is pickled in identity politics and victimology,” Flynn said. “When I was at the convention recently, in Oshkosh, there were multiple caucuses of, there were all these subgroups, and ...

and more »

Politics Podcast: The (Partisan) Politics Of Immigration
FiveThirtyEight
The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast looks at the Trump administration's practice of separating immigrant parents and children at the border and assesses the role that immigration plays in the Republican Party overall. The crew also reacts to the U.S ...


The Atlantic

The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Zero Tolerance
The Atlantic
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz defended his review of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server, saying there was no “documentary evidence” of political bias.
Doubling down on hard-line immigration politics is riskier for Trump than he seems to realizeWashington Post
On Politics: Does the US have a family separation policy or not?Wilkes Barre Times-Leader
Donald Trump's cruel immigration politics is a scamVox
89.3 KPCC -NBCNews.com -Bangor Daily News
all 7,927 news articles »

Recode

Recode Daily: Trump thinks separating kids from families is good politics
Recode
The Trump administration showed no signs of changing its policy of separating children from parents accused of illegally crossing the U.S. border. Trump seems to think the policy will rally voters in the next election. His critics now include Airbnb ...


Bloomberg

Trump's Bring-the-Pain Politics Aren't Working
Bloomberg
President Donald Trump's failure to understand that he represents all Americans, not just his strongest supporters, might explain why he has the lowest approval rating of any president at this point in a first term. And it might be the reason he has ...


Politics In The News: Immigration And The Southern Border Crisis
NPR
President Trump will huddle with GOP lawmakers Tuesday as they pursue immigration legislation. It comes as Trump faces heat for separating immigrant children from parents at the border. Facebook; Twitter; Flipboard; Email ...


Politico

POLITICO Playbook: Politics at the border
Politico
TOP STORY … THE BORDER … “'Grim sight': Migrants await uncertain future at strained Border Patrol facility,” by Elana Schor in McAllen, Texas: “Sitting on government-issued green mattresses and huddled under Mylar sheets, more than 1,100 migrants ...


Tampabay.com

Emotions boil over as 'zero tolerance' policy overtakes Florida politics
Tampabay.com
Scott was in Puerto Rico, his seventh visit in 10 months, to offer guidance to leaders rebuilding the island, as immigration took control of the political narrative like no other issue in a volatile midterm election year when control of both houses of ...

and more »

Detroit Free Press

Mich. social studies: Gay rights, climate change could disappear
Detroit Free Press
Potential changes to Michigan's school social studies standards are stirring controversy because they remove references to Roe v. Wade, gay rights and climate ...

and more »
Google News

Tax Attorney? You Might Need One; The City of Portland is Going After Small Businesses

The City of Portland is going after any small business,... Read More

The ?Manchurian Candidate?: Lee Harvey Oswald?

An American soldier is taken behind enemy lines and brainwashed... Read More

To Grow Out Of Unemployment

There is a connection between economic growth and unemployment. There... Read More

Environmentalism and Roads in Our Forests

Many environmentalists are against roads through the forest because it... Read More

Positive People Power - Taking Control By Being Proactive NOT Reactive!

WE MUST PUT A STOP TO THE EVER-INCREASING PRICE OF... Read More

Political Lobbying & Biblical Aspects of the Mid-East Crisis

1) IS HAVING A DEMOCRACY MORE EFFECTIVE IN ADDRESSING POLITICAL... Read More

Restoration in Russia: Much Needed and Inevitable

Handing over power to Vladimir Putin in 1999, Boris Yeltsin... Read More

Government is a Franchise System; just not a very good one

Few understand the Franchising Format and even fewer have correlated... Read More

NAFTA; What did we learn?

A quick look back at NAFTA; how did we do?Stabilizing... Read More

The Divided Language

I was dismayed to learn the other day, that my... Read More

The Politics of American Public Education and Why Dramatic Progress Still Eludes Us

The current political efforts aimed at improving the American public... Read More

Fear, Controversy and Chaos in the Media

Most modern day media stories containing fear, controversy and chaos... Read More

The Route to Democracy

Fifteen hours is a tremendous barrier. It is the obstacle... Read More

Super Voting Ink and Vaccines

In the future when we decide to help nations vote... Read More

OSHA is just more BS from the Blob of Bureaucracy

Is Ohio Manufacturing Sector really unable to compete in the... Read More

Chinese Military Build Up - Sun Tzu and Chinese War Machine

We are currently seeing a build up in China of... Read More

When Will the World Wake Up?

How can any human being today, anywhere in this world,... Read More

Gas Prices and the Impact of Inflation

Year Item Price Rate of Inflation 03/80 Gasoline (per gallon)... Read More

Rants by Lance: BRAC Committee Talks Irrelevant Completely

It is amazing we have so many men, who belong... Read More

Maximizing Efficiency at Our Airports

Our Airports have excess capacity, which is not being used... Read More

FTC Franchise Rule Making Sound and Fury in the Sand Box of Free Markets

Today we have a new franchise report from the Federal... Read More

Questioning Both Sides of the GM Crop Debate

One question not addressed in GM Crops and Monsanto Terminator... Read More

Was Pakistan a British Creation?

The furore in the BJP camp in India, triggered by... Read More

Protectionism in Russia

The new law "Special Protective, Antidumping and Import Compensatory Measures"... Read More

A Viewpoint Not Represented in the Mainstream Media

The news media will regularly present views from Democratic (liberal),... Read More