Of the countless varieties of English, American English (AmE) and British English (BrE) are the most significant. This is why you can set Macmillan Dictionary’s default setting to either, and switch back and forth throughout.
American English regularly comes under fire from some BrE speakers who perhaps feel a bit possessive or protective about their mother tongue. Corpus data show that the word Americanism is often modified by a disparaging adjective, such as horrible, disgusting, absurd, and vile.
The BBC website recently published an article about AmE and its influence on BrE. Though the writer acknowledges the great flexibility of English, he cannot resist grumbling about particular Americanisms he finds “ugly and pointless”. These are subjective judgements, of course – and several of the facts he cites are wrong, as Language Log shows.
Occasional Macmillan Dictionary guest blogger Dan Clayton wrote an interesting response on his own language blog. He makes the important points that the dividing lines between dialects are far from clear-cut, and that with respect to AmE and BrE, the influence does not operate in one direction only.
Given that languages and dialects undergo constant change, and blend and blur into one another, the purist point of view seems misguided to me. It also encourages unsavoury peeve-fests like the one the BBC subsequently printed.
Catchphrases and idioms (often AmE) spread quickly, and grievances over new coinages and linguistic conventions are often knee-jerk objections that develop over time into pet hates. But some of these neologisms eventually become standard, widely used, and even loved.
Ever since English was brought to America, the two dialects – or rather the two sets of many dialects – have assumed their own forms and standards. AmE has steadily become the centre (aka center) of gravity, but each side affects the other in all sorts of ways. As Dan put it: “While the bigger picture might be of a drift towards more Americanisms, it’s not all one-way traffic and the drift is not uniform.”
I love the Irish English dialects I hear around me, but if I encounter an idiom I like from another dialect – guddle, for instance – I’m liable to adopt it. The history of English is a history of many languages and dialects mixing with one another. It’s what they do. I think linguistic diversity can and should be enjoyed and embraced. Instead of getting wound up about phrases we dislike, we can celebrate not only the great variation that exists but also the fact that so much mutual comprehensibility remains.Email this Post