Who decides what is “good” or “correct” English when the way it is spoken differs from country to country?
raises some tricky issues about the perceived status of the different varieties of English in the world. Not so long ago, there was a notion that “real” English (aka “Oxford English”, “BBC English” or “the Queen’s English”) was what British people spoke – and preferably middle- or upper-class Brits at that. Anything else was not quite “correct”. In the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, some words from outside the UK were actually labelled Colonial. Among linguists and lexicographers, this idea is largely discredited, though even now the OED website can refer to “regionalisms”.
But as so often, the views of language experts and of the general public don’t necessarily coincide, and there are clear signs that linguistic imperialism is alive and well in the UK. Interestingly, though, very few people get worked up about the Englishes of India, Australia or West Africa. No: what British speakers love to hate is “Americanisms”. To quote one of the 450 or so examples of this word in our corpus:
What could have been a gripping tale about … the history of the Loch Ness legend was ruined for me by my literary pet hate : Americanisms.
The corpus also shows that, in a surprising number of cases, the word Americanism is modified by a disparaging adjective. The list includes:
absurd, awful, barmy, bloody, corrupt, disgusting, horrible, insidious, meaningless, nasty, unacceptable and vile
He … pulled me up for saying “Can I get an apple juice?” at Pizza Hut this afternoon. Leaving aside the “can” / “may” question, the whole “get” thing is yet another horrible Americanism which has insidiously crept into our beautiful language.
Err … whose beautiful language is that? The point, surely, is that – as a global language – English can’t really be said to “belong” to any one group of speakers, and denouncing American English (one of the largest and most influential varieties) as if it is some sort of aberration makes no sense at all.
The Macmillan Dictionary, by the way, has a set of 12 labels (such as AMERICAN, AUSTRALIAN, INDIAN, CARIBBEAN – and BRITISH) which it applies to words used mainly or exclusively by speakers from one particular part of the English-speaking world. Our coverage of World Englishes isn’t bad – but there’s no question that it would be even better if readers let us know about what we’ve missed. So please send in your ideas, or if you prefer, you can add any missing words to the Open Dictionary.Email this Post