American English and British English are similar enough for there to be no complications for a non native speaker to travel between the two countries. But they are different enough to spark the occasional debate, to cause a little confusion and even to bring about the odd heated argument. The differences are, however, more complex than might at first seem.
For a start, there are a fairly large group of words in American English which are not used across the pond. They are American words, or so many would assume. Faucet, diaper, fall, candy, eyeglasses, skillet and plenty more. In fact they’re not American words. They are British vocabulary, that simply fell from use in the UK, but continued in everyday spoken language in the US. And, with some recent reading I’ve done, this now makes perfect sense.
Once upon a time, logically, Americans spoke with a British accent. I’d long assumed that over the last couple of centuries, the population of the US had developed their own, unique accent according to the mix of ethnic groups, separation from British English speakers, and the new vocabulary and environments the speakers grew up with.
Not true. Or so I’ve read. If you were to bring an Englishman from the 1600’s into the modern day, you’d find that his accent far more closely resembles an accent from the US. It was the British accent that changed, not the other way round, although US accents from parts of the eastern seaboard of the US, which maintained a great deal of contact with Great Britain, also picked up the changes in the British way of speaking.
It’s all to do with rhotic and non rhotic accents. So the next time you are watching American actors performing Shakespeare with American accents, marvel at the authenticity rather than mock it! It has to be said, of course, that both nations, language, accents and all have evolved over the last few hundred years, and therefore generalisations, simplifications and approximations are the order of the day. But I’ve made the basic point.
Which brings me on to the Great English Fraud. Here in Mexico, like most of the world I suspect, British English has prestige. It’s the original. The pure form of the language. Superior. Or so the reputation would have it. And yet, apparently not. Perhaps I should keep this quiet, lest my students discover I’m teaching them a modern, twisted, thoroughly unauthentic, bastardized version of the language. Both in the vocab and the accent.
Meh. What do they care. Many Mexicans tend to aspire away from America and towards the glamour, history and faraway glow of Europe anyway. But is one version better than the other? Is British English really superior anyway? Many would say they’re simply different.
I’ll play devils advocate, and, a little treacherously, declare that American English is in fact the better variant of the English language. But don’t tell the two students in the photo below. They wouldn’t stay smiling for long…