General Question

MilkyWay's avatar

Why do you think there are differences between British and American English?

Asked by MilkyWay (13705points) June 5th, 2011

For example, the Americans tend to use the letter “z” in words more then the British do, like in “appetizer”, or the spelling of some words are also different, such as “color” and “rumor”.
Also, why do you think there are different terms as well? Like over here we say trousers/jeans and Americans say pants?
Thank you.

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29 Answers

morphail's avatar

Geographical separation is one big cause of dialect differences.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

^ @morphail has provided one answer.

As an American with a British SO, we still struggle with the variances in the two dialects. We once ran across a website that compared the words used by the other country’s and tested each other on the definitions. We both didn’t fare well. Here is one site.

When it comes to pronunciation, I’d love to know the answer. Why do Americans pronounce ‘Bath’ as ‘Baath’ and not ‘Bath’ as the British do? And why do the British pronounce ‘Whilst’ like ‘Whilest’? Both examples go against what was taught in school about how soft and hard vowels should be pronounced.

zenvelo's avatar

One goal of Noah Webster’s dictionary was to standardize and simplify American spelling.

Physical separation between Great Britain and the US incubated differences, just as in the US some regions say pop, others say soda, and some use “coke” to mean any soft drink.

gailcalled's avatar

Po’ boys, grinders, hoagies, submarines…same sandwich, different part of the US.

wundayatta's avatar

The differences are legion.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@zenvelo It was an attempt to dumb down English. It succeeded beyond any degree to which Webster could have anticipated.

I refer to orthography, not pronunciation. Local dialects have long existed all over the English speaking world.

I object to things in American English such as Lazy spelling, for example using “rite” used in place of “right.”

Nullo's avatar

English spelling was largely unstandardized for a long time, well after the Revolutionary War. As a result, there was a bit of drift, and when it was set down, it was done so differently.

zenvelo's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence I’m not sure what your statements have to do with the question. Do you consider the use of ”-or” instead of ”-our” lazy spelling?

woodcutter's avatar

The British are Englishmen but Americans are everybody.

YARNLADY's avatar

The same reason there are regional differences in the United States.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I consider the decision to drop the ‘u’ from many words containing ‘our’ to be a purposeful attempt to make a American English spelling distinct from the British English of the time. It made spelling easier for those who could not remember when the ‘u’ is ised and when it is not.

zenvelo's avatar

I consider the use of ’-our” instead of ”-or” by any American after 1860 to be pretentious. And it was an attempt to distance the American people from the British nobility. That was a worthy goal.

gailcalled's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence: It does get confusing, doesn’t it? When to use the “u” and when not to…remember when the ‘u’ is ised.

(Nice to have you back in town, in any case.)

JLeslie's avatar

Americans say trousers and jeans.

Everyone above is right, geographic distance and how language evolves. Across the US we have so many differences. I think you will love this question.

Look at the word mad. The English use it for crazy; Americans for angry. But, back in the day in America it was more for an animal, a mad dog say, or an out of control anger, a crazy anger. Although, now it is used synonomously with anger in most regions the states.

anartist's avatar

Across the great water, separate simultaneous evolutions in language — example: the invention of oleomargarine during WWII. Americans shortened it to “margarine” while the Brits chose “oleo”—- A lot of diversion as the motorized vehicle evolved: hood/bonnet, trunk/boot gas/petrol truck/lorry

Also, in mid and and later 20th century Americans “modernized” and streamlined spelling of words, removing letters that “added nothing.” The “u” left words like colour and favourite, the “o” left words like foetus and diarrhoea and later the “ue” left words like catalogue

anartist's avatar

OOOPS @gailcalled said it all before * sorry *

Cruiser's avatar

I prefer the original…. American English is just OK…

Nullo's avatar

British English spelling and usage is one of the many entertaining ways that a mildly disgruntled American employee can mess with his bosses. Same with recording data in metric units when Imperial ones are expected.

cazzie's avatar

If you think American English is a bit nutty compared to British English, you should hear Canadian French compared to European French. My French is awful, but even I can hear the difference.

The distance thing isn’t a very good argument. I lived in New Zealand and their English is very English, writing standards wise. I think it has more to do with cultural and historic ties. Verbal New Zealand English is a variation of different dialects from England. American English is a variation on many European cultures learning to speak English. When I hear Dutch people speak, I hear American sounding vowels.

America just moved away from the British standard in many things, including teaching and school systems. They made up their own standards and continue to do so. I sort of agree with @Dr_Lawrence. I think those standards could be higher.

Response moderated (Writing Standards)
MilkyWay's avatar

Thanks for that guys! :)

flutherother's avatar

Just as an example, I tried to say the word ‘cat’ to an American once and no matter how slowly, clearly and repeatedly I said the word they heard it as the word ’cot’ every time.

meiosis's avatar

Fanny pack is my favourite Americanism. It brings the schoolboy out in me every time. Fanny = beaver

JLeslie's avatar

Actually, @cazzie makes a good point, we have all of these various immigrants speaking English as a second language and it influences many things, especially accent. I remember being in Bath England ina smal Italian restaurant. The owner was going table to table seeing how our meal was going and when he arrived at our table my dad had a short conversation with him. After a short time my dad asked, “are you from NY? From Brooklyn?” The gentleman answered, “no I’m Italian.” My dad said, “I realize your Italian, but did you come by way of Brooklyn?” We realized when an Italian, especially a southern Italian learns English is sounds like that. That is why NY has the accent it does, The Italians and the rest of the Europeans there. And, when in Miami there is a certain accent, mostly from Cuban influence.

suzanna28's avatar

why do you think there are differences between british and caribbean english ?

It simply has to do with evolution and the influence of other cultures on the english language.

America is a multicultural country.. a land of immigrants. Although english is the official language , the immigrants did not all speak english when they arrived. As a result the language itself became influenced by the immigrants spin on it. i.e different cultures influenced the language.

mattbrowne's avatar

For the same reason there are differences between Oxford English and Scottish English. Isolation does the trick.

Kardamom's avatar

If you can manage to find this PBS TV series from 1986 called The Story of English it will tell you just about everything you ever wanted to know about the English language and how it has changed over hundreds of years, with regards to just about every known English dialect known. There is an accompanying book that is also very good, but you need to view the documentary to get the most out of the book, because you will hear the language being spoken.

You will be surprised to find isolated pockets of English speakers, who are almost unintelligble to us, because their language stayed almost the same as when it was spoken 200 or 300 or more years ago. The documentary also compares and contrasts British and American and Australian English (and Irish, and New Zealand and South African and Scottish etc.) and explains how the languages came to sound so different, and why some of the words are different. It’s really worth watching if you can track down this series (maybe the library, maybe Netflix, or if someone wants to buy you a copy on Amazon). My favorite part was hearing all of the very different sounding voices throughout the U.K and the U.S. I had no idea that there were so many different accents and dialects within the English language.

MilkyWay's avatar

Okay :)
Thanks for answering guys! I guess it is because of the huge distance between the two. Cheers!

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