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American variant of the English language
Thedominantlanguage spoken in the USA is English. The English of Spenser and Shakespeare was brought to the USA from the British Isles in the seventeenth century by English colonists. The ratification of the Federal Constitution in 1787 by the thirteen colonies on the Atlantic seaboard established the US and it was a decisive moment in the history of American English.
Geographically, historically and culturally separated from British Isles, English in the USA underwent some changes that gave the ground to some people, as a journalist H.L. Mencken, to call it the American language.(To a certain extent, proclamation of the American language was provoked by British English speakers’ attitude toward English in America — they regarded it as an example of deterioration of Queen’s English by Americans.).
Neverheless, though the difference between language and dialect is very vague, there are no serious grounds to call American English a separate language. American English uses basically the same word-stock, grammar and phonological systems as British English, and that is why American English should be regarded as a variant of English, alongside Canadian, Australian, Indian variants which, unlike dialects that are restricted to spoken forms, have their own standard literary norms.
Specific features of American English are observed in all language components: in phonetics (differences in vowel quality, intonation, specific word stress in some lexemes, pronunciation of some words, like, for, farm, lord, where ‘r’ is still retained as a fricative, or dance, fast, half with a broad low front vowel; beating like beading, matter like madder, metal like medal, or mosquito like mosquido), in grammar (heavy use of contractions like can’t, don’t), and in orthography (simplified spelling of some words with -or for -our, -er for -re, one consonant in traveler, jewelry, -s- for -c- in defence, offence and practice and other different simplifications like ax, catalog, check or program). But the most numerous and obvious are differencesin vocabulary systems between the two variants though the greater part of lexical items are common to both variants of English.
The USA, being a country of immigrants speaking different languages and dialects, and the country of improvisation and experimentation, is a place with a rich supply of linguistic expressive possibilities.
The following name-creating means are especially active in American English:
American English adopted a lot of borrowingsthatdisplaced some British words, or filled in lexical gaps that became obvious to American people, or created new stylistically marked lexemes that are used alongside with the British. Some examples are:
from Native Indian languages: chipmunk, chocolate, hickory, hominy, moccasin, moose, muskrat, opossum, potato (from West Indian Taino batata), pow-wow, raccoon, sequoia, skunk, squash, succotash, totem, wigwam;
from French: depot, gopher, lacrosse, portage, prairie, pumpkin, rapids, shant;
from Spanish: alligator, canyon, cargo, barbeque, corral, bronco, cafeteria, cockroach, lasso, marijuana, mesa, patio, plaza, ranch, rodeo, sombrero, tornado, vanilla;
from Dutch: boss, caboose, cookie, Santa Claus, sleigh, snoop, spook, stoop, waffle, wagon;
from German: delicatessen, ersatz, frankfurter, hamburger, noodle, pretzel, sauerkraut, spiel;
from Italian: spaghetti, ravioli, pizza, minestrone, tutti frutti, espresso;
from Yiddish: gefilte fish, shtick, schnook, bagel, zaftig, schmo, schmaltz;
from West African languages: jazz,boogie-woogie, goober, cooter, voodoo, okra.
As scholars state, in recernt years Japanese has surpassed all languages except Spanish to become the second greatest source of new borrowings in American English /Daniel Long: 165/. Examples of Japanese loan words are bonsai, sushi.
There are also some peculiarities in American English word-formation.More often than the British, Americans use minor means of word formation, such as acronyms (O.K. for ‘oll korrect’ — the former spelling, Jeep from GP — a military vehicle for general purposes; POW for prisoner of war, yuppies for young upwardly-mobile professionals, dinks for couples with double income, no kids), clipping (coon for raccoon, possum for opossum,still for distillatory), backformation (sculpt from sculpture, enthuse from enthusiasm,resurrect from resurrection), blends (travelogue, sellathon), and proper name extension (pullman, diesel, Fahrenheit).
They also actively use such major types of word-formation as word composition (backwater, homestretch, hired hand, sky-scraper) and conversion (a try-out, to soft-pedal, to side-track, a showdown).
Some affixes are more active in American than in British. For example, suffixes -ette (usherette, drum-majorette, dinette, launderette), -ize (itemize, burglarize, winterize), -ee (trainee, parolee, escapee, retiree), -burger (cheeseburger, chickenburger, fishburger), -cian (mortician, beautician).
Lots of words that first appeared in America are of uncertain origin, like cocktail, Yankee, spondulicks, gizmo.
Many Elizabethan English words remained in American English, while in British English they became obsolete and were replaced by some new names, for example, American sick for British ill, faucet for tap,fall for autumn,guess, reckon for British think, candid for white (candid flames).
Vice versa, many British English words underwent semantic changes in American English. The word bug, for example, originally denoted insects in general, and in this meaning it is still used in American English, while in British English the word began to denote a more specified concept, ‘a bedbug’. Laurel was and still is used to denote ‘bay’ in British English, and in American English it is used to denote ‘an evergreen magnolia’. Fork in England was used only as an eating utensil but in America it has the meaning ‘branch of a road or a river’.
Different name creation activities and different uses of lexical items in these two language communities result in lexical-semantic differences of vocabulary systems in British and American variantsof the English language that may be described along the following patterns:
1. Different words for common concepts.
There are many cases when the same concepts are named in Englishes by different words and phraseological units. For example,in American English gas, or gasoline, is equivalent to petrol in British English. A car in America has a trunk (BE boot), a hood (BE bonnet) and fenders (BE bumpers). What the Americans call corn, elevator, truck, wind-shield, garbage-man, drugstore theBritish call maize, lift, lorry, windscreen, chemist’s. Flat is British and apartment is American, cock is British and rooster is American, queue is British and line is American, railway is British and railroad is American, shop is British and store is American.
2. Common words for different concepts.
Both Englishes have common word-stock but they may apply them in a slightly different way to refer to different concepts. For example, Americans use vest for the concept ‘a man’s or woman’s sleeveless garment worn under a suit coat’, but British use this word to refer exclusively to a man’s underwear (AE undershirt).
Robin stands for different thrush-like birds, hence in Britain robin is a symbol of winter, of Christmas, while in the USA it is a symbol of spring.
Still another example is the word pants, a shortening of pantaloons, which is observed in both the variants. But in American English the word pants corresponds to British English trousers that wear both men and women. Pants in British English can only be referred to ‘man’s short underpants’.
Differences in meaning of commonly used words cause differences in the semantic structures of correlative words and sometimes confuse learners and even native speakers.
3. Special words for specific concepts.
Some words in both Englishes stand for ideas of objects (events or qualities) that do not have counterparts in the other country. They are names for geographical places, plants, animals, constructions, social events and institutions that can be found only in one of the countries. For example, canyon, sequoia, gopher, senator, lynching, drive-in (‘a cinema where you can see the film without getting out of your car’) are mostly characteristic of American English, and wicket, silly mid-off (terms from the game of cricket) are characteristic of British English.
4. Lexical gaps in one of the variants for common concepts.
We noted above that not all concepts are lexicalized, and we usually become aware of that only when two languages or two variants of the language are to be compared. In American English, for example, there are words likecaboose ‘a freight-train car attached usu. to the rear mainly for the use of the train crew’, or zaftig ‘a plump, attractive woman’. But in British English these concepts are just rendered descriptively or by means of a quasy-equivalent, like guard’s van (BE) ‘the part of a train, usu. at the back, where the man in charge travels’.
5. Stylistic or emotional colouring of correlative words in different variants may be different.
In American English, for example, autumn is bookish, while in British English it is neutral. On the whole American usage is less formal than British.
Differences between the two Englishes are gradually fading due to development of modern means of communication. More and more Americanisms come into British English. Now in Great Britain the American words radio, run (in a stocking), Santa Claus, movie are widely used as well as their own wireless, ladder, Father Christmas and film. At the same time Briticisms may be used in American English, especially in certain word combinations or compounds. Thus, the British word luggage is used in American English alongside the Americanism baggage though in different contexts: luggage compartment, but baggage room, baggage check.Such Briticisms as cop, copper ‘policeman’, headmaster ‘principal of a private school’, charwoman ‘daily cleaner’ are also used, sometimes in a jocular manner, in the USA.
Dialect variation in American English derived mainly from original British dialect differences and from new geographic and social determinants (see, for example,Kurath’s Word Geography of the Eastern United States /1949/, or more recent and comprehensive Speaking Freely: A Guided Tour of American English from Plymouth Rock to Silicon Valley by Stuart Berg Flexner and Anne H. Soukhanov /1997/).
Now there are four major groups of dialects in the USA: Northeastern, Southern, Midwestern and Western. These are some examples of lexical differences between them:
Brook branch creek creek
Faucet spigot tap hydrant
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