Different branches of the English language

Nothing can really prepare you for the life change when you move from one country to another. You can read about different issues that affect your new country, but you cannot really know how different it is until you live there. The only thing I didn’t need to worry about in moving to the UK is the language. Though that may not be entirely true.

British English is definitely different from American English. And I don’t mean just the accent. There are various accents over here, some more easy to understand than others, but that is not very different from the US, is it? And the Brits will tell you that they are the arbiters of the language. Therefore, if you want to speak true English, you will have to follow the British example.

My husband had pointed out some differences when we lived in the US; and he certainly pronounced words differently, such as, ‘garage’ with the emphasis on the first syllable, or ‘depot’ with a short ‘e’. There are many other words that are pronounced differently, and it takes time to get used to hearing them pronounced that way. But after being in Britain for a while, I noticed many other differences. One is the US habit of adding ‘-ing’ to the end of nouns to make them adjectives; for example, ‘drinking’ or ‘shocking’. The Brits would never use them as adjectives, only verbs. Whereas Americans would say that someone has a drinking problem, the English would say a drink problem. Similarly, we hear about shocking news, but the English hear shock news. In the US, we would say that someone goes to school or work, but then add ‘the’ to hospital. Why is that? Here, it’s always ‘to hospital’.

Then, of course, there are all the swear words and other pejoratives. I remember reading about Bono calling Chris Martin a ‘w@%&#!’. I had no idea what that was all about and had to ask my father-in-law. He laughed and said I must know what that is. He started to spell it out and my mother-in-law finished it. I just looked at them and asked what a ‘wanker’ was. Though I didn’t get a direct answer, I was led to believe it was a male anatomy. Other terms that seem completely inoffensive to me, such as golliwogs and Pakis, are considered pejoratives over here. I guess that just points to differences in culture.

There is also a fondness for acronyms over here. That’s not to say the US does not have its own acronyms. Perhaps, I have been so used to the ones used in the US that it doesn’t seem unusual to me over there. Whereas, the acronyms here are new to me. I don’t know. But it does seem that acronyms are used on signs and if you have no idea what it is to begin with, you wouldn’t know if it was what you were looking for.

What something may be called in the US may not be the accepted term over here, even if it’s understood. For example, instead of asking for a bathroom or restroom, it would be easier to ask for a toilet or water closet (WC). Better yet, ask for a McDonald’s.

So, even though we use the same language, so to speak, there are variations on that language. Some would argue that’s what makes the English language so rich, while others may bemoan the deterioration of English as spoken in other countries. At least, wars won’t be fought over it.


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