USAGE IN AMERICAN ENGLISH AND BRITISH ENGLISH
Украина, г. Луганск, ВНУ им. В. Даля
This article deals with problem of differences and usage
in American English and British English, which is the important aspect of the
process of English language learning and teaching. English
is a language particularly rich in idioms - those modes of expression peculiar
to a language (or dialect) which frequently defy logical and grammatical rules.
Without idioms English would lose much of its variety and humour both in speech
and writing. The reason that there is so much
American influence in British English is the result of the following: magnitude
of publishing industry in the U.S.; magnitude of mass media influence on a
worldwide scale; appeal of American popular culture on language and habits
worldwide; international political and economic position of the U.S.
If you look up the word idiom in Webster, you will be
given the following definition: Idiom is an expression whose meaning is not predictable
from the usual meanings of its constituent element as kick the bucket, hang
one's head etc., or from the general grammatical
rules of language, as the table round for the round table, and which is not a
constituent of a larger expression of like characteristics. This definition
seems a bit dry and doesn't really tell anything about the function of idioms
in English language.
The background and etymological origins of most idioms
is at best obscure. This is the reason why a study of differences between the
idioms of American and British English is somewhat
difficult. But it also makes the cases, where background, etymology and history
are known, even more interesting. Some idioms of the "worldwide
English" have first been seen in the works of writers like Shakespeare,
Sir Walter Scott, Lewis Carroll or even in the paperbacks of contemporary
novelists. An example of Shakespearian quotation can be found in the following
sentence: "As a social worker, you certainly see the seamy side of life." Biblical references are also the source
of many idioms. Sports terms, technical terms, legal terms, military slang and
even nautical expressions have found their way to the everyday use of English
language. Following are some examples of these, some used in either American or
British English and some used in both:
"Having won the first two Tests, Australia is now almost certain to retain the Ashes." (Ashes is a British English idiom that is
nowadays a well-established cricked term.
"To have the edge on/over someone." (This is
originally American English idiom, now established in
almost every other form of English, including BrE.
In the old days English idioms rarely originated from
any other form of English than British English. (French was also a popular
source of idioms.) Nowadays American English is in this position. It is hard to
find an AmE idiom that has not established itself in "worldwide
English" (usually BrE). This is not the case with British English idioms
which are not as widespread. It has to be remembered that it is hard to say
which idioms are actively used in English and which are dying out or have
already died. Idioms are constantly dying and new ones are born. [2, p. 12]
Some idioms may have gone through radical changes in
meaning. The phrase - There is no love lost between them - nowadays means that
some people dislike one another. Originally, when there was only the British
English form, it meant exactly the opposite. The shift in meaning is yet
unexplained. All dialects of English have different sets of idioms and
situations where a given idiom can be used. American English and British
English may not, in this respect, be the best possible pair to compare because
they both have been developing into the same direction, at least where written
language is concerned, since the Second World War. The reason that there is so
much American influence in British English is the result of the following:
· Magnitude of publishing industry in the U.S.
· Magnitude of mass media influence on a worldwide scale.
· Appeal of American popular culture on language and habits worldwide.
· International political and economic position of the U.S. [4, p.34]
All these facts lead to the conclusion that new idioms
usually originate in the U.S. and then become popular in so-called "worldwide
English". This new situation is completely different from the birth of
American English as a "variant" of British English. When America was still under the rule of the Crown, most idioms originated from British English
sources. Of course there were American English expressions and idioms too,
before American English could be defined as dialect of English. Some examples
of these early American English idioms follow:
"To bark up the wrong tree." (Originally from
raccoon-hunting in which dogs were used to locate raccoons up in trees.
"Paddle one's own canoe." (This is an American
English idiom of the late 18th Century and early 19-th Century.
Some of these early American idioms and expressions were
derived from the speech of the American natives like the phrase that
"someone speaks with a forked tongue" and the "happy hunting
ground" above. These idioms have filtered to British English through
centuries through books, newspapers and most recently through powerful mediums
like radio, TV and movies.
How then does American English differ from British
English in the use of idioms? There are no radical differences in actual use.
The main differences are in the situations where idiomatic expressions are
used. There have been many studies recently on this subject. American English
adopts and creates new idioms at a much faster rate compared to British
English. Also the idioms of AmE origin tend to spread faster and further. After
it has first been established in the U.S., an American idiom may soon be found
in other "variants" and dialects of English. Nowadays new British
idioms tend to stay on the British Isles and are rarely encountered in the U.S.
British idioms are actually more familiar to other Europeans or to the people
of the British Commonwealth than to Americans, even though the language is
same. The reason for all these facts is that Britain is not the world power it
used to be and it must be said that the U.S. has taken the role of the leading
nation in the development of language, media and popular culture. Britain just doesn't have the magnitude of media influence that the United States controls.
The future of idiomatic expressions in the English
language seems certain. They are more and more based on American English. This
development will continue through new mediums like the Internet and interactive
mediums. It is hard to say what this will do to idioms and what kind of new
idioms are created. This will be an interesting development to follow, and by
no means does it lessen the homor, variety and colour of English language.
1. Grellet. 1981. Developing Reading skills. Cambridge University Press.
2. Richards, J. 1992. Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Longman
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языку/ Г. А. Китайгородская, В. А. Бухбиндер. – К. :Освіта, 1988. – 279 с.
Brown H. Principles of
language learning and teaching. New York: Pearson Education, 2000. – p. 365