Comparative Forms in British and American English


Term Paper, 2010
12 Pages, Grade: 2,3

Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Development of Comparatives in the History of English

3. Major Differences between British and American English in terms of Comparative Structures

4. Some Explanations toward the Preference of One Comparative Form over the Other in British and American English

5. Colonial Lag and Comparative Structures

6. Conclusion

7. Works Cited

1. Introduction

Many researchers address the development of language structure of both major English varieties today- American and British. These two national language varieties have many similarities and divergences on phonological, grammatical and syntactical levels. For example, many differences between British and American English can be observable in terms of adjective comparison. English adjectives tend to form the comparative in two ways: by using synthetic,also called inflectional comparative, with <-er> ending; or by using analytic or so-called periphrastic comparative with intensifier more (e.g. more clever) (cf. Kytö and Romaine 1997, 329). The adjective formation strongly differs in British and American English. So, the most important issues on this topic that should be discussed refer to the development of comparative formation in the history of British and American English, and to the differences between two national standards in the usage of comparative forms. Moreover, reasons for that preference should be clarified to explain why speakers prefer one variant over the other. In conclusion, the impact of British English as a mother country on the development of American English as a colonial country should be addressed.

First, the development of adjective forms of comparison should be clarified from the old English untill nowadays to explain the shifts of comparative structures in two national standards. The major change in the development of comparative formation across time span is the shift in American English from synthetic to analytic comparatives. The Standard English shows another pattern of development: the change from analytic to synthetic comparatives.

Secondly, the major differences between British and American varieties in the usage of adjective forms should be explained. Focusing on the syllabic structure and frequency of adjectives, it will be shown that American English prefers more analytic comparatives than British English. Additionally, American variety uses fewer comparatives of both synthetic and analytic kind than British variety (Gonzalez-Diaz 2008, Hilpert 2007, Mondorf 2009, Kytö and Romaine 2000). Moreover, the investigation of different text types and complexity of those texts will help to explain the difference in usage of adjective comparison between two national standards.

Finally,the development of American English in relation to British English will be outlined. In most cases, American English develops independently from British English in terms of adjective formation. American variety prefers innovations whereas British variety tends to preserve older features. This supports the idea that American English does not follow the steps of British English in terms of comparative structure change. So, to regard the American variety as an instance of colonial lag should be misleading. A better understanding of these issues will be presented in the following pages.

2. Development of Comparatives in the History of English

The history of usage of both comparative forms,synthetic and analytic, is not widely addressed by many researchers. However, Kytö and Romaine (1997, 2000), introduce some interesting facts on this issue. For example, authors summarize the idea that “… the Vulgar English in the US was more conservative due to its more persistent use of inflected forms of comparison, while Standard English was more innovative because it made greater use of periphrasis” (Kytö and Romaine 2000: 172). Their research (2000) suggests that only synthetic comparatives were used in Old English. Moreover, the analytic comparatives first appeared in the thirteen century under the influence of Latin and French and began to increase steadily after the fourteenth century. (cf. Kytö and Romaine 2000: 172). This development was regarded as a shift in English from inflectional (synthetic) to periphrastic (analytic) constructions which were seen as innovative (cf. Kytö and Romaine 2000: 173).

However, it is worth saying that in the most cases inflectional form of comparison dominated the periphrastic form in both language varieties considering written and spoken material. For example, Figure 1. Compares the spoken material taken from the British National Corpus with written material based on Late Middle and Early modern English.

Figure1. “Inflectional and periphrastic forms “(Kytö and Romaine 2000: 332)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The data highlighted in the Figure 1. confirms that inflectional typedominated the periphrastic one over three English periods with one exception in Late Middle English when analytic structures for superlative form of adjectives slightly dominated the synthetic structures (cf. Kytö and Romaine 2000, 332).

The ongoing development of synthetic form of comparison also suggests its increased usage in America English as it was claimed before and associated with this language variety as a more conservative one. For example, Kytö and Romaine claim that

[f]or American English the tendency for the inflectional type to prevail is not quite as straightforward. Up until the 1950, the two types are roughly equal in distribution and during the final subperiod the inflected forms catch up with the rate attested in British English (2000: 176).

Additionally, analytic constructions were developed into the new forms called “multiple or double comparatives” (Kytö and Romaine 2000: 173), e.g. more greater, most greatest. However, the investigated studies (Hilpert 2007, Kytö and Romaine 1997, 2000, Mondorf 2009) do not show any reference to new forms in America Corpora. So, it can be concluded that double forms emerged and are used predominantly in British English.Kytö and Romaine claim that there is a new trend from analytic to synthetic form of comparison in both English varieties (cf. 2000: 190), while Mondorf rejected this claim in her study, which did not reveal any shift from analytic to synthetic form of comparison in both national standards (cf. 2009:100).

3.Major Differences between British and American English in terms of Comparative Structures

Several studies reveal the results according to which American English prefers more analytic comparatives than British English (Mondorf 2009, Hilpert 2007, Kytö and Romaine 1997, 2000). For example, Mondorf refers to the four adjective groups, namely monosyllabic and disyllabic adjectives with< y, l, le, r, re> endings (2009, 93). The data from Figure below confirms the results which suggest that American English prefer analytic form of comparison.

Figure 2. (Mondorf 2009, 93)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The data shows that percentage of analytic comparatives is obviously higher in American English than in British English. However, disyllabic adjectives with <-y> ending tend to occur more often in British than in American variety, with 35 % to 27% in favour of British English. Thus, this category of adjectives does not refer to the general statement which says that American English uses more analytic comparatives than British English. According to the research, the most frequent explanation to this phenomenon is the relation between comparative form and the frequency of adjective usage (cf. Mondorf 2009, 93). Study revealed that the less frequent adjective, the ofterit prefers analytic comparative form in American English (cf. Mondorf 2009, 93). Thus, it can be concluded that individual adjectives are less frequent in American than in British English, which, to some extent, explain the American English preference of analytic comparative form.

The second tendency which demonstrates the difference between British and American English is the general preference of comparatives by British variety. According to the research “… the British ratio of comparatives is almost twice as high as the American” (Mondorf 2009, 97). Furthermore, the research revealed that British English prefers comparative formation to express comparison in a sentence, while American English uses different grammatical structure. For example, for Britons, it is usual to say: “… Mary is prouder than Peter”, whereas for Americans, the same comparison usually is expressed through the as…as construction: “… Peter is not as proud as Mary” (Mondorf 2009, 98). Thus, it is more typical for American English to use fewer comparatives of both synthetic and analytic forms than for British English.

Furthermore, there are several major explanations to the differences in the usage of comparative forms between British and American varieties that will be introduced in the following chapter.

4. Some Explanations toward the Preference of One Comparative Form over the Other in British and American English

Mondorf states it is difficult to explain the formation of comparatives in both language varieties (cf. 2009: 100). However, several researches (Mondorf 2009, Hilpert 2007, Gonzalez- Diaz 2008) suggest explanations for the usage of synthetic and analytic comparatives in British and American English.

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Details

Title
Comparative Forms in British and American English
Grade
2,3
Author
Year
2010
Pages
12
Catalog Number
V182424
ISBN (eBook)
9783656059998
ISBN (Book)
9783656060116
File size
511 KB
Language
English
Tags
comparative, forms, british, american, english, colonial lag
Quote paper
Alina Müller (Author), 2010, Comparative Forms in British and American English, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/182424

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