Differences between American and British English

Essay, 2013

6 Pages



1. Introduction

2. Pronunciation

3. Spelling

4. Grammar

5. Lexis

6. Conclusion

7. Introduction

1. Introduction

Despite having the vast majority of linguistic forms in common, American English (AmE) and British English (BrE), which are regarded as the two major varieties of the English language, differ in numerable points. (Gramley/Pätzold, 2004:272) For better understanding and easier comparison, the General American accent (GenAm), which “is used by two thirds of the merican population”, is used as a representative for the American English variety (Allerton 2002:16). The same function is applied to the Received Pronunciation (RP), because, although it is only spoken by circa three per cent of the population in England, it is the “most widely understood” and “most thoroughly described” accent in Britain (Hughes/Trudgill, 1996:4). Finally, the purpose of this essay is to give a detailed examination of some of the most significant features at which American English and British English diverge.

2. Pronunciation

In oral communication the differences in pronunciation are the most obvious ones. While the consonants of Received Pronunciation and General American English are the same, there is a clear difference in the number of phonemes of vowels: Received Pronunciation has 20, General American 16. One reason for this is that there are fewer diphthongs used in General American English in contrast to Received Pronunciation, which has the phonemes /ɪə/ /əɑ/ /ʊə/, and even they underlie a smoothing process so that /ʊə/ may be rendered as /oː/ and /əɑ/ may sound like /ɜː/. (Gramley/Pätzold, 2004:273)

Whereas Received Pronunciation only pronounces /r/ when it is followed by a vowel as in red or every, General American is a rhotic language, which means that /r/ is regularly pronounced where the spelling indicates it. For example car would be pronounced /car/ in AmE and /cɑː/ in BrE. But unlike General American English, Received Pronunciation also knows a linking /r/ to connect two words into a single phonetic unit to maintain a certain speech rhythm, even when there is no /r/ present in the spelling as in law officer /lɔːrɒfɪsə/. (ibid. 274)

In addition to that there are plenty of individual words with different, non- systematic pronunciations, for example tomato, with its RP spelling /təmɑːtəʊ/ and GenAm spelling /təmeɪtoʊ/. Furthermore, there are also numerous stress patterns in which RP and GenAm differ from each other, such as ‘garage and ga’rage. Despite following the same basic principles, Intonation in general is said to be more varied in RP and more flat in GenAm. (ibid.277ff.)

3. Spelling

On the one hand, American English is known for more simplification in comparison to British English as it is shown by examples as “program instead of programme” and counsellor instead of counsellor (ibid.279). On the other hand, “BrE simplifies <ection> to <-exionх in connexion, inflexion, retroflexion etc͘” where mE follows the principle of derivation by using connection as substantive of the verb connect (ibid.280). Besides derivation, the system of regularization also results in different spellings. One of the more prominent ones is the ending <-our>, respectively <-or>. Because there is “no systematic criteria for distinguishing between the two sets in BrE: neighbour and saviour but donor and professor [͘͘͘΁”, AmE mostly prefers the simpler form <-or> but when the ending <-our> is stressed as in contour, it is never simplified. (ibid.280)

4. Grammar

For verbs ending in a nasal or an l there are two correct forms for their past tense and past participle - one regular and one irregular form. BrE is more likely to have the irregular form, for example burnt, whereas AmE has the regular form burned. (ibid.283) Additionally AmE knows to two past participle forms of get, which both resemble a different meaning: have got exemplifies possession, obligation or logical necessity. In British English it is only used in the sense of possession or obligation and the second form of AmE have gotten, which means ‘receive’ does not occur in BrE at all. (ibid.284)


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Differences between American and British English
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English, American, British, Language, Comparison, Anglistik, Linguistik
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Adrian Müller (Author), 2013, Differences between American and British English, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/315663


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