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American English




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American English is the variety of English spoken in the USA.

The first English-speaking immigrants settled in North America in the 17th century. In this century there were also speakers of the Dutch, French, German, native American, Spanish, Swedish and Finnish languages.

The vocabulary of American English has distinctive features of its own, it comprises whole groups of words which belong to American vocabulary exclusively and constitute its specific features. These words are called Americanisms, which fall into the following groups:

1) historical Americanisms, e.g. ‘fall’- ‘autumn’, ‘to guess’ – ‘to think’, ‘sick’ – ‘unwell, ill’; these words still retain their old meanings whereas in BE these meanings have either changed or fallen out of use;

2) proper Americanisms are words that are not likely to be found in BE as they were coined by the early Americans to give names for the new environment and new conditions of life, e.g. ‘redbud’ – ‘an American tree having small budlike pink flowers, the state tree of Oklahoma’, ‘blue-grass’ – ‘a sort of grass peculiar to North America’. Later proper Americanisms are represented by names of objects which are called differently in the USA and Britain, e.g. BE ‘chemist’s’ – AE ‘drugstore’, BE ‘sweets’ – AE ‘candy’, BE ‘luggage’ – AE ‘baggage’, BE ‘car’ – AE ‘automobile’, BE ‘tram’ – AE ‘street car’;

3) specifically American borrowings reflecting the historical contacts of the Americans with other nations on the American continent, e.g. ‘ranch, canyon, sombrero’ – Spanish borrowings, ‘toboggan, wigwam, canoe, caribou’ – Indian borrowings; besides there are translation loans of Indian origin, such as ‘pale-face, war path, pipe of peace’ etc. Many of the names of places, rivers, lakes, even of states are of Indian origin, e.g. Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Illinois, Kentucky etc.;

4) American shortenings which were produced on American soil, e.g. ‘dorm’ – ‘dormitory’, ‘mo’ – ‘moment’, ‘cert’ – ‘certainty’, ‘b.f.’ – ‘boy-friend’ etc.

Besides this, there are cases when one (or more) lexico-semantic variant(s) is (are) specific to either British English or American English. For example, both BE and AE have the word ‘faculty’, but it is used only in AE in the meaning “all the teachers and other professional workers of a university or college’. As a rule , such words may have analogous oppositions to one of these LSV in another variant of English or in Standard English, e.g. AE ‘faculty’ – BE/SE ‘teaching staff’.



Another case is when one and the same word in one of its LSV is used oftener in BE than in AE, e.g. BE ‘brew’ meaning ‘a cup of tea’ is used in AE in the meaning ‘a beer or coffee drink’.

One more case is that the same words may have different semantic structure in BE and AE, e.g. ‘homely’ in BE means ‘home-loving, domesticated, house-proud’, while in AE it denotes ‘unattractive in appearance’. In some cases the connotational aspect of meaning comes to the fore, e.g. BE ‘politician’ is ‘a person who is professionally involved in politics’, while in AE this word is derogatory, meaning ‘a person who acts in a manipulative and devious way, typically to gain advancement within an organization’.

As for the word derivational peculiarities, besides the typically American shortenings which have been mentioned above, some word building affixes are used more frequently in AE than in BE, e.g. ‘-ee’ –‘draftee’ (‘a young man about to be enlisted’), ‘-ster’ – ‘roadster’, ‘super-’ – ‘supermarket’. AE sometimes favours words that are morphologically more complex, whereas BE uses clipped forms, e.g. AE ‘transportation’ – BE ‘transport’, AE ‘burglarize’ – BE ‘burgle’ (back-formation from ‘burglar’).

In the grammar system of AE we are likely to find even fewer divergencies than in the vocabulary system. They are as follows:

1) the use of the auxiliary verb ‘will’ in the first person singular and plural of the Future Indefinite Tense, where ‘will’ does not imply modality;

2) a tendency to substitute the Past Indefinite Tense for the Present Perfect Tense, especially in oral communication, e.g. AE “I saw this movie” – BE “I’ve seen this film”;

3) the retaining of the old form of the Past Participle of the verb ‘to get’ – ‘gotten’.

American English is marked by certain phonetic peculiarities. Yet, these consist in the way some words are pronounced and the intonation patterns. The system of phonemes is the same as in British English, with the exception of the American retroflexive [r]-sound, and the labialized [h] in such words as ‘what, why, white, wheel’, etc.

The hypothesis of the so-called “American language” has had several champions and supporters, especially in the USA (H. L. Mencken “The American Language”, N.-Y., 1957). But to be a separate language, it is necessary to possess the system of grammar, vocabulary and phonemes of its own. But as we have seen, both AE and BE share the same grammar, vocabulary and phonemes with only few exceptions, which makes us believe that these two languages are nothing but regional varieties of one and the same language.

The other regional varieties of the English language also have distinctive features of their own due to their localization and different contacts with other languages.

 





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