Present Day English
excerpts from the works of
Dr. Micheal Crafton

Department of English
State University of West Georgia

Carrollton, Georgia
(Spring 2000)

British and American Languages(?)

The differences between British and American varieties of English.  
The differences are trivial and not that plentiful.  
There are obviously different choices in vocabulary

 British        /   American
Railway       /     Railroad
Angry         /     Mad
Lorry          /     Semi-truck
Motorway    /     Interstate
Way Out     /      Exit
Fortnight     /     Two Weeks

And there are some minor syntactical differences: We say “in the hospital” and the British say “in hospital.” But these are very few.

The major difference is pronunciation and most of that is intonation rather than particular phonemes. However, we notice that many British a’s are pronounced as flat a’s where we pronounce as a front a, or ash, ae. The main the difference is in the intonation pattern, the rising and falling of tone. This is the difference you make when you attempt a British accent and this is the reason that songs don’t often sound particularly British because the singer is following the intonation pattern of the song, not speech.

You might go to the following link for some humorous differences between American and English speech.

American Dialects

The American Story in Brief

Regional Dialects

I. First migration from England in the 1600's

Puritans from East Anglia settled in New England and provided the distinctive features of a New England dialect, the    r-less dialect as in Hahvahd Yahd, rather than Harvard Yard.

Cavaliers from the English West Country, Shakespeare’s country, provided the r-stressed dialect of old Chesapeake.

See Map1

II. Second migration 1700's

Southern Midland or Appalachian dialect were created by the Scots-Irish who came to American from Northern Ireland, landing in Philadelphia and moving out to the Appalachian mountains from there: Scots to Ireland, Scots-Irish to Philly, Philly to Appalachia.

See Map2

III. Third migration. 1800's

Western Movement provides North, Central, South Midlands -- movement form the

East to West

See Map3

Remember: Non-English settlements' influence provided material for Cajun accent in Louisiana and Spanish element in Western accents.

The results of these historical movements are evident in the regional dialects extant today. These two graphics provide some of that information:

See dialect sheet 2

Ethnic dialects

IV. Fourth immigration - The issue of the development of Black English, or Black Vernacular English, or Ebonics. The history of this variety of English has been greatly studied; probably the most common view is that the slaves from West Africa learned to speak a pidgin language that became naturalized and thus a Creole. The Plantation Creole was very similar to the speech of the southern barrier islands, like Gullah in South Carolina and Georgia. Black Vernacular English, then, develops from this Creole.

 This map shows the slave routes in 1700's and 1800's

 See Map4

 Northern migration after Civil War 1865 to 1920's, the major conduit for the development of Black Vernacular English

 See Map5

 You might want to view the Linguistic Atlas project on Gullah

V. The European migrations helps to account for the ethnic dialects of NYC and Chicago and the Midwest.

This map shows the Europeans migrations

See Map6

VI. World Migrations -- 3rd world countries, Romance Language and Asian languages most influential.

The locations of English planted during the period of the Empire are shown on this map.

See Map7

The Meanings of Words.

Semantics is a fascinating and quite complicated sub-field of linguistics. But for our purposes we are just going to take note, one, that meanings changes, and that, two, they change along set paths.

Meanings change by either becoming more specialized or more generalized; by transfer of meaning from realm to another, like concrete to abstract, and they become ameliorated or pejorated in meaning.

1.      From general to specific: deer meant small animals in 16th century, now means a specific animal

2.      From specific to general: thing meant a legislated group, an assembly in Anglo-Saxon, now it means any item in general.

3.      Transfer from concrete to abstract: understand meant literature to stand with or under, now it means to comprehend; vogue once general for popular, then specific for a magazine, then general again for style similar to that of the magazine Vogue.

4.      Meaning becoming pejorative - toilet once polite, now a commode, a crapper.

5.      Meaning becoming ameliorative - bad becomes baaaaadd!! that means good.

New Words - Where Do They All Come From.

Root Creations - very rare to create a new word - examples, Kodak, Nylon, Orlon.

Echoic words - words to sound like natural sounds, burp, bang, pink, tinkle.

Ejaculations - word that just gush out; ouch, ah, ah ha, hee

Combing and compounding - input, output, throughway, thoroughfare, tapedeck,

Combining by affixing - e.g. -dom, wisdom, freedom, halaluja-dom, till kingdom come-dom.

Shortened forms

Clips - bra, mob, cab,

Acronyms - TV, VCR, DVD, EPA

Functional shift - create a new word by changing its part of speech. “Uncle me no uncles”; “It out-Herods Herod.” Here Shakespeare makes verbs from nouns and even a proper name.

Common words from proper names - Dickens --> dickensian, Chauvin --> chauvinism.

Foreign Sources in English.

During OE times:

Celtic languages provided little; Latin much more; Scandinavian even more.

ME times

Very little from Celtic; Latin more, French an enormous amount (10,000 words by 1500)

Early Modern Times

Latin a huge amount, Greek a bit, Arabic a bit, French very little.

Modern Times

The classical languages in the sciences; otherwise it is general adoption from all the languages that English speakers had occasion to associate with: Spanish, Swedish, German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Asian languages.

In Modern English the importation of foreign words has decreased radically and now we tend to create words from combining or affixing more than do we borrow.