The difference between US and UK English

On Saturday, I’m making my first trip to New York. Fortunately there will be no language barrier facing me, but it got me thinking about the difference between UK and US English and their global usage and status.

Despite the fact English originated in the UK, it is the US form of English that tends to be spoken around the world. International language schools teach the US vocabulary, and students find themselves speaking with American accents, most likely without ever realising.

US English is spoken by around two-thirds of English speakers worldwide, helped in part by the vastly greater population of the United States compared to the United Kingdom. However, despite the significantly larger geographical area of the US, American English is relatively homogenous alongside its UK counterpart. Accents tend to be less distinct, and one accent may be used by swathes of the country – this is unheard of in England, when even the short distance between Liverpool and Manchester offers up very different accents.

Some of the differences between US and UK English are minor, such as the ‘-ize’ suffix used in American words as opposed to the British ‘-ise’ in words like ‘hypnotize’. However, there are lots of disparities in the vocabulary, such as ‘sidewalk’ for ‘pavement’, ‘faucet’ for ‘tap’ and even, confusingly, ‘chips’ for ‘crisps’ and ‘fries’ for ‘chips’.

There are also differences in the pronunciation. In US English, the rhotic ‘r’ (where, for example, the ‘r’ is pronounced at the end of ‘car’) is generally considered a prestige variety, whereas in British English, this is primarily used in Scottish dialects, and is considered non-standard. Words like ‘better’ are pronounced ‘bedder’ with a tap sound, which, again, is considered non-standard in the UK.

American English also uses some different grammatical formations. For example, in the UK we might say ‘I would have done’, whereas in the US you would say ‘I would have’. In the UK, you ‘talk to’ someone; in the US, you would ‘talk with’ them.

I can’t wait to spend some time immersed in US English, and I’ll report back on anything interesting I come across when I get back!

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