Tag Archives: america

The Prodigal Tongue

Lynne Murphy writes a great blog, which this book is at least partly based on, about the differences between American and British English. Or should that be that this book is based on?

Books like this really make you question everything you write.

Some of the material I was already familiar with, having read it elsewhere, possibly even on her blog, but there were plenty of new facts to keep me entertained. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember where a word of phrase came from. Did I always say that or did I learn it more recently? How do you pronounce words? When it came up in conversation a few months ago, I genuinely couldn’t remember whether I normally said “skedule” and “shedule.” I kept second-guessing myself!

I didn’t, for example, realise that I’d learned so much American baking terminology. I guess I’ve made more cakes since I got married and picked up the lingo. Part of me did think that “batter” was what you use for pancakes and Yorkshire puddings, but, equally, I couldn’t think of a better word for cake mixture. (Turns out there’s a reason for that.)

The other thing I realised is that one consequence of such a heavy US bias on the Internet is that companies such as Grammarly are continually suggesting American English grammar and spelling corrections. (The spelling I’m normally confident enough to override, punctuation less so.) Before reading this book I always thought that the advice was suspect but I thought it was mostly a matter of taste rather than geography.

Even if you’re not into the details of how the two nationlects — a word she coins to distinguish between American and British Enlgish — differ, the last chapter still might be of interest. It’s about the growth of the language outside the UK and the US, how it’s now the most popular second language.

Native speakers in Britain and the US make the mistake of thinking that they have no language learning to do: everyone speaks English, so we’ve got it made.

This is absolutely my experience. Many people — including past me — thought that this was true. I guess it’s where the stereotype of Brits talking slower and louder to foreigners comes from. (I don’t think I ever went that far!)

I’ve learned the hard way that just because people speak English, it’s not necessarily my English. They may understand most of the words but there are idioms and pronunciations that don’t translate. Dealing with non-native speakers requires care and thought, which, frankly, is the least we can do since they made the effort to speak our language. I can’t say I always get it right, but I’m conscious of it and make an effort.

Anyway, if you like the blog, you’ll probably like the book. As you’d imagine, it’s well written. It has lots of nice, little facts you can sprinkle into conversation and it’s nicely structured and feels fairly complete.

My delicious.com bookmarks for September 19th through September 21st

My delicious.com bookmarks for August 15th through August 24th

  • Apple Answers the FCC’s Questions – A few interesting tidbits, including the fact that two reviewers look at every update, but I'd say that there was little of real substance here.
  • The brutal truth about America’s healthcare – "But the truth is that the rich, and the insurance firms, just don't realise what we are going through, or simply don't care. Look around this room and tell me that America's healthcare don't need fixing." Still finding the whole debate quite bizarre.