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Do You Speak English? Around the World With the Mother Tongue

Updated on November 10, 2013
To-may-to or To-mahto ?
To-may-to or To-mahto ? | Source

American vs. English

Recently, I came across an interesting hub on the differences between American and English spelling and usage. I had a lot of fun reading it and thinking of as many differences as I could from an American perspective. You know the stuff, Their cars have bonnets, ours have hoods. They get a flat tyre as opposed to tire.(actually,I think they get a puncture not a flat,but never mind) They park their cars in a car park while we leave ours in the parking lot. We go to the john. They use the loo. Our cookies are their biscuits, while their rubbers are our erasers. I don’t know what the English call condoms(never had the need to know) but I did discover that someone who offers to” knock you up in the morning” only means they will tap on your bedroom door to make sure you are awake,

Then there are the food words. Would you want to eat something called “ Toad in the Hole” or “Bangers and Mash” or ( my all time personal favorite)”Spotted Dick”? I’m here to report they are all very tasty. There are American equivalents, of course. We've got “Shoofly Pie”,Chicken Fried Steak” and “Mississippi Mud Pie” to tempt the taste buds. To add to the confusion, what they call crisps we call potato chips and when we ask for chips in England we will get what we know at home in America as French fries. It all makes for some interesting trans Atlantic dining experiences.

They find it hysterical that we call the toilet the bathroom and they really double over in laughter when we ask for the restroom. Coy American ladies in England who ask for the "little girl's room" or the "powder room" will be met with blank stares. On the other hand, the English girl in America who asks where she can "spend a penny" is also in for a hard time. A fag is a cigarette in the UK, which can lead to endless complications for visiting Brits looking for a smoke in America. Americans on the other hand, are endlessly confused by English signs posted over doorways saying " Way Out. ". What is so way out about a door we wonder? We Americans walk on the sidewalk not the pavement. Pavement in America is the actual cement the sidewalk is made of. It's amazing that we ever manage to understand one another and lots of fun comparing the linguistic pitfalls.

In Britain a fag is a cigarette
In Britain a fag is a cigarette | Source

Whose Language Is It?

The real beauty of the English language is its amazing flexibility. From old Anglo-Saxon through the Vikings and Norman French, the hsitory of the English language is found in the words and usages it absorbed. While English is no longer a highly inflected language having lost its cases, so to speak, it has more words than almost any language on the planet. The shades of meaning between words and the English language use of prepositional phrases as a substitute for grammatical cases, make it hard for non-native speakers to find the " mot juste". For example, there is a subtle difference between a job, a profession and a trade but all refer to work. Then there is the matter of grammatical exceptions. English has more of them than you can " shake a stick at" I mean, if we have one mouse and two mice, why don't we have one house and two hice, or one blouse and two blice? It makes no sense at all. In English a cloth could be wound ( past tense of wind) around a wound ( a noun meaning an injury) and you just have to know from the meaning of the sentence that the same word is used as both a noun and a verb with completely different meanings.

From the defeat of the Spanish Armada under Elizabeth I to the end of World War II, the sun never set on the British Empire. One of the consequences was the addition of a vast new vocabulary of foreign words into the English language as well as the start of dominence of the mother tonguw in such far flung places as India and Africa. The emergence of the United States and a Major world power after WWII added to the power of English and the adoption of English as the universal language of the Internet finished the job. Today, while English lags behind both Mandarin and Spanish in number or native speakers, it is clearly the most useful and universally studied and used language in the world.

It goes without saying that England sets the linguistic standard world-wide-- but isn’t it amazing how many different kinds of English speakers there are? I wonder at how the language has changed and evolved over a relatively short period of time, adapting comfortably to different climates and cultures?

I wish I knew more about variations in usage in Australia, Ireland, Canada, India and wherever else the sun never used to set on the British Empire. The empire may be gone, but the language is its lasting legacy—less elegant than French, less beautiful than Italian, less precise than German but nevertheless the new Latin—a flexible, mutable language that one can get by on anywhere in the world and one that is still mutating and changing -- shaped by the new users from all over the world who make it what it is and will become.

Amy Walker does English in 21 different accents.


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