American | British | Canadian Differences


American / British differences

Battle of the Tongues – American English vs. British English

“American vs. British English” the tongue match

 
 

English words that survived in the United States and not Britain

A number of words and meanings that originated in Middle English or Early Modern English and that always have been in everyday use in the United States dropped out in most varieties of British English; some of these have cognates in Lowland Scots. Terms such as fall (“autumn”), faucet, diaper, candy, skillet, eyeglasses, and obligate, are often regarded as Americanisms.

Fall for example came to denote the season in 16th century England, a contraction of Middle English expressions like “fall of the leaf” and “fall of the year”. During the 17th century, English immigration to the British colonies in North America was at its peak and the new settlers took the English language with them. While the term fall gradually became obsolete in Britain, it became the more common term in North America.

Gotten (past participle of get) is often considered to be an Americanism, although there are some areas of Britain, such as Lancashire and North-eastern England, that still continue to use it and sometimes also use putten as the past participle for put (which is not done by most speakers of American English).

Other words and meanings, to various extents, were brought back to Britain, especially in the second half of the 20th century; these include hire (“to employ”), quit (“to stop,” which spawned quitter in the U.S.), I guess (famously criticized by H. W. Fowler), baggage, hit (a place), and the adverbs overly and presently (“currently”). Some of these, for example monkey wrench and wastebasket, originated in 19th-century Britain.

The mandative subjunctive (as in “the City Attorney suggested that the case not be closed“) is livelier in American English than it is in British English. It appears in some areas as a spoken usage and is considered obligatory in contexts that are more formal. The adjectives mad meaning “angry”, smart meaning “intelligent”, and sick meaning “ill” are also more frequent in American (these meanings are also frequent in Hiberno-English) than British English.

Canadian English

Canadian English is the type of English that is used by Canadians. It is often thought to be made from American English and British English, but this may be too simple of an explanation. 

Canadian English uses few American ways to spell words, generally coming in to usage through American media. More often, British ways of spelling words is used as this is taught in the schooling system.  Examples include using the British way to spell colour, flavour, plough, and programme. Sometimes the latter are spelt in the American forms, plow and program, however this is uncommon. 

The main exception to this rule is terms related to cars and the auto industry. Because Canada’s auto industry has always been dominated by American firms, Canadians use American words and spelling for such terms.  Canadians and Americans spell the outer rubber portion of a wheel as tire instead of tyre, put gasoline or gas in their vehicles instead of petrol, store items in the trunk instead of the boot, and may drive a truck instead of a lorry.

Canadian English is different from other forms of English in its spoken form also. The dialects vary from sounding overtly English to an indistinguishable form very similar to those spoken in the northern states. 

 

Canadian English contains elements of British English and American English in its vocabulary, as well as many distinctive Canadianisms. In many areas, speech is influenced by French. There are notable local variations. 

 

Canadian English and American English are sometimes classified together as North American English, emphasizing the fact that many outsiders from English speaking countries, and even some Canadians and Americans themselves, cannot distinguish Canadian English from American English by sound.  Canadian English spelling is largely a blend of British and American conventions.

 

The cot–caught merger 

Almost all Canadians have the cot–caught merger, which also occurs in the Western U.S. Speakers do not distinguish /ɔ/ (as in caught) and /ɒ/ (as in cot), which merge as either [ɒ] (more common in Western Canada and) or [ɑ] (more common in Southern Ontario and in Atlantic Canada, where it might even be fronted). Speakers with this merger produce these vowels identically, and often fail to hear the difference when speakers who preserve the distinction (for example, speakers of General American and Inland Northern American English) pronounce these vowels. This merger has existed in Canada for several generations. 

 

The intonation and pronunciation of some vowel sounds has similarities to the dialects of Scotland and to accents in Northern England such as Geordie, for example the raising to “about” to sound roughly like “aboot” or “aboat”, is also heard in Scotland and the Tyneside area of England. 

 

One of the most distinctive Canadian colloquialisms is the spoken interrogation “eh,”. 

Eh (pron.: /ˈ/ or /ˈɛ/) is a spoken interjection in English that is similar in meaning to “Excuse me,” “Please repeat that” or “huh?” It is also commonly used as a question tag, i.e., method for inciting a reply, as in “It’s nice here, eh?” In North America, it is most commonly associated with Canada and Canadian English.

The only usage of eh? that is exclusive to Canada, according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, is for “ascertaining the comprehension, continued interest, agreement, etc., of the person or persons addressed” as in, “It’s four kilometres away, eh, so I have to go by bike.” In that case, eh? is used to confirm the attention of the listener and to invite a supportive noise such as “Mm” or “Oh” or “Okay“. This usage may be paraphrased as “I’m checking to see that you’re [listening/following/in agreement] so I can continue.”

“Eh” can also be added to the end of a declarative sentence to turn it into a question. For example: “The weather is nice.” becomes “The weather is nice, eh?”  This same phrase could also be taken as “The weather is nice, don’t you agree?”. 

   

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