Linguistic Drift

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CMBright

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Recent threads about mixing tenses and others on commas vs. semicolons and other punctuation got me thinking.

How different is British English (and appropriate grammar) from American English or Australian English? All developed and grew slightly apart in times when mail took months. I suspect there has been a bit of reconverging given the telephone and the internet. I also would expect grammar to become more uniform within a single language such as English as a result. Or did American writers get so influenced by Oxford grammar books that American English has already gotten close to the modern British grammar?

I know there are bunches of terms where American and British are different. Such as trunk/boot and hood/bonnet. Or trying to translate a British cookie recipe into American and getting thrown by golden syrup. Golden syrup? Is that light corn syrup? No, apparently it is its own thing and the US doesn't have it, but corn syrup is probably close enough for taste/texture. Never did get around to trying that cookie recipe.
 

Lakey

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Mostly vocabulary differences, as you note. There are minor syntactic differences but they are very small. A couple examples off the top of my head:

* Americans often say “different than” (or my preference, “different from”) where Brits say “different to”
* British English handles elided main verbs a little differently from (see what I did there) American English. Where AmE would say ”Did you finish the report? I thought you had.”, BrE might say “Did you finish the report? I thought you had done.”

I know of a few other syntactic differences but I can’t dredge them up in my memory at the moment. Of course neither BrE or AmE is a monolith; there are more syntactic differences between some varieties of BrE than there are between mainstream AmE and BrE.

Indian English (InE) has some even more interesting variations, some due to pressure from Hindi. InE often says “even” where AmE/BrE would say “also/too,” (as in “even I had difficulty with this problem” rather than “I also had difficulty with this problem”) because Hindi uses the same word for both senses. Another one is that InE speakers often use “until” in a way that sounds very wrong to AmE/BrE speakers: InE “until you don’t come home” is the same meaning as AmE/BrE “unless/until you come home.” (Of course InE too is not a monolith.)

:e2coffee:
 

Carrie

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I think vocabulary has spread across the pond in both directions but we are stuck with our respective punctuation and spelling. My personal belief is that Daniel Webster did the language a great service in the simplification of many spellings. (Foetus? Really?) But I prefer the UK standard on quotation marks where commas and periods are put either inside or outside depending on context rather than always inside. I also think doubles inside of singles looks better than singles inside of doubles but, sadly, no one asked me!
 

mccardey

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I was fascinated to discover that a lot of the vocab differences came originally from that fact that the British settlers to the US stuck to the language they'd know. So - Fall stayed Fall where it became Autumn elsewhere.

Unless that's wrong.

I might have dreamed it.
 
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CMBright

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I was fascinated to discover that a lot of the vocab differences came originally from that fact that the British settlers to the US stuck to the language they'd know. So - Fall stayed Fall where it became Autumn elsewhere.

Unless that's wrong.

I might have dreamed it.

That would make sense. Who came over, where they stopped along the way, who was already there or who came after. All would affect the drift of the terms such as autumn vs. fall. Or calling a meal dinner when it was clearly lunch time and calling what should be dinner supper, that really bugged me when I visited relatives one state away back when I was a kid.

I don't know if that was a regional thing, the two states shared a border, or if it was city vs. farm country. Both were American English.
 

CMBright

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Mostly vocabulary differences, as you note. There are minor syntactic differences but they are very small. A couple examples off the top of my head:

* Americans often say “different than” (or my preference, “different from”) where Brits say “different to”
* British English handles elided main verbs a little differently from (see what I did there) American English. Where AmE would say ”Did you finish the report? I thought you had.”, BrE might say “Did you finish the report? I thought you had done.”

I know of a few other syntactic differences but I can’t dredge them up in my memory at the moment. Of course neither BrE or AmE is a monolith; there are more syntactic differences between some varieties of BrE than there are between mainstream AmE and BrE.

Indian English (InE) has some even more interesting variations, some due to pressure from Hindi. InE often says “even” where AmE/BrE would say “also/too,” (as in “even I had difficulty with this problem” rather than “I also had difficulty with this problem”) because Hindi uses the same word for both senses. Another one is that InE speakers often use “until” in a way that sounds very wrong to AmE/BrE speakers: InE “until you don’t come home” is the same meaning as AmE/BrE “unless/until you come home.” (Of course InE too is not a monolith.)

:e2coffee:

Thank you. I had thought of Australia (and New Zealand) but not of India. That was very interesting.
 

mccardey

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Mostly vocabulary differences, as you note. There are minor syntactic differences but they are very small. A couple examples off the top of my head:

* Americans often say “different than” (or my preference, “different from”) where Brits say “different to”
* British English handles elided main verbs a little differently from (see what I did there) American English. Where AmE would say ”Did you finish the report? I thought you had.”, BrE might say “Did you finish the report? I thought you had done.”

I know of a few other syntactic differences but I can’t dredge them up in my memory at the moment. Of course neither BrE or AmE is a monolith; there are more syntactic differences between some varieties of BrE than there are between mainstream AmE and BrE.

Indian English (InE) has some even more interesting variations, some due to pressure from Hindi. InE often says “even” where AmE/BrE would say “also/too,” (as in “even I had difficulty with this problem” rather than “I also had difficulty with this problem”) because Hindi uses the same word for both senses. Another one is that InE speakers often use “until” in a way that sounds very wrong to AmE/BrE speakers: InE “until you don’t come home” is the same meaning as AmE/BrE “unless/until you come home.” (Of course InE too is not a monolith.)

:e2coffee:
Malaysian English as well - lots of little tweaks that have taken root. Lay over for lie down; isn't it? which replaces all those disparate question suffixes like don't you, hasn't she, did we? and the lovely all-purpose lah which I was told had drifted in from China back in the very dim past...

I wonder though, if those are all gone, now that English TV is availble 24/7? When I lived there, in the early 90s, there was only an hour or two of English TV a day - and it was while the kids were in school, in case they picked up bad habits...
 

Stytch

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I was fascinated to discover that a lot of the vocab differences came originally from that fact that the British settlers to the US stuck to the language they'd know. So - Fall stayed Fall where it became Autumn elsewhere.

Unless that's wrong.

I might have dreamed it.
I also remember something about this, along with the supposition that some of the more drawly southern USA accents were truer to the British English of the colonial Era than modern day British English. I have no idea if it's true, that's just how I recall that bit of info.
 

Catriona Grace

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Once upon a time, English spoken in isolated areas of the South verged on the Shakespearean or retained the words and cadences of Ulster or the English-Scottish border where a lot of southern ancestors came from. Immigrants landed in hills and hollers and stayed isolated there so language patterns were relatively unaffected by the wider world. Today the wider world has intruded almost everywhere. Words and phrases that were common in my grandparents' or great grandparents' speech are rarely, if ever, used by people the ages of my children and grandchildren.
 

CMBright

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It would be interesting to see how words crept into US English and regional dialects. I remember "oofta" and "ya, you betcha" from Minnesota. I couldn't get into the show, but decades after leaving the state, Fargo sounded so right. I don't hear Oklahoma dialect, but listening to that show felt like home. I doubt one would hear that in the Southern Appalachian region.

I do suspect that as words move between continents more and more at the speed of internet, the drift will slow or stop and might even begin to merge back into a single larger language. One that has already borrowed from just about every language on the planet at this point.
 

Lakey

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Some US regional dialect features were influenced by immigrant communities that were dominant in that area. Scandinavians in the northern Midwest, Irish and German in Pennsylvania, Irish and Italian in New York, and on and on. It’s only one contributing factor to the many that make up regional variation, but it’s a super interesting one.

:e2coffee:
 

Snitchcat

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Going back to what meal times are called, it's regional, as far as I know:

North of England goes with "breakfast, dinner and supper" or "breakfast, dinner, tea", while the South of England goes with "breakfast, lunch, dinner".

And then there's "brunch", "luncheon", and "tea", as well.

Personally, I like "elvenses". ^_^
 
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P.K. Torrens

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Language drift is bloody interesting, eh. It doesn’t even take long

My family fled the war in former Yugoslavia in 1994. The version of the language my family speaks here in NZ is snap frozen from that era. When I visit the part of Croatia I’m from, it’s like a completely different dialect.

Some of that is political, I know, but still, the drift is palpable.

When I speak to migrants who came from former Yugoslavia in the 50’s/60’s, it’s also very different. For example, the word for traffic lights: we would say “semafor” (french derivative) and they say the Serbo-Croat word for “candle”

Very entertaining.
 
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