Of course, English is the language that people predominantly speak in America and the UK, as well as other countries around the world. But there are some distinctions between UK English and US English. The history of these differences, how and why they came about, and what it means today are all interesting topics to delve into.
There are differences, but the similarities are more important in many ways. The two languages are almost identical in most linguistic senses. The majority of the differences occur at the level of vocabulary, as opposed to many of the other potential subdivision of language. This is something you can learn more about, as well as many other things, by reading on now.
They Have the Same Morphology and Syntax
Morphology refers to the subdivision of grammar that focuses on how words are formed and internally structured. It might sound a little complicated, but it’s pretty simple when you get down to it. In relation to the differences between UK and US English, this is important. That’s because there are no differences at the level of morphology between the two languages. And that just goes to show how similar they are. It seems obvious, but it’s an important thing to point out.
The same applies to syntax. There is no difference there either, and syntax is one of the most important aspects of language. Syntax refers to the arrangement of words into phrases and sentences. In America and England, our languages use syntax in exactly the same way, with no real exceptions to speak of.
The Number of Differences is More Limited Than We Realise
The actual number of differences between UK and US English is very small. Some people believe that there are actually only a few hundred differences, which is not many at all when you consider the number of words in the language altogether. It’s very easy to focus on all those differences, but the number of them is minute in comparison to all the things that are the same. It’s important not to lose sight of that if you are carrying out a comparison.
It’s understandable that people find it jarring to hear words that stand out as different, though. Variations are emphasised when almost everything else sounds the same. When you hear someone talk Spanish and you don’t understand Spanish, there is no point for you to grasp onto. But if a UK person listens to an American person talk, 99.9% of what’s said will be familiar, so the small amount that’s not does tend to grab the listener’s focus.
Differences are Predictable, Meaning Communication is Barely Impacted
One of the things that are very clear to anyone familiar with either of these languages is that they are different but not so different that it becomes confusing. The vast majority of the differences that you experience between the languages are predictable. That means that you can understand what is being said and what message is being conveyed through language even if you are not familiar with the geographical variations. What this means is that communication remains simple and easy.
This has always been the case. As mentioned above, it all comes down to simple vocabulary, which is actually not so vital in terms of the constituent parts of languages and how they’re formed and used. That’s especially true in the differences between UK and US English because the differences are so minor. The predictability of the variations is enhanced by the surrounding words used in a sentence usually being the same, even if one word stands out as being unique to one or the other language
Both Borrow Words from Different Languages
It’s also important to remember that both US and UK English have their roots, in part, in other languages. Both of them use words that are borrowed from other languages. Over time, these words just get incorporated into everyday discourse, and they become viewed as English, even if they’re derived from another language entirely. Food names are commonly taken from other languages as they make their way across the world.
However, the sources of these new words from other languages are not always the same. For example, in America, it’s much more common for Spanish words to make their way into the language. That’s because the US is close to Latin America, where Spanish is one of the predominant languages. It means words like ‘cilantro’ have made their way into the language. On the other hand, French words are more common in UK English. It’s interesting how this develops and the difference it makes.
Dropping Words from Sentences is More Common in US English
This is one of the most common areas of difference between the two languages, and it’s easy to raise an eyebrow when you hear it if you’re not used to it. However, like most of the differences mentioned above, it doesn’t cause any problems at the level of communication. Even when Americans drop words from sentences, their meaning remains intact to those familiar only with UK English. There are lots of instances in which this happens, and there is rarely any confusion regarding meaning.
One example of a word being dropped is in a sentence like ‘I’ll write her.’ In US English, this is normal, but in UK English, the sentence would be ‘I’ll write to her.’ The word is dropped, but the meaning is the same, and it’s familiar enough for there to be no confusion as to what was meant by the sentence. It’s not clear how this distinction came about in US English, but it’s now firmly established.
As you can see for yourself, there are clear differences between UK English and US English, but they have much more in common. The limited number of differences that are present are all easy to overcome and understand. There is no other language that is anywhere near as close to either as they are to each other. That’s important to remember.