English in North America

History

English arrived in North America at the beginning of the seventeenth century, initially in present-day North Carolina and Virginia, then in Massachusetts.

Later towards the end of the seventeenth century massive immigration began to New York and Philadelphia which became the ports of entry for the many waves of settlers. These three areas of the eastern U.S. coast have given rise to the three main varieties of present-day U.S. English, which form three main bands that go across the country from east coast to west coast. Many experts have made further subdivisions.

U.S. English

Pronunciation

Standard American pronunciation is considered to be an educated variety of the Midland (or General American) variety. Sometimes it is known as 'Network English'. It varies from (British) English Received Pronunciation in that vowel sounds are rarely very long, a word like "taught" sounds very much like "tot", other typical features (compared with British English) include:

Pronunciation of Individual Words

(Words pronounced differently in British and American English)

anti- demi- semi- (Br. 'ee', Am. 'a-ee)'
data status apparatus (etc.) (Br. 'a-ee', Am. 'ah')
alumini(u)m (Br. 'a-loo-MIN- yum', Am. 'a-LOO-min-um')
charade (Br. 'ah', Am. 'ey')
clerk (Br. 'ah', Am. 'uh')
cordial (Br. 'dee-ul', Am. 'jul')
derby (Br. 'ah', Am. 'uh')
deterrent (Br. 'dee-TEH-rent', Am. 'DEH-tuh-rent')
herb (Br. 'herb', Am. 'erb')
leisure (Br. 'eh', Am. 'ee')
lever (Br. 'ee', Am 'eh')
privacy (Br. 'i' or 'a-ee', Am. 'a-ee')
route (Br. 'oo', Am. 'oo' or 'a-oo')
schedule (Br. 'sh', Am. 'sk')
shone (Br. 'oh', Am. 'oh-oo')
tomato (Br. 'ah', Am. 'ey')
Tunisia (Br. 'iz-ee-eh', Am. 'ee-sha')
vase (Br. 'ah', Am. 'ey')

Stress Patterns for Words in American English

FRENCH-ORIGIN WORDS (British stress pattern given first)

attaché attaché
ballet ballet
debris debris
dictate dictate
garage garage

WORDS ENDING IN '-ATE' (British stress pattern given first)

dictate dictate
frustrate frustrate
translate translate

WORDS ENGLISH IN '-ARY' and '-ORY' (British given first)

capillary capillary
commentary commentary
dictionary dictionary
extraordinary extraordinary
library library
military military
preliminary preliminary
secretary secretary
temporary temporary
laboratory laboratory
lavatory lavatory
matrimony matrimony

WORDS ENDING IN '-ILE' (British stress pattern given first)

docile docile
fragile fragile
fertile fertile
hostile hostile
missile missile
sterile sterile

FIRST SYLLABLE STRESS IN AMERICAN ENGLISH (British given first)

address address
adult adult
cigarette cigarette
enquiry inquiry
hot dog hotdog
ice-cream - icecream
magazine - magazine
New Year - New Year
research - research
weekend weekend

DOUBLE STRESSES IN SOME AMERICAN NAMES (British given first)

Birmingham Birmingham
Cunningham - Cunningham
Norfolk - Norfolk
Norwich Norwich
Portsmouth Portsmouth
Warwick Warwick

British and American Preposition Differences

American

British

to battle (the enemy)

to battle with/against (the enemy)

to check out (the situation)

to check up on (the situation)

to fill out (a form)

to fill in (a form)

to look out (the window)

to look out of (the window)

to meet with (colleagues)

to meet (colleagues)

to prevent (her) from (going)

to prevent (her going)

to protest (the idea)

to protest at/against/about (the idea)

to stop (them) from (saying)

to stop (them saying)

to talk with (friends)

to talk to (friends)

to visit with (relatives)

to visit (relatives)

ten after three

ten past three

ten of three

ten to three

different from/than

different to/from

over the weekend

at the weekend

(I haven't been there) in ages

(I haven't been there) for ages

Monday through Friday

Monday to Friday

(It starts) Tuesday

(It starts) on Tuesday

(It starts) January 1st

(It starts) on (the) 1st (of) January

British and American Spelling Differences

(American spellings are given first)

..or /..our - color/colour favor/favour honor/honour labor/labour etc.

..o../..ou.. - mold/mould molt/moult smolder/smoulder

..e../..ae.. - anesthetic/anaesthetic medieval/mediaeval encyclopedia/encyclopaedia etc.

..e../..oe.. - fetus/foetus homeopathic/homoeopathic maneuver/manoeuvre etc.

in.. / en.. - inclose/enclose indorse/endorse inquiry/enquiry insure/ensure etc.

..er /..re - center/centre fiber/fibre liter/litre meter/metre theater/theatre etc.

..ed /..t - burned/burnt dreamed/dreamt learned/learnt spelled/spelt etc.

..se /..ce - defense/defence license/licence offense/offence pretense/pretence etc.

..ct../..x.. - connection/connexion deflection/deflexion inflection/inflexion etc.

..l../..ll.. - quarreling/quarrelling traveler/traveller woolen/woollen etc.

..ll../..l.. - fulfill/fulfil installment/instalment instill/instil skillful/skilful etc.

..ize /..ise - apologize/apologise civilize/civilise organize/organise etc.

../..st - amid/amidst among/amongst while/whilst

../..-.. - cooperate/co-operate neoclassical/neo-classical etc.

..e.. /..é.. - cafe/café elite/élite fiancee/fiancée matinee/matinée etc.

Various - airplane/aeroplane aluminum/aluminium catalog/catalogue disk/disc check/cheque jail/gaol goodby/goodbye gray/grey jewelry/jewellery kerb/curb kidnaper/kidnapper mustache/moustache plow/plough program/programme prolog/prologue pajamas/pyjamas skeptic/sceptic specialty/speciality story/storey sulfur/sulphur tire/tyre whiskey/whisky

Sensational spellings (US) - bi donut hi kool kwik lo nite tonite pleez rite shure snax sox thanx tho thru thruway U Xing etc.

Grammar

The principal areas where US English differs from British English are as follows:

 

Canadian English

Canadian English is fairly young compared with U.S. English and therefore is less distinctive. To Americans it sounds 'British' (it has longer vowel sounds in 'been', 'again', and so on); to the British it seems more 'American'. While having more similarities with US English, the unique features are:

 

© Nigel J. Ross, 2003


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