“Two countries divided by a common language”


One of the things we’re sometimes asked about is American versus British English and whether the former is slowly replacing the latter. Certainly it’s true to say that with the advent of the internet, much of the information we see online is in American English, but British English isn’t dead yet. We still hold on to a few British words: ‘boot’ not ‘trunk’, ‘pavement’ not ‘sidewalk’ and ‘mobile (phone)’ not ‘cell (phone)’. Speaking personally, I only get really annoyed by things I consider blatant misspellings, ‘esophagus’ instead of ‘oesophagus’ (honestly, if you can handle ‘ph’ making an ‘f’ sound, you can surely cope with a simple diphthong!).

The BBC have been running a series of articles comparing the two and seeing how different they are and why. The first part by Matthew Engel can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/14130942, followed by a rebuttal from Grant Barrett of A Way with Words here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-14285853.

We’d love to hear your comments if you think we really are, as George Bernard Shaw is thought to have said, “Two countries divided by a common language.”

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3 Responses to “Two countries divided by a common language”

  1. Chris July 26, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    I wonder where you stand on the use of American phrases such as ‘on the weekend’ (emphasis on first syllable of last word) as against the British ‘at the weekend’ (emphasis on the last).. Or, in a restaurant, ‘Can I get the roast chicken,” as against ‘Can I have the roast chicken.’. Or the upward intonation at the end of something that isn’t a question. Imagine if this verbal habit ever translated into print: “Thank you for your email? We apologise for losing your payment?” And a real question would then need two or more question marks, Spanish style: ‘?How would you like use to make the repayment?

    Isn’t language wonderful?????

  2. Susannah July 27, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    If someone asked me if he could get the roast chicken, I’d want to reply “Yes, you can, but we’re happy to bring it to you.” I thought it was the Australians who were to blame for the upward inflection at the end of sentences that aren’t questions. As for “on the weekend” and “on Oxford Street”, I stick to “at” and “in”.

  3. Will August 25, 2011 at 8:12 am #

    I have no problem with “can I get”, although I would usually use it in a coffee shop, not a fancy restaurant. The upward intonation, however, really sets my teeth on edge. I find it nearly as annoying as people who start a sentence with a question word (e.g. “how”, “why” or “what”) and then forget they’ve asked a question by the end of their overlong sentence and end it with a full stop.

    My theory is that for every sentence that shouldn’t be a question that’s asked with an upward intonation, there’s another one out there that’s missing its question mark. Similarly, I’ve long believed that for each time someone inserts an erroneous apostrophe into “its” to mean “belonging to it”, someone else is missing the apostrophe in “it’s” (to mean “it is”). Language sure is wonderful, but misused language sure ain’t. 🙂

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