Thursday, October 14, 2010

I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

It doesn’t make me lie awake at night or anything like that, but sometimes I wonder why there is “British spelling” and “American spelling.” Why isn't there just “spelling”?

Why do we have -or where they have -our (as in honour, colour, and favourite). Why do we have -er where they have -re (as in centre and theatre). Why do we have maneuver and they have manoeuvre? That last one is a double whammy, spelling-wise. Why do they add two extra letters at the end of the word program and spell it programme? Or did we drop the letters on this side of the pond?

Pronunciation causes more head scratching. Someone is obviously putting the em-PHA-sis on the wrong sy-LLA-ble, but who? Take the word debris. We say duh-BREE and they say DEB-ree. We say LAB-ruh-tory and they say luh-BOR-a-tree. We say SKED-jil and they say SHED-yule. As I recall, Julie Andrews could have DAHNCED all night. Nobody in the U.S. dahnces, all night or otherwise.

Americans, being Americans, think everyone else talks funny, but rarely consider that other speakers of English think the Americans are the funny ones. England had the English language long before America was even discovered, so should we defer to them? The Canadians, the South Africans, the Australians, the New Zealanders (hi, Katherine!), the Scots, and the Irish all have their particular variations of the mother tongue. And within every country there are regional and local accents as well.

Speaking of wondering, it’s a wonder we can understand each other at all. But as long as we do, let’s hope all’s well that ends well.

Three guesses how this post ends, and the first two don’t count.


Masia Mum said...

Naturally, being English, I have to say that our spellings are correct even when they appear unnecessarily difficult. It must be much easier for American children when faced with a spelling test. Your examples prove that to be the case e.g. theater [as it sounds]. Pronounciation is another matter entirely, contrary to US opinion we don't all talk like Julie Andrews and our regional accents do terrible things to what we used to call The Queen's English. More of a problem is when the meanings we each attach to certain words are dangerously different. I hope by now most American's know that when we say "Having a fag" we mean smoking a cigarette!! As I work in Central London I am frequently asked for directions by Tourists which can lead to very humourous exchanges. I would much rather my transatlantic cousins spoke with their genuine accents than try to do what we call a "Dick Van Dyke" who should have been prosecuted for crimes against the English language for his attempt to speak Cockney in "Mary Poppins".

Pat - Arkansas said...

Even though you offered the clew (how's that for different spelling?) I was not correct. There are too many memorable melodies from My Fair Lady.

Shooting Parrots said...

Divided by a common language, as they say. It depends how our older language developed. For example, British English tends to use -ise rather than -ize on the end of words like organise. The Z is truer to the original English (and pronounciation) than we use in the UK.

As for Julie Andrews, hers was the received pronounciation of 'posh' English, hence 'dahnce'. The rest of us stick to the correct version!

Bill Bryson's book (that's b-oo-k, not b-uck) Mother Tongue on the subject.

Brian said...

Regarding realise/ize, apparently the "experts" believe that words with a Greek origin should end IZE, while words from Latin should end ISE. Confused? You should be, as many British users tend to "Latinise" everything so as to avoid looking American (ooh, that modern looking Z), whereas some old fuddy-duddy experts (who were probably around with the Greeks) stick to IZE.

More useful facts: Although most Brits (correctly!) regard our version as being the best, when compared with the recently-liberated Americans, it is in fact not always this way. Shakespeare (a Brit) used "fall" years before we decided to French-ise our language (ooh, the glamour!) and say "autumn".

Brian said...

By the way, don't always trust Mr. Microsoft's spell checkers. This poem got the thumbs-up ...

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Hello! It's The Irritator back again!
Real English is spoken in the street that I live on in Sheffield, Yorkshire. The epicentre happens to be my own house. If any of you foreign johnnies and johannas need tuition to correct your improper use of English, I will be happy to provide it at very reasonable rates.

Katherine said...

Ah Robert. Just to confuse the issue, New Zealanders sound vaguely American to Americans, whereas I, despite being born and raised in New Zealand (albeit to British parents) sound rather British in NZ but Kiwi in Britain.

It's all in the way one is brung up.

Katherine said...

PS when my grandparents came out to NZ in the late forties, they looked through the papers for some fruit-picking jobs. They were pleased to see that they wouldn't have to supply their own picking clothes as they read 'Smoks provided'. Well, it actually said 'Smoko provided' but as that didn't make sense, they assumed there was a typo. In fact 'smoko' is the name we give for a morning or afternoon tea. ie a cup of tea and a piece of cake or a scone or something.

Which has wandered from the subject but I just thought you might enjoy this story.