Separated by a Common Language?

Or are they?

Eng­lish is a won­der­ful lan­guage, yet due to many his­tor­i­cal quirks the two lands hav­ing the great­est tra­di­tions, Britain and the USA seem­ing­ly adopt­ed dif­fer­ent lin­guis­tic con­ven­tions over many years. It isn’t that there is any inten­tion to cause con­fu­sion. Had it not been for the Amer­i­can rev­o­lu­tion coin­cid­ing with the desire of Mar­i­on Web­ster to sim­pli­fy the lan­guage and the sub­se­quent estrange­ment of the two lands as the British focused their efforts on their remain­ing colonies there would not have been so many appar­ent differences.

Today, of course, we live in a new age of inter­na­tion­al enlight­en­ment which should bring both peo­ple and the lan­guage clos­er togeth­er, with peo­ple from across the globe con­tribut­ing to the growth of the lan­guage from Aus­tralia to Zim­bab­we and from Boston to Yor­ke­town (how­ev­er you choose to spell this).

I was born in Eng­land, the ori­gin of this pow­er­ful and inspir­ing lan­guage, yet from an ear­ly age saw Amer­i­can made TV pro­grammes or films and had to won­der with curios­i­ty about what some of the phras­es meant, yet as I grew up and start­ed to work cre­at­ing com­put­er pro­grams I also dis­cov­ered there were two (or more) ways of spelling things, the Eng­lish and the Amer­i­can way. We were amused by “Amer­i­can­isms” that we could see or hear, indeed there were radio and TV pro­grammes ded­i­cat­ed to pok­ing fun at those words or phras­es they did not under­stand. As a com­put­ing pro­fes­sion­al I prob­a­bly saw more than most because many of my col­leagues or fel­low pro­fes­sion­als were American.

School slate by devanarth CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay Common LanguageDespite all these so-called Amer­i­can­isms, the fact that colour is spelled col­or, and a car has a hood and a trunk instead of a bon­net and boot, today I know that we have more in com­mon than sets us apart. Except for a few quirks Amer­i­can schools pro­vide, in essence, the same gram­mar lessons as Eng­lish schools.

 

English a Common World Language?

Since 2006 I have been liv­ing in Cana­da and since that time have con­tributed to pub­li­ca­tions in North Amer­i­ca and glob­al­ly and write accord­ing to the stan­dards required for my clients. Yet with all on-line pub­li­ca­tions I have always used UK spelling and con­ven­tions (not Cana­di­an despite this land being my home). Nowhere has any­one com­ment­ed that my spelling of favour, ratio­nalise, the use of oth­er dis­tinct­ly Eng­lish spelling as being incor­rect, indeed when I turn to a dic­tio­nary it is an Eng­lish one (one of the three Oxford dic­tio­nar­ies in my pos­ses­sion), yet I also recog­nise that as it stands today the Eng­lish lan­guage needs to devel­op fur­ther and part of this is the need to be re-uni­fied because it is crazy that we have recog­nised dif­fer­ences in the UK, USA, Cana­da, Aus­tralia, New Zealand, South Africa, and in oth­er places. Does the world need a com­mon lan­guage, that adopts a uni­fied approach everywhere?

The ener­gy of lan­guage has a large part to do with com­mu­ni­ca­tion, it helps the sales­man sell, the preach­er preach, and the writer write and each will devel­op their lit­tle per­son­al quirks and ways of using this lan­guage. Ulti­mate­ly becom­ing a suc­cess­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tor is about devel­op­ing both writ­ten and ver­bal skills. Get that right and you have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to demon­strate your ideas to a world­wide audi­ence of up to 2.1 bil­lion peo­ple, in truth Eng­lish is real­ly a uni­fy­ing or com­mon lan­guage, par­tic­u­lar­ly for a great many peo­ple in the world of busi­ness. Even with vari­a­tions in region­al dialects a large por­tion of the world’s pop­u­la­tion is able to under­stand each oth­er — it may prove a chal­lenge for an Alaba­ma native to under­stand a Glaswe­gian, but I am sure that after a night in one of Glasgow’s many bars or tav­erns they will under­stand each oth­er very well indeed.

 

A Little Misunderstanding

Flat tyre by Ben_Kerckx CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay Common LanguageI am hap­py to bor­row a thought from my ear­li­er arti­cle:

An Eng­lish­man apol­o­gised to an Amer­i­can lady for being late to a meet­ing, he had suf­fered a punc­ture this morn­ing. “Sounds painful” she stat­ed being unsure of what this was. He imme­di­ate­ly realised his mis­take, most peo­ple in Amer­i­ca use ‘flat tire’ or ‘flat’ instead of the word punc­ture. Well for an Eng­lish­man ‘a flat’ is real­ly a place you reside in, what for the Amer­i­can would be called an ‘apart­ment’. Hmm…

There are many sto­ries of dif­fer­ences between each of the lands that use Eng­lish and writer Lynne Truss in “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” talks much about the need for good gram­mar, with­out a doubt her pub­li­ca­tion shows how numer­ous peo­ple have become slop­py in their use of syn­tax and gram­mat­i­cal struc­tures. Many bad habits exist on tele­vi­sion, in shops, in news­pa­pers, and sad­ly even in our schools where we begin to learn this lan­guage. How the lan­guage devel­ops is of vital impor­tance. Region­al dif­fer­ences in how we speak as well as dis­tinc­tions based on people’s cul­tur­al or reli­gious back­grounds can stand in the way of how we com­mu­ni­cate or alter­na­tive­ly peo­ple can sim­ply accept them for what they are — peo­ple attempt­ing to com­mu­ni­cate in a lan­guage that isn’t their moth­er tongue.

Arguably more Eng­lish dialects exist in the city of Lon­don than across the whole of the USA. One time I attend­ed a uni­ver­si­ty debate one speak­er from South­ern Eng­land had almost the per­fect BBC type accent, the oth­er a native of New­cas­tle spoke with the broad Geordie accent of a nor­mal work­ing man. Both pre­sent­ed oppo­site views on a sub­ject the clar­i­ty of the first speaker’s accent gave him the dis­tinct advan­tage for most of the pre­sen­ta­tion until he made a fatal slip in answer­ing a ques­tion from the audi­ence when he accused his oppo­nent of hav­ing a speech imped­i­ment, at that point every mem­ber of the audi­ence took the things said by the sec­ond speak­er very seri­ous­ly indeed. The clear mes­sage from that ses­sion was always be respect­ful of oth­ers, espe­cial­ly when they are more dif­fi­cult to under­stand.

Ulti­mate­ly though the BBC (or South­ern Eng­lish) accent is only used by a small minor­i­ty of Eng­lish speak­ers and if we are going to devel­op a com­mon lan­guage for the world to use we must be pre­pared to accept that there will be hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent accents.

 

Diversity

The need for a world­wide com­mon lan­guage has been long dis­cussed, lead­ing to the devel­op­ment of Esperan­to a cen­tu­ry ago. A superb idea, under­pinned by a desire for a uni­fied world-wide lan­guage that would have a sin­gle set of rules and could be taught to chil­dren from a young age. The prob­lem with Esperan­to was that it was found­ed in the halls of acad­e­mia and found very lit­tle inter­est on the streets across the world. In the mean­while Eng­lish become the world lan­guage of busi­ness, the world lan­guage of sci­ence, the world lan­guage of tech­nol­o­gy, the lan­guage of air­lines, one of two lan­guages of sports, and per­haps most impor­tant­ly the lan­guage of rev­o­lu­tion.

Welding - Worker by skeeze CC0 Public domain from Pixabay Common LanguageEng­lish has a prac­ti­cal found­ing based upon the needs of the peo­ple of the world and is in a process of con­tin­u­ing to devel­op, grow, change, and evolve.

To a large extent diver­si­ty must exist unhin­dered, what at one time was the lan­guage of a small island nation has now grown as the moth­er tongue of so many states and coun­tries in dif­fer­ent parts of the world and this is one pos­i­tive of the lan­guage which may in the future become the way that every per­son in the world com­mu­ni­cates using a com­mon language.

 

 

Buy Peter B. Giblett a cof­fee as a way of thank­ing him for his thoughts on the pow­er of the Eng­lish lan­guage. All images used here come from roy­al­ty free or pub­lic domain image col­lec­tions, such as Pixabay.

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