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.
Despite 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
I 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.
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.
English 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.