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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