I'm an American, and often have debates with my British boyfriend (currently living in the US) about the English language. (He thinks the Americans butchered the language.) Does anyone have any ideas how or why the language was altered in the first place (i.e. spellings of words, pronounciations)? I know the colonists wanted their "own" language and things evolved over time, but is there any other reason? I've found many Web sites listing the different spellings and meanings of words, but I'm having a hard time finding some history.
English initially came to the United States in two waves. Most of the Puritans arrived in New England from the area known as East Anglia in England (although some were from other regions as well). Their accent would not have sounded like an East Anglia accent today, but probably would have sounded something like a cross between upstate New York and Northern Irish--kind of flat and nasal.
In the south, a good portion of the inhabitants of the original Virginia colony were from the West of England, and would have had a rather strong brogue.
In England, soon after the colonization of North America, many changes happened in the language as it was spoken in the mother country. The English began adopting unusual pronunciations that the Americans did not--especially the dropping of r's at the end of words.
Meanwhile, America underwent its own changes. The Scots-Irish immigrated to the hill country of the US (extending from Western Pennsylvania down through the inland southern states), and brought with them the distinct twang that you hear in that region. The gentry from the Coastal South & New England went to British Universities, and thus created the half-American/half-British dialects that you hear in those areas. The English and Dutch intermingled in New York City to create the unusual New York accent.
By the time that the US gained independence the two countries were still evolving heavily.
So, really, American English did not "break away" from its British counterpart. Instead American and British English both strarted from roughly the same place, and then moved in radically different directions over the centuries.
I'd say your boyfriend's notion is a silly one. Many argue that American English is actually a more archaic form of English than that which is spoken in England (not that that makes it any better or worse).
Here is an article for you on why languages change:
Here is another one on the various accents of English speakers:
You might want to sift through the archive...this topic has been a favorite on the Antimoon forum for quite some time now.
Thanks for the information. I'll check out those sites! I've read through the forums here - some interesting points were made.
I think I'll now have a strong debate...he thinks that English originiated in England so we should conform to the exact way their language is now. He seems to forget that both have evolved over time.
I think you'll find that it is British English rather than American English which has changed more over time. American English is much more conservative and has retained many older lexical items (such as 'fall' for autumn), grammatical structures ('gotten') and phonological variables which have fallen out of use in British English.
Neither Americans nor British "butcher" the language. Because there really is no "proper" form of English anymore. Tell your BF to remind himself of how much slang is used in some of the more urban spots in Britain, and then see if he still criticizes.
Americans have their own form of slangy and relaxed speech, just as the British do.
The thing is, the purpose of language is to communicate within the context of a familiar group. If you can do that effectively, then you are speaking sufficiently. It doesn't matter if it may be slightly slower in transcommunication - the point is that it's working. Be it by means of slang, dictionary forms, or whatever the proper medium is. If you come across a person who is not familiar with dictionary-form English and almost always uses slang forms, then using dictionary-form (my personal term for "proper") English just won't work, will it?
I have quite a few British friends here in the U.S. And of all of them, not one thought in the manner of your BF after having lived here for a while. I've picked up on plenty of their slang just as they have picked up on ours through exposure.
Bottom line - the ONLY way to truly "butcher" a language is to use it without any effective communication taking place. That makes it pointless, and thusly, butchered.
<<He thinks the Americans butchered the language.>>
That is just plain arrogant....and silly