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American English

American English is a form of the English language used in the United States of America. It is the primary language used in the United States. According to the 1990 census, 97 percent of U.S. residents speak English "well" or "very well." Only 0.8 of one percent speak no English at all, as compared with 3.6 percent in 1890.

Table of contents

History

English was inherited from British colonization. The first wave of English-speaking immigrants was settled in North America in the 17th Century:

In this century, there were in North America speakers of Dutch, French, Native American, Spanish and Swedish languages.

In 1664, English troops took over New Netherland.

In 1763, Britain acquired the French colony of New France and the Spanish colony of Florida.

Differences in British English and American English

American English has some small differences from British English. American English has both spelling and grammatical differences from British English, some of which were made as part of an attempt to rationalize the English spelling used by British English at the time. Unlike many 20th century language reforms[?] (e.g., Turkey's alphabet shift, Norway's spelling reform) the American spelling changes were not driven by government, but by textbook writers and dictionary makers.

The first American dictionary was written by Noah Webster in 1828. At the time America was a relatively new country and Webster's particular contribution was to show that the region spoke a different dialect from Britain, and so he wrote a dictionary with many spellings differing from the standard. Many of these changes were initiated unilaterally by Webster.

Webster also argued for many "simplifications" to the idiomatic spelling of the period. Somewhat ironically, many, although not all, of his simplifications fell into common usage alongside the original versions, resulting in a situation even more confused than before.

Many words are shortened and differ from other versions of English. Words such as center are used instead of centre in other versions of English. And there are many, many other variations.

American English has further changed due to the influx of non-English speakers whose words sometimes enter American vernacular. Many words have entered American English from Spanish, etc.

Examples of common American English loanwords, not common in British English (many, however, would be recognised due to Hollywood movies):

From African languages

gumbookra, or a stew thickened with okra

From Dutch

cookiebaked sweet, never called a biscuit, digestive; sometimes called shortbread
killcreek

From French

banquettea raised sidewalk
beigneta square, holeless doughnut
boudina spicy link sausage
café au laita mixture of half milk and half coffee
chowdera thick seafood stew
étoufféea spicy stew of vegetables and seafood
jambalayarice cooked with herbs, spices, and ham, chicken, or seafood
langniappean extra or unexpected gift
pain perduNew Orleans-style French toast
piroguea canoe made from a hollowed tree trunk
pralinea candy made of nuts suspended in a boiled sugar syrup
zydecoa native Louisiana style of music

From Native American languages

bayoua swampy, slow-moving stream or outlet
chinooka strong wind blowing down off the mountains
squashvegetable, similar to English vegetable marrow
succotashmixture of corn and other vegetables like peas, beans

From Spanish

adobea mud-based construction material
arroyogulch, often dry except when it has rained recently
barrioshantytown or historically poverty-afflicted area of a city
burrodonkey
desperadocriminal
fiestaparty
frijolesbeans
haciendaparticular style of house
hombreman
mesaflat topped mountain
prontoimmediately

From Yiddish

klutza clumsy person
kvetchcomplain
loxcured salmon
schlepto carry or to travel
schmucka fool
schmutzdirt
shlemiela fool

From Japanese

tycoonsuccessful business leader
honcholeader, ie: "The Head Honcho"

For detailed differences in British English and American English see American and British English Differences.

Regional differences

Written American English is fairly standardized across the country. However, there is some variation in the spoken language. There are several recognizable regional variations (such as that spoken in New York and New Jersey), particularly in pronunciation, but also in slang vocabulary.

Most traditional sources cite Standard Midwestern American English as the unofficial standard accent and dialect of American English. However, many linguists claim California English[?] has become the de facto standard since the 1960s or 1970s due to its central role in the American entertainment industry; others argue that the entertainment industry, despite being in California, uses Midwestern.

African-American colloqial English (sometimes called Ebonics) contains many distinctive forms.

External links and references

  • The American Language 4th Edition, Corrected and Enlarged, H. L. Menchen, Random House, 1948, hardcover, ISBN 0394400755
  • How We Talk: American Regional English Today, Allan Metcalf, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000, softcover, ISBN 0618043624
  • 1st and 2nd supplements of above.
  • Dialect Survey (http://hcs.harvard.edu/~golder/dialect/index) of the United States, by Bert Vaux et al., Harvard University. The answers to various questions about pronounciation, word use etc. can be seen in relationship to the regions where they are predominant.



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