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American english or general english - a study of americanisms in english
2000 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (One Year))Student thesis
Abstract [en]

Since the vocabulary of a language is subject to the most rapid change in a language, it is necessary to be wary of the fact that no matter how modern a reference book is, it cannot be completely up to date (Modiano, 1996:6). I wondered how accurate a picture is given of the lexical differences between AmE and EngE by linguistic guides from the last three decades, considering the fact that the word lists in these guides have not seemed to change. I decided to investigate the words most often referred to as AmE in cross references from the last few decades, by checking the labels (e.g. ”AmE” or none) given to these words by three EFL-dictionaries from the 1990s, and by having a number of Londoners fill out a questionnaire designed to reveal what words they consider typically AmE today. Sixty-four words in descriptive sentences were tested in the questionnaire, and in over half of the cases, the three EFL-dictionaries agreed completely regarding the American character of the word, whether it was a general English word, used chiefly in America, or used only in America (see appendix 4, table A). There was greater agreement between the dictionaries and my informants regarding what words are AmE than what words are general English. Of the twenty words classified as American English by all three dictionaries, ten words were considered AmE by more than 90 % of my informants, namely parking lot, faucet, grade, drugstore, pants, sidewalk, trash can, gas, diaper and candy. Some words which were spotted as Americanisms by linguistic guides showed to have been adopted into EngE and are generally no longer considered AmE. Of the thirteen words classified as general English by the dictionaries, the following words were considered to be used in standard EngE by more than 70 % of my informants: maybe, cracker, dessert, set the table and nail polish. However, in some cases my informants found a word to be typically AmE while all three EFL-dictionaries labelled it EngE. Of the thirteen words classified as general English by the dictionaries, there were five words which were considered typically AmE by a majority of my informants: hallway, soccer, guy, principal and kindergarten; the latter two by more than 80 %. These five words have a conspicuous result pattern in common: My youngest group of informants present very high percentages for these words, while the two older groups of informants present considerably lower percentages for the same words, the oldest group the lowest. It is obvious that my youngest informants rarely hear these words in their immediate surroundings, nonetheless use them, and the reason is most likely that the EngE equivalents of these words are very frequent in the speech used and heard by pupils in compulsory schools in particular, and that the vocabulary of these pupils is smaller and less varied than that of an adult. It is impossible to give general answers to why some words are considered typically AmE by my informants, while other words are not. At times, there seems to be a pattern, but the next moment there are too many divergences from the pattern to make it interesting. It is necessary to look at each word separately, and figure out what factors have influenced its presence and frequency or absence in EngE (see the result section). For example, freeway will not be adopted since England does not have a motorway system of the American kind with a distinction between roads which you have to pay to drive on, and roads which are free of charge. As for cookbook, it has been naturalized in EngE probably because it is easier to say, and makes more sense than cookery-book. Unscientific handbooks which briefly guide the reader in the differences between AmE and EngE lexis give a distorted picture of reality, and not infrequently they convey false information . The kind of guide least helpful to me is the list of word-pairs lacking comment on each word-pair. Words in word pairs are not mutually exclusive, although that is the impression given. Furthermore, the EFL-dictionaries fell short in helping me understand the use or non-use of the supposed Americanisms in modern EngE. The labels attached to the words are too few and too vague, and due to space constraints the lexicographers cannot give long, detailed explanations. Categorization helps people see a structure, and by way of introduction it is therefore a necessary pedagogic instrument. However, reality always transcends categorization. For advanced English students and English teachers there is therefore a need for a scientific, explicit complement to dictionaries and brief linguistic guides in AmE and EngE lexis; a complement which is based on thorough research of AmE and EngE modern written and spoken material. There is an urgent need for this kind of literature since EngE is not a mere dialect of AmE, as H.L Mencken in 1936 believed it would become, and the adoption of an Americanism into EngE does not necessarily mean that it will cover the same semantic field and have the same collocations as in AmE. It is even rather unlikely since the American and English people have a different history and different aspirations.

Abstract [en]

Since the vocabulary of a language is subject to the most rapid change in a language, it is necessary to be wary of the fact that no matter how modern a reference book is, it cannot be completely up to date (Modiano, 1996:6). I wondered how accurate a picture is given of the lexical differences between AmE and EngE by linguistic guides from the last three decades, considering the fact that the word lists in these guides have not seemed to change. I decided to investigate the words most often referred to as AmE in cross references from the last few decades, by checking the labels (e.g. ”AmE” or none) given to these words by three EFL-dictionaries from the 1990s, and by having a number of Londoners fill out a questionnaire designed to reveal what words they consider typically AmE today. Sixty-four words in descriptive sentences were tested in the questionnaire, and in over half of the cases, the three EFL-dictionaries agreed completely regarding the American character of the word, whether it was a general English word, used chiefly in America, or used only in America (see appendix 4, table A). There was greater agreement between the dictionaries and my informants regarding what words are AmE than what words are general English. Of the twenty words classified as American English by all three dictionaries, ten words were considered AmE by more than 90 % of my informants, namely parking lot, faucet, grade, drugstore, pants, sidewalk, trash can, gas, diaper and candy. Some words which were spotted as Americanisms by linguistic guides showed to have been adopted into EngE and are generally no longer considered AmE. Of the thirteen words classified as general English by the dictionaries, the following words were considered to be used in standard EngE by more than 70 % of my informants: maybe, cracker, dessert, set the table and nail polish. However, in some cases my informants found a word to be typically AmE while all three EFL-dictionaries labelled it EngE. Of the thirteen words classified as general English by the dictionaries, there were five words which were considered typically AmE by a majority of my informants: hallway, soccer, guy, principal and kindergarten; the latter two by more than 80 %. These five words have a conspicuous result pattern in common: My youngest group of informants present very high percentages for these words, while the two older groups of informants present considerably lower percentages for the same words, the oldest group the lowest. It is obvious that my youngest informants rarely hear these words in their immediate surroundings, nonetheless use them, and the reason is most likely that the EngE equivalents of these words are very frequent in the speech used and heard by pupils in compulsory schools in particular, and that the vocabulary of these pupils is smaller and less varied than that of an adult. It is impossible to give general answers to why some words are considered typically AmE by my informants, while other words are not. At times, there seems to be a pattern, but the next moment there are too many divergences from the pattern to make it interesting. It is necessary to look at each word separately, and figure out what factors have influenced its presence and frequency or absence in EngE (see the result section). For example, freeway will not be adopted since England does not have a motorway system of the American kind with a distinction between roads which you have to pay to drive on, and roads which are free of charge. As for cookbook, it has been naturalized in EngE probably because it is easier to say, and makes more sense than cookery-book. Unscientific handbooks which briefly guide the reader in the differences between AmE and EngE lexis give a distorted picture of reality, and not infrequently they convey false information . The kind of guide least helpful to me is the list of word-pairs lacking comment on each word-pair. Words in word pairs are not mutually exclusive, although that is the impression given. Furthermore, the EFL-dictionaries fell short in helping me understand the use or non-use of the supposed Americanisms in modern EngE. The labels attached to the words are too few and too vague, and due to space constraints the lexicographers cannot give long, detailed explanations. Categorization helps people see a structure, and by way of introduction it is therefore a necessary pedagogic instrument. However, reality always transcends categorization. For advanced English students and English teachers there is therefore a need for a scientific, explicit complement to dictionaries and brief linguistic guides in AmE and EngE lexis; a complement which is based on thorough research of AmE and EngE modern written and spoken material. There is an urgent need for this kind of literature since EngE is not a mere dialect of AmE, as H.L Mencken in 1936 believed it would become, and the adoption of an Americanism into EngE does not necessarily mean that it will cover the same semantic field and have the same collocations as in AmE. It is even rather unlikely since the American and English people have a different history and different aspirations.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2000. , 70 p.
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-53932Local ID: ENG D-7OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kau-53932DiVA: diva2:1102492
Subject / course
English
Available from: 2017-05-29 Created: 2017-05-29

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