Sketches in the Ruins of My Mind

graphic: Sketches in the Ruins of my Mind.

Speak English, boy!

Dateline: 25 January 2008
Author: Johnny <>

More from my inbox, this time about something many people don't seem to notice but has long intrigued me.

Indeed there are many variants of English. `Anaesthetist' is the correct British English spelling. Perhaps because until fairly recently children were taught Latin and often also Greek at school (I was taught Latin from the age of 12 to 15, along with French). American English is, in fact, rather different from British English. There are spelling differences - the one you will most often notice, perhaps given the Canadians do it similarly, is that `centre' is the spelling in English (and Canadian). This, of course, comes from the Norman French influence in the development of English.

Actually it's `anæsthetist.' The Æ construct is a dipthong still, AFAIK, used in British English but seldom seen.

However, it's not only spelling - usage is rather different in many cases.

A few years ago I worked for an American company, mostly exchanging information by email. The subtle differences between American English and British English caused many problems with communication! When talking with someone face-to-face it's much less of a problem - you have all sorts of other cues to go on for disentangling meaning.

In Britain the prevalence of American TV shows is causing problems with deciding on the correct use of English, given languages naturally morph over time anyway. (And our education system is rapidly circling the drain but that's another story.)

Actually it's worse than that: I moved to Scotland from England and Scottish English is somewhat different from English English. In fact, there's also Scots which is a linguistically distinct Germanic language related to English (not to be confused with Gaelic which is a distinct language in and of itself). This is ignoring the fact that different dialects of the same language exist, northern and southern England have quite distinct dialects, and variations east to west too. Dialectical changes with location are, if anything, even more marked in Scotland than England IMHO.

Interestingly, my speech sounds `Scottish' to people when I'm down in England but here in Scotland people (mostly) say I sound `English.' The Edinburgh accent is fairly neutral in any case, perhaps because Edinburgh has long been rather cosmopolitan. I can't tell, though I do sometimes notice my pronunciation and choice of words and usage automagically (that's not a `real' word BTW I made that up) modifying itself depending on the way the other person is talking.

Sometimes Scottish people speaking on English TV are subtitled because they can't be understood, although this seems strange to me since I've lived here for so long. One time my sister was visiting here in Edinburgh. We were on Princes Street, the main street in Edinburgh, and somebody engaged me in conversation (he sounded to my ear as if he was from Glasgow). My sister became confused and after the guy had walked off she said, `What language were you speaking?'

Which is a long spiel that can be summed up as, `You Americans talk funny and you can't spell.' You dress funny too.

Wikipedia has more, American and British English differences.