LINGUIST List 7.1663

Sun Nov 24 1996

Sum: British vs. American English

Editor for this issue: Susan Robinson <>


  1. John Hammink, Responses to BrE vs. AmE

Message 1: Responses to BrE vs. AmE

Date: Wed, 20 Nov 1996 21:55:40 +0200
From: John Hammink <>
Subject: Responses to BrE vs. AmE

I wanted to thank everyone who responded to my query regarding some of
the general dissimilarities on all levels between British and American
English. The responses were scattered far and wide across the
linguistic spectrum, so here's a (very small) sample of the findings:

There are so many overlaps and borrowings between the two that any of
these findings may be, of course, questionable.

The Corporal Department:

American English uses the corporal singular (The government was...)
British English uses the corporal plural (The parliament were...)

The Restrictive-Relative Pronominal Department:

British English prefers "which", while American English feels easier
with "that".

The Honorifics Department:

In a conversation between people of the high professional, economic or
academic stratum, American English tends to use the title and surname
or firstname (Dr. Denning, Keith); British English tends often to use
surnames alone (Seely).

The Lexical and Morphological Item Department:


buy				 trade

trade				 shop

store				 shop

warehouse			 store

gotten				 *

get				 get

-ize -ise

color colour

(Of course, there's probably zillions more differences, and even the
ones listed here are influenced by the same temporal forces which
affect language divergence and convergence. If I've started a major
academic controversy with this puny little list, well, too bad!!!!)

 Various Other Linguistic Phenomena

It seems that Cambridge publishing house in New York as well as
various publishers use the style manual of the American Psychological
Association (why?). These folks tend to like things in the active as
opposed to passive voice, as well as direct declarations to indirect
past-perfect tense verb statements. Cathy Ball writes: 'As Chomsky
has argued...' becomes 'Chomsky argued...' ' we have seen...'
becomes ' I have shown...' Incidentally, many European academic
writers (i.e. the folks at Kajaani and Jyvdskyld polytechnics
seeking a more American model of academic writing) have objected to
the preferred use of the active voice for various reasons. I have
been able to overrule some of these objections myself. (More
interested in this viewpoint? Try reading Writing with Precision by
Jefferson Bates).

The Selected Bibliography (Department)

Below is a list of referred sources. For reasons of lack of time, I
have left out the publishing house.

Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language

Quirk and Greenbaum A Concise Dictionary of Contemporary English

Pyles and Algeo The Origins and Development of the English Language

Bates, Jefferson Writing with Precision; How to Write so that You
 Cannot Possibly be Misunderstood. (A GREAT book, originally
 published in the '80's by Acropolis Books, now possibly out of

Carnegie, Dale How to Win Friends and Influence People (touches more
 on issues of cordiality and congeniality)

Mencken, H.L. The American Language (Mencken, like many others in
 time began to minimize the difference between the two national

Robertson and Cassidy Development of Modern English

Marckwardt American English

Biber, Douglas (1987) 'A textual comparison of British and American
 Writing' American Speech vol.62

Cectal English Dialogue Information Exchange.

Nilsen, Thor Sigurd British and American English Pronunciation

Gramley and Patzold A Survey of Modern English

Bengt Altenberg's ICAME Bibliography (Just looking at the titles from
 this one opens up a universe of tiny differences and variations)
 I didn't have time to write this one down

Quirk and Marckwardt's A Common Language for the Voice of America on BBC 
 Radio, 1964 (I mean, really, I think these guys just couldn't
 think of anything at the time this one aired!)

Strevens, Peter (1972) British and American English 

Hannah, Peter and Jean International English

Anything by Ulla Connor, Eija Ventola, and Anna Mauranen.....

Trudgill, Peter Dialects in Contact

The Thank You Department.....

Without these folks, this summary would never have been posible:

Gillian Sankoff

Rebecca Meyer

Marie E. Heldt

Julie Reid

Christina Gitsaki

Dr. Roly Sussex

Monique Biemans

Thor Sigurd Nilsen


Robert Sigley

Catherine N. Ball

J.A. Rea

Laurie Bauer

M. Shuib

Matti Koponen (this person lives in my town and I
STILL haven't met him!!)

Jaroslav Mantour

Dr. Thomas Daniel Seely

Dr. Keith Denning

Kiitos avusta!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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