English Tower of Babel – Part 2

In the previous article, various dialects of English found in the United Kingdom were discussed. But English would not be called contemporary Latin, if it had not been for its spectacular expansion. That is why today we want to present to you different varieties of this language, trying to explain differences between them.

Current data indicate that there are about 350 million people worldwide for whom English is their mother tongue, and twice as many people speak it as a second language. But do we all speak English? Have you ever wondered – learning this language at school or at a course – what English you actually use?

At present, English can be divided into its several varieties: American, British, Australian, African and Canadian. Below, we will discuss briefly the three most popular varieties.

British English

The British variety of English is based on received pronunciation (RP). RP draws on the accent and pronunciation of Britons from ‘noble’ classes. In practice, RP has been marginalized by a dozen or even dozens of dialects (about which we wrote last time) and is currently used by about mere 2% of the population. We should bear in mind that it is British English that has served as the base for both grammatical and lexical development of this language.

The variety referred to as British English is actually used in the United Kingdom only. It also has its varieties: Scottish, Irish and Welsh English. Each of them is distinctive in its own way and in each of these dialects numerous loanwords from languages closest to them, i.e. Celtic (in Scottish English), Welsh and Irish can be found. What is more, Welsh English is distinctive for its accent which is completely different from the other varieties, while Irish English follows very specific grammar rules. It needs to be noted that Irish English is used mainly in Northern Ireland, and it is most specific feature is the rare use of “yes” and “no”. For instance, when asked “Are you coming for dinner tonight?”, an Irishman from the North will respond by repeating the verb: “I am”, instead of a simple “Yes”.

American English

As the name suggests, this variety of English is used by residents of the United States. Besides its general form (General American), there are several distinct dialects, e.g. Californian, West Central, Northern, Southern and Boston ones, as well as sociolects, such as Ebonics (a common name for African American Vernacular English).

When it comes to differences between the American and British varieties of English, the most significant ones can be seen in the pronunciation and accent. We should also pay attention to the spelling of certain words (e.g. American “neighbor” and British “neighbour”) and grammar (in American English, Present Perfect is usually replaced with Simple Past)

Interestingly, most people associate the USA with dynamic development and modernity, which correlates with our beliefs about American English. It is the British variation of English that is considered by majority of people as more traditional and archaic. Nothing could be further from the truth! American English is somewhat “preserved” – most expressions are used still in the same form in which they were brought to the American continent by the first British colonizers. American English is thus more similar to the language used in the Elizabethan era than British English used nowadays is.

Australian English

The Australian variety is based mainly on English British. Of course, like most languages in the world, it has evolved over the centuries, being influenced by American English and borrowing vocabulary from European and Aboriginal languages.

Americans arrived willingly in Australia in the 19th century, when gold rush broke out there. This is the reason why Australian English includes now a lot of expressions from the other side of the globe, whereas the influence of Aboriginal dialects can be seen most in names of places as well as those of flora and fauna. For example, words like “kangaroo” or “boomerang” have Aboriginal origins.

The most distinctive feature of Australian English is shortening words by adding the “o” ending: bizzo (business), avro (afternoon), milko (milkman), smoko (smoke break), or the “ie” one: Aussie (Australian), barbie (barbecue), sunnies (sunglasses).

Besides the three varieties of English discussed above, at least a few more ones can be mentioned: Canadian, New Zealand, African or Pidgin languages, i.e. a group of languages formed in the Far East during the European expansion in the 19th century, which are based on English combined with local languages (e.g. Malaysian or Chinese English).

Once you have got familiar with all varieties and dialects of the English language, you may wonder which one is the best to learn. There is no, for sure, a clear-cut answer to this question. Everyone can choose the form that most suits them, but we should be consistent in using it and should not mix two different varieties. This is of particular importance in translators’ work: a text which is being translated should not contain expressions written interchangeably in British and American English. The forms should be consistent and suitable for the purpose a given text is to serve.

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