I’m in Portugal at the moment but I wrote this a few days ago and set it to post while I’m away. Clever, right? Thanks, WordPress!
The BBC recently posted an article about the increasing use of Americanisms here in the UK. Many of us in this country are guilty of condemning the increasing use of American English. The truth is it’s pretty much inevitable. We constantly see Americans speak in, films, TV and in interviews. We learn language by hearing it spoken as much as anything so of course American words will make their way into our day-to-day vocabulary. What’s more, people around the world who learn English do so through American influences.
I have a passing interest in linguistics and I know from several books (Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue and Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English that many of the differences between British English and American English for which we criticise Americans are actually English in origin. A good example is the -ize ending of words like ‘legalize’. In British English we use ise but we haven’t always. Americans have changed aspects of our language, but many of the very things we criticise them for in our haughty assumed superiority exist in American English because they existed in English when the first settlers went to America. We’ve changed them and they haven’t.
There are plenty of objects and so on for which the British English and American English terms differ. (For example, lift and elevator, pavement and sidewalk, holiday and vacation.) British people, due to the amount of American TV and films we watch, are aware of the American equivalents without, in most cases, using them. However, I have noticed that some words are entering wide usage. British people now frequently say movie not film, for instance, and as the article points out, we sometimes use American phrases such as ‘three strikes and you’re out’ without necessarily knowing what they mean.
I’d bet good money that most of the people who dislike the increasing American influence on our language frequently use words like reliable, talented, tremendous, lengthy and influential. All of these, according to the BBC article, are Americanisms.
That’s why it’s not so easy to say something is wrong because it is not part of British English. It may have been once, or it may be a useful new word. I do feel that maybe we should, to a certain extent, resist the use of American terms (such as movie) when we have our own equivalent in order to keep a separate cultural identity, of which language is an important part. That said, languages constantly evolve and develop and this can be very beneficial – not to mention impossible to resist over the long-term! English is built on words from other languages, whether Latin, Greek, Scandanavian or even Hindi. To fight so strongly against this is pointless.