National varieties of English
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014
Author: Goncharov Anton, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
In this article we
would like to briefly examine some national varieties of English, including
American English, in terms of their phonetic and grammar peculiarities. The
article is based on the assumption that British English (BrE) is the most common variant of English for readers; therefore
all comparisons are based on this basis.
First of all, let’s describe British and
American national varieties.
British English is the basis for the varieties
spoken in England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Africa. American (or North American)
includes chiefly the English of Canada and the United States.
Despite the groupings just suggested,
certain characteristics of Canadian English are closer to British English,
while certain characteristics of Irish English are closer to North American
English. And there are many differences between, say, standard British English
and standard Indian English. But we can still make a number of generalizations
about British-based varieties and American-based varieties, provided we
recognize that neither group is completely homogeneous.
There are well-known spelling differences
between British and American English. Some are systematic, others limited to a
particular- word. American red, white, and blue colors are colours in Britain, and many other words
ending in -or in
American English end in -our
in British English. Among idiosyncratic spellings are British tyres and kerb versus American tires and curb. Interestingly, Canadians often use
British rather than American spelling practices, a reflection of their close
historical association with Britain. For the most part, these spelling differences don’t reflect
spoken differences. Below are Listed some common American ~ British spelling
Pronunciation Differences in vowel and consonant pronunciation, as well as in
word stress and intonation, combine to create American and British accents.
Speakers of both varieties pronounce the vowel of words in the cat,
fat, mat class with /æ/. For similar words ending in a fricative such as fast, path, and half, American English
has /æ/, while some British varieties have /a:/, the stressed vowel
of father. Americans pronounce the vowel in the new, turn and duty class with /и/, as though they were spelled ‘noo,’ ‘toon,’ and ‘dooty.’
Varieties of British English often pronounce them with /ju/, as though spelled
‘nyew,’ ‘tyuneand ‘dyuty’ a pronunciation also heard
among some older Americans.
As to consonants', perhaps the
most noticeable difference lias to do with intervocalic Itl.
When /t/ occurs between a stressed and an unstressed vowel, Americans and
Canadians usually pronounce it as a flap [г].
As a result, the word sitter is pronounced [sirar], and latter and ladder are pronounced the
same. By contrast, speakers of some British varieties pronounce intervocalic t as [t]. As another example, most American varieties have a retroflex
/г/ in word-final position in words such as car and near
and also preceding a consonant as in cart and beard, whereas some British varieties, including standard
British English, do not. With respect to this post-vocalic /г/, speakers of Irish and Scottish English follow the
American pattern, while speakers of dialects in New York City, Boston, and parts of the coastal. South follow the British pattern.
Among differences of word stress, British English tends to stress the
first syllable of garage, fillet,
and ballet, while American English places stress on the second
syllable. The same is true for patois, massage, debris, beret, and other borrowings from French. In certain
polysyllabic words such as laboratory, secretary, and lavatory, the stress patterns differ, with American English
preserving a secondary stress on the next-to-last syllable.
Canadian English was developing under the influence of both
British and American variants and as a result of that has marks of both types
of pronunciation, but the most common type is the one that is called General American.
In Canadian English there are no
significant differences from British English in grammar, but there are a lot of
specific words that exit only in Canadian English. In general these words are
connected with the peculiarities of life in Canada, its nature etc. There are
also many loanwords that were borrowed from Indian languages. For example the
word ‘caribou’ which is on of sub-species of deer, or the verb ‘to toboggan’
which means ‘to sail on boat’. Another Canadian phrases are: ‘fog-eater’ –
‘rainbow in fog’, ‘salt fishing’ – fishing with its salting right on the boat,
‘steel man’ – ‘railroad worker’, ‘cat driver’ – ‘tractor driver’ etc.
The one significant difference of Canadian
English is almost total absence of Past Perfect Continuous and Past Perfect
Simple taking over its place.
English there is more to discuss. It differs from other Englishes primarily
in its accent and vocabulary. The major features of the accent were established
by the 1830s. In the period between colonial settlement (1788) and the 1830s,
when the foundation accent was being forged, new lexical items to describe the
new environment, especially its flora and fauna, were developed either from Aboriginal
languages (coolibah, wombat, wallaby, waratah, and so on) or from the
‘transported’ English word stock (native bear, wild cherry, and so on). Many
more vocabulary items were later added in response to the nineteenth-century
process of settlement and pastoral expansion. All of this seems at once
predictable and inevitable - this is the way a colonial society imposes its
linguistic footprint on a subjected land.
And then, at the end of the nineteenth
century, something curious and largely unpredictable happened to Australian
English. In response to a newly-developed concept of Received Pronunciation in Britain, which was closely tied to
notions of social prestige, some Australian speakers modified their vowels and
diphthongs in order to move them towards the British exemplars. From the 1890s,
and well into the 1950s, elocution was in the air, and elocution teachers found
a ready market for the teaching of British vowels and diphthongs to the
socially - aspirational classes. This modified form of Australian speech came
to be called Cultivated Australian.
As if in response against this new
British-based Cultivated Australian, a diametrically opposed form of Australian
English developed in the first part of the twentieth century. This form moved
the Australian vowels and diphthongs even further away from what was now the
British standard of pronunciation, and emphasized nasality, flatness of
intonation, and the elision of syllables. This
second modified form of Australian speech came to be called Broad Australian.
While it is true that when non-Australians hear any Australian say ‘mate’ or
‘race’ they are likely to mistake the words for ‘mite’ and ‘rice’, the
mishearing is most likely to occur with speakers of Broad Australian.
The majority of Australians continued to speak
with the accent that had been established in the first fifty years of settlement,
and this form of speech came to be known as General Australian. General
Australian was now book-ended by Cultivated Australian and Broad Australian,
and these forms of Australian English came to carry with them very different
sets of values. Cultivated Australian, for example, came to express a longing
for British values and a nostalgia for a country that was still regarded by
many as ‘home’. Broad Australian was strongly nationalistic, and carried with
it notions of egalitarianism that were antagonistic to a perceived
class-obsessed and hierarchical Britain.
All three forms of Australian English included most of the
vocabulary items that had developed in the second half of the nineteenth century: billy ‘a cooking utensil’; swag (transferred
from the underworld sense of ‘booty’) as the collection of belongings of a
bush traveler, and swagman
as their bearer; fossick - perhaps
a variant of the midland and southern English fussock (to bustle about)-meaning
‘to search for gold’, and then ‘to rummage around for anything’; the outback
and the never-never to describe country far from urban areas; brumby ‘a wild
horse’; larrikin ‘an urban hooligan’; and so on.
In lexis, a number of the most culturally
important Australian terms developed towards the end of the nineteenth century,
at precisely the time that Australian English was generating its Cultivated and
Broad forms. Battler (especially in its present manifestation of little Aussie battler) is one of
the most positive words in Australian English, and it usually refers to a
person who works hard to make a decent living in difficult circumstances.
Initially, the battler was a person who scrounged a living on the
edges of society: an itinerant and irregularly employed rural worker struggling
to survive (1898); a person who frequented racecourses in search of a living
(1895); a prostitute (1898). Battler eventually divested itself of the associations of the mug
punter and the prostitute, but even in its earliest uses there is evidence of
strong sympathy and admiration for working-class people who eke out their
existence with resilience and courage.
The opposite of the battler is the bludger - one of the most derogatory of
Australian words. The bludger is
a person who lives off the efforts of others, a cadger and an idler, a person
who expects others to do all the work. The history of this word helps to
explain something of the moral condemnation that bludger and its verb to bludge typically carry. Australian bludger is a form of Standard English bludgeoner ‘a person who is armed with and doesn’t
hesitate to use a bludgeon, a
short stout club’. In Australia the bludger became a pimp who was prepared to protect
his financial stake in a prostitute by resorting to the violence of the
bludgeon. The salient feature in this, and all later senses, is that the person
who is called a bludger is living off the work of another and, from
this sense, it is a short step to the use of bludger as a generalized term of abuse.
Dinkum emerges at about the same time. Dinkum is
from British dialect, where it meant primarily ‘work; a fair share of work’.
The notion of ‘fairness’ has always been associated with dinkum, and it is from this
connotation of ‘fairness’ that the particularly Australian meaning ‘reliable,
genuine, honest, true’ developed in the first decade of the twentieth century.
It was also at this time that the collocation fair
an important expression of egalitarian principles. The continuing significance
of this phrase in Australian society is evidenced by the fact that a recent
Federal Government booklet Life in
Australia (2007), aimed at new
migrants, explains what is meant by a fair
go in Australia: ‘Australians
value equality of opportunity and what is often called a ‘fair go’. This means
that what someone achieves in life should be a product of their talents, work
and effort rather than their birth or favouritism. Australians have a spirit of
egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance and fair play. … The aim
is to ensure there are no formal class distinctions in Australian society’.
Although dinkum (and its variant fair dinkum) appeared in the 1890s, the
evidence indicates that its really widespread use occurred during the First
It was out of the First World War that Anzac (an acronym formed from the initial
letters of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) and digger (originally a
soldier engaged in the digging of trenches, echoing its earlier use for a
person digging for gold) emerged in the sense ‘an Australian soldier’. By the
end of the war both terms were being used emblematically to reflect the
traditional view of the virtues displayed by those who served in the Gallipoli
campaign, especially as these virtues were seen as national characteristics.
Such terms are part of a rich tradition of Australian colloquialisms that
became established in the first half of the twentieth century: bonzer ‘excellent’; Buckley’s chance‘ no
chance at all’; cobber ‘mate’; crook ‘dishonest, unpleasant, ill’; dag ‘a
character, an entertaining eccentric’ (later ‘an unfashionable person, a
nerd’); plonk ‘cheap wine’ (an example of a word of Australian derivation
adopted in Britain, and elsewhere, with little awareness of its origin); pom ‘an English person’; rort ‘an act of fraud or sharp practice’; wog ‘a flu-like illness’; wowser ‘a puritanical person, a killjoy’ etc.
The development and evolution of English in
Ireland is also an interesting topic to discuss. The Plantation of Ulster
that began in 1609 was a planned process of settlement aimed at preventing
further rebellion among the population in the north of Ireland. This part of the island was at that time virtually exclusively Gaelic-speaking and had
shown the greatest resistance to English colonization. From the early
seventeenth century onwards, Irish lands were confiscated and given to British
settlers - or ‘planters’ - who arrived in increasing numbers, bringing the
English Language with them. Large numbers of settlers came from southwest Scotland and thus spoke a Scots dialect, while the remaining settlers came predominantly
from the north and Midlands of England. By 1830, for instance, Londonderry had a population that was 25% Scots, 25% English and 50% Irish.
For some considerable time the colonists
remained surrounded by Gaelic-speaking communities in County Donegal to the west and the counties of Louth, Monaghan and Cavan to the south. Thus English in
the northeast of the island developed in relative isolation from other
English-speaking areas such as Dublin, while the political situation over the
course of the twentieth century has meant that Northern Ireland has continued
to develop a linguistic tradition that is distinct from the rest of Ireland. Scots, Irish Gaelic, seventeenth century English and Hiberno-English (the English
spoken in the Republic of Ireland) have all influenced the development of
Northern Irish English, and this mixture explains the very distinctive hybrid
that has emerged.
Speech in the whole of Ireland is for instance rhotic - that is speakers pronounce an /r/ sound after a vowel in words like
farm, first and better. The pronunciation of this /r/ sound is, however, much
more like the sound we hear in an English West Country accent than the ‘tapped’
or ‘rolled’ /r/ sound we associate with Scottish speakers. On the other hand
the vowel system of Northern Irish English more closely resembles that of
Scottish English, rather than the English of England, Wales or the Republic of Ireland. Pairs such as pull and pool are often homophones, boot frequently
rhymes with foot and phrases such as good food are pronounced with vowels of
equal length in Belfast and Glasgow, for instance, but not in Dublin, London or Cardiff. Many speakers - particularly older speakers in rural communities -
retain pronunciations that are a throwback to much older, conservative forms of
English, such as inserting a /y/ sound after an initial /k/ or /g/ in words
like car and garden, such that they sound a little like ‘kyarr’ or ‘gyarrden’.
Northern Irish English also has a very distinctive intonation pattern and a
broad Northern Irish accent is characterized by a very noticeable tendency to
raise the pitch towards the end of an utterance, even if the speaker is not
asking a question.
As in Scotland, some speakers claim to speak a
dialect (or language, depending on one’s point of view) that traces its roots
back to the earliest Scottish settlers - Ulster Scots. Ulster Scots has been
recognized by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and, although
there is no attempt to classify it as a language in The Good Friday agreement
of 1998, Ulster Scots is cited as ‘part of the cultural wealth of the island of
The linguistic landscape of Scotland is considerably more complex than it is in
most of England and Wales, with a broad range of dialects and older language
forms contributing to a rich and varied national voice.
As in Wales, an ethnic Celtic language exists
alongside English - in this case Scottish Gaelic. Like other heritage languages,
it is experiencing something of a revival as a result of a renewed sense of
national identity and recent positive legislation. However, the census of 2001
revealed that less than 2% of the total population of Scotland currently speak any Gaelic.
Unlike the status of Welsh in Wales, Gaelic is not a compulsory subject in the vast majority of schools in Scotland and there are very few Gaelic-medium schools at all. Moreover, Gaelic has for some time
been restricted geographically to areas of the Highlands and the Western Isles;
the language suffered catastrophically as a result of the Highland Clearances
in the eighteenth century. Nonetheless it remains a community language in some
parts of Scotland, notably in the Hebrides, and it has left its mark on the
English spoken there and in other parts of the country.
The type of English spoken in Scotland is more difficult to define than elsewhere in the UK. From the time of the Union of
Parliaments in 1707, the official written language of Scotland became aligned with that of England. As such, Standard English has been used as the language
of religion, education and government and so it became the socially prestigious
form adopted by the aspiring middle classes. Unlike in England, however, Standard English continued to be spoken with a variety of local accents.
RP - the regionally non-specific accent of the
upper middle classes in England - has a negligible presence in Scotland (unlike Wales, for example, where it retains a certain degree of prestige in some areas).
This means that even the most socially prestigious forms of English spoken in Scotland contain elements that are characteristically Scottish. The variety of speech we
might recognize as educated Scottish English contains the occasional word – out with
for ‘outside’ - or grammatical structure - I’ve not heard for ‘I haven’t heard’
- that is distinctively Scottish.
Above all, though, Scottish English is
recognizable by its pronunciation: speakers do not make the same distinctions
in vowel length made by speakers with other English accents and the vast
majority of speakers in Scotland are rhotic - that is, they pronounce the
<r> sound after a vowel in words like farm, first and better.
Alongside Standard Scottish English, the local
vernacular language, Scots, a dialect descended from Old English and closely
related to Northumbrian dialects has maintained a strong presence, especially
in rural communities. There has been heated debate among linguists for many
years as to whether Scots constitutes a dialect or a distinct language in its
own right. It has recently been officially classified as a ‘traditional
language’ by the Scottish Executive and recognized by the European Charter for
Regional or Minority Languages, but even in Scotland experts remain divided over
the issue. Whatever its status - language or dialect - large numbers of
speakers would certainly claim to speak Scots, not English. Indeed Scots boasts
a literary tradition dating back long before Robert Burns in the eighteenth century
and still thriving today, as demonstrated by contemporary authors such as
In practice, the distinction between those who
speak Scots and those who speak Standard Scottish English is rather blurred. In
some cases we might instantly be able to categories an individual according to
which variety he or she speaks, but more often than not, perhaps particularly
in urban areas, speakers tend to drift between the two alternatives depending
on context. In other words, they might speak a version of Standard English with
a local accent, but frequently use features that we associate with Scots, such
as saying wee for ‘little’, or using grammatical constructions like does name
for ‘doesn’t’ or simply sprinkling their speech with isolated archaic
pronunciations such as rhyming house with goose or head with heed.
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Francis (2008. First published 1978). Discovering English Dialects. Oxford: Shire Publications.
2. Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, Cambridge University Press, 2003
3. JC Wells, Accents of
English, Cambridge University Press, 1983
4. Hickey, Raymond
(2005). Dublin English: Evolution and Change. John Benjamins Publishing.
5. Hickey, Raymond
(2002). A Source Book for Irish English. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing
6. Borisova L.V., Metljuk A. A Teoreticheskaja
fonetika anglijskogo jazyka. – M., "Vysshaja shkola", 1980.
7. Dikushina O.I. Fonetika anglijskogo
jazyka. – M.: "Izdatel'stvo literatury na inostrannyh jazykah", 1952.
8. Murphy Raymond.
English Grammar in Use. - Cambridge University Press, 1997.
9. Orlov G.A. Sovremennyj anglijskij jazyk
v Avstralii. – M.: 1978.
10. Varianty polinacional'nyh literaturnyh
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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014