Beyond American English and British English

In late 2000, Domino’s Pizza ran an ad campaign with the tagline Hungry kya? which helped the brand penetrate deep into Indian homes and cities; so much so that this label continues to be associated with all tele-branding and billboard campaigns for the brand. The admixture (pun intended) of English and Hindi proved to be an appealing, innovative, and paying concept, and many other brands skewed their ad campaigns to incorporate Hinglish (combination of Hindi and English), the most recent example being the Hungrooo campaign for Maggie Noodles. English is therefore being “customized” to regional preferences. American English and British English apart, there are region-specific or country-specific variations of the language, and their vocabulary repository is constantly evolving and expanding; it’s Japanglish, Japlish, or Janglish in Japan; Konglish in Korea; Chinglish in China; Hinglish in India; Denglisch in German-speaking countries; Thainglish in Thailand; and so on.

Such variations of English are construed as the ‘misuse of English by non-native speakers’. Conversely, American English and British English are the recognized primary variations of the language, each with some elements of writing style and vocabulary that render it with a character of its own.

We’ll return to the regional adaptations of English in a later post, but first it’s important to dive deep into the points of departure between American English and British English.

American English and British English: The Beginnings

Life was different till about the first half of the 18th century, when English was yet to plateau out into clear regional standardizations. Arguably, Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) and Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) laid the cornerstones of American English and British English respectively. From then on, the clamour (or should we say clamor?) for reforms in the English language increased, with Webster himself leading the changes in the U.S., while Norman or Anglo-French speakers in England played a decisive role in the shaping of British English. Currently, a plethora of dictionaries service the needs of English speakers in U.S. and the UK, with most other countries adopting dictionaries from either group depending on their histories, while few nations like Canada and Australia follow both. With the increasing move to phones and tablets as the information source, it is not surprising to find tens of dictionaries for American English and British English lodged in micro memory slots. No more leafing through hefty volumes for a look up!

Spellings and More

Contrary to the general misconception, the difference between American and British English is much more than variations in the spelling of certain words; it is in fact a difference in writing style. So when an editor is asked to ‘migrate’ a document from British English to American English (or vice versa), it is important to realize that changing –our/–or, -ise/-ize, -re/-er, -ogue/-og (and so on) is addressing just one of the differences between American and British English. The other differences which an editor should take cognizance of include the use of the present perfect tense ‘have/has + past participle’ much more in American English than in British English, singular verb forms immediately after collective nouns in American English and usage-dependent singular or plural forms in British English, delexical verbs have and take in British and American English respectively (consider I’d like to have a bath and I’d like to take a bath as examples), auxiliaries and modals (for instance, needn’t and don’t need to), propositions at and on (at the weekend in British English and on the weekend in American English), and past tense forms (see Table 1).

Infinitive

Simple past
(Br)

Simple past
(Am)

Past participle
(Br)

Past participle
(Am)

burn burned/
burnt
burned/
burnt
burned/
burnt
burned/
burnt
bust bust busted bust busted
dive dived dove/
dived
dived dived
dream dreamed/
dreamt
dreamed/
dreamt
dreamed/
dreamt
dreamed/
dreamt
get got got got gotten
lean leaned/
leant
leaned leaned/
leant
leaned
learn learned/
learnt
learned learned/
learnt
learned
plead pleaded pleaded/
pled
pleaded pleaded/
pled
prove proved proved proved proved/
proven
saw sawed sawed sawn sawn/
sawed
smell smelled/
smelt
smelled smelled/
smelt
smelled
spill spilled/
spilt
spilled spilled/
spilt
spilled
spoil spoiled/
spoilt
spoiled/
spoilt
spoiled/
spoilt
spoiled/
spoilt
stink stank stank/
stunk
stunk stunk
wake woke woke/
waked
woken woken

After Kerry Maxwell and Lindsay Clandfield, “Differences in American and British English Grammar,” accessed at http://www.onestopenglish.com/grammar/grammar-reference/american-english-vs-british-english/differences-in-american-and-british-english-grammar-article/152820.article

This list of differences between American English and British English is by no means exhaustive, but only a representation of the editor’s predicament.

But Where is English Headed?

But the English language is a dynamic entity, constantly evolving and changing as it meanders through time and space. Regional variations are beginning to have a much more telling impact, and it will not be outlandish to imagine tailor-made dictionaries soon seeing the light of day. Hinglish, for example, is already an entry in some prominent dictionaries, which is perhaps a sign of things to come?

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