American English also known as United States English, or U.S. English is a set of dialects of the English language used mostly in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of native speakers of English live in the United States.
English language prevalence in the United States. Darker shades of blue indicate higher concentrations of native English speakers
The use of English in the United States was inherited from British colonization. • The first wave of English-speaking settlers arrived in North America in the 17th century. • During that time, there were also speakers of other languages such as Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Swedish, Scots, Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Finnish, Russian (in Alaska), and numerous Native American languages.
There were already other indigenous group that speak Native American languages ex. Eskima –Aleut, Uto-Aztecan, Yunan and Navajo. • The language the immigrant brought to Jamestown, Virginia was early modern English and the South-East England.
Development of English in America • Influenced by: 1. Source of the original British dialect 2. Maintenance of contact with the “home”country 3. Pattern of settlement 4. Influence of other languages spoken by other immigrants 5. Social and geographical mobility
Settlement in America • Took place in three stages: • Stage 1 The first thirteen colonies in the mountainous region of Appalachian Stage 2 Settlers moved into the South and Midwest Stage 3 Settlers moved into Southwest and West
English is the most common language in the United States • English is considered the de facto language of the United States because of its widespread use.
Immigrants from Southeastern England began arriving on the North American continent in the early 1600's. • The American English language is characterized by archaisms (words that changed meaning in Britain, but remained in the colonies) and innovations in vocabulary (borrowing from the French and Spanish who were also settling in North America).
Noah Webster was the most vocal about the need for an American national identity with regards to the American English language. He wrote an American spelling book, TheBlueback Speller, in 1788 and changed several spellings from British English • Ex: colour became color, theatre became theater, etc.
NOAH WEBSTER • An American scholar responsible for divorcing AE from BrE. • He wrote three elementary books: • 1. Grammatical Institute of the English Language • 2. The American Spelling Book • 3. Dissertation of the English Language
Development of American English • How, Why and When American English began to Diverge from British English
The divergence took place due to: • 1. Physical separation of Britain from America • 2. Different physical condition encountered by the settleers. • 3. Contact with non-native speakers of English • 4. Growing American sense of national identity
Although the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have English as an official language, the United States does not have an official language. • Canada also has French as an official language, though it is mostly spoken in the province of Quebec. Because many of the English speakers who originally inhabited Canada came from the US, there is little difference in the American and Canadian dialects of English.
American English and its dialects • Besides British English, American English is now regarded as an equivalent standard variety of English. Sociolinguistically, it must be regarded as even more influential than modern British English. • It has diverse dialects just as BrE
Variation from BrE occurs in : • Phonology - consonant and vowel pronounced differently in different regions of US • Spelling – some words vary from Br E ex. center / centre • Lexicon – meaning change from Br E ex. boot of a car / trunk of a car.
Phonology: Vowels • In American Vowel System, there are two categories 1. Northern Cities Vowel Rotation 2. Southern Vowel Shift
Social and Ethnic Dialects • Characteristic that affect the way people speak are: 1. Social status – not obvious like RP in Britain. 2. Ethnicity – most prominent is the Black AE 3. Gender – biasness towards masculinity
The linguistic landscape of the US still reflects the settlement history of this country and the corresponding origins of old world dialects. Generally speaking, the US can be divided into three dialect areas: the northern, the midland, and the southern zone.
The northern dialects – spreading from New England to the North West of America (Washington) were influenced by the dialect of the Puritans. These people mainly came from counties in the east of England. • These eastern dialects were non-rhotic (as is RP), i.e. the / r/ was not pronounced after vowels. The tendency not to pronounce /r/ is still a feature of New England dialects.
In contrast, the southern dialects – originating in the earliest settlements in Virginia are rhotic. This is due to the fact that many of these settlers came from England’s ‘West Country’. • It is argued that these Tidewater accents are the closest one will ever get to the sound of Shakespeare’s English.
The Midland dialects reflect the cosmopolitan immigration patchwork of the ‘middle’ Atlantic areas. The settlers brought a variety of different linguistic backgrounds with them; this caused regional dialect divisions to be blurred. However, in this region – which now extends into California due to the pioneering into the west – the accent of the so-called Sunbelt emerged.
This accent is most commonly associated with present-day American speech and forms the basis of the standard: General American. • General American has retained a great number of features of 17th century English. Thus, for instance, words such as bath, path, grass are pronounced with an [æ] sound, while present-day RP has an [a:].
SOCIAL CLASS AND LANGUAGE CHANGE • social strata does influence language usage similarly, it happens in the US • social class distinctions ultimately based on status and power. • status: amount of respect and deference accorded to a person • power: social and material resources a person can command to make decisions and influence events
Cont’d • In every society, there are majority and minority / ethnic groups • In the US, there are many immigrants varieties of English such as the Chicanos, Asian, Red Indians and Black American
Ethnicity • from a sociolinguistic point of view “ethnicity” is difficult to separate from other social factors like region and class – e.g. the notion of “Jewish English” is strongly associated with New York – African American English often linked to social status and has Southern roots
parameters for the definition of an ethnic group (National Councilof Social Studies): – origins that precede or are external to the state – group membership is involuntary – ancestral tradition rooted in a shared sense of peoplehood
– distinctive value orientations and behavioral patterns – influence of the group on the lives of its members – group membership influenced by how members define themselves and how they are defined by others
African American Vernacular English • When listening to Jazz, Blues, or Hip-Hop a distinct form of American English can be recognised: African American Vernacular English (AAVE), formerly described as Black English. Of course, the development of this variety is closely connected to the dismal history of black slaves.
In the US, the West Indian slave pidgins developed into a distinct plantation creole that also contained a great number of features from non-standard dialects of English.
These plantation creoles form the basis of African American Vernacular English, whose actual development is very complex and controversial. With the strong influence of black music, AAVE became known throughout the United States. It also found a very eloquent rhetoric in the speeches of Martin Luther King, the famous proponent of the civil rights movement in the 1960ies.
The difference between British English and American English • American English and British English (BrE) differ at the levels of • Phonology • Phonetics • vocabulary • grammar • orthography.
PHONOLOGY • Compared to BrE, AEis more homogeneous. Some distinctive features in • East Coast ( New England & New York City) because they are in contact with England. They tend to imitate the prestigious BrE. • East Coast pronunciation is rhotic. (A rhotic speaker pronounces the letter R in hard; a non-rhotic speaker does not pronounce the R in hard)
/r/ is not a trill sound but rather a retroflex sound[ɻ] • Loss of final syllabler “r” especially in east New England ex “r” is not pronounced in words like bird, hard, first, work • The loss of ‘r’ often changed to schwa [ə] ex. fur, butter Further examples, refer to text, pg 226 & 227
ORTHOGRAPHY. • Orthography is the language’s writing system. • because English spelling is changing gradually American and British standards often disagree. • Here are some rules for choosing between competing spellings in Modern English.
The combinations "ae" and "oe", generally occurring in words of Greek origin, are seldom present in American English. Also, a few words, such as "algae" and "cristae", would be rendered a bit confusing. Therefore, "ae" and "oe" must be preserved in words like "aeon" and "amoeba".