Although the English language originates from England, it is one of the most spoken languages in the world and has spread to all corners of the globe. Countries where English is the first language are predominately those who were colonised by Great Britain at one point. Around 400 million people are native English speakers however in total there are over 1 billion people who can speak the language. Due to this there are lots of different variations of grammar, spelling and pronunciation.
For such a small area of land, the United Kingdom really has a ridiculous amount of regional dialects and expressions. I lived and worked in Edinburgh for a year and everyone I met knew I wasn’t brought up there (Edinburgh is only about 35 miles from my home town!). Likewise, Liverpool and Manchester are only 30 minutes away from each other by car yet their dialects are chalk and cheese.
In the last few years I have been lucky enough to have lived in Australia, New Zealand and Asia. I have also been to the USA a few times so I have been in contact with many different native English speakers as well as those who speak International English as a second language and seen first hand how much the language has evolved.
Of course, as I said at the start of this post, English has not only evolved verbally around the world, different countries also have different variations of grammar, spelling and pronunciation. Even though there are so many different dialects in the UK, the written form of English is quite consistent throughout the country because of a shared education system and because everyone watches the same TV stations.
However, I strongly believe that that in the next 30 years there will be more convergence towards a standardised form of English across the world. There will still be thousands of different dialects but the written form will be more consistent across the globe. The internet will of course be a huge factor in this as will television and other media.
American English VS British English
You may be wondering why, with so many different countries speaking English, I have singled out American and British English. There are three main reasons for this.
- First of all, British English is the variation of English which was taken to all native English speaking countries therefore it is the form which most variations have spawned from.
- Secondly, American English is spoken by around two thirds of native English speakers therefore it is the form which is influencing other forms of English the most (via the internet, books, tv and other media).
- Lastly, American English is the form which has influenced my written English a lot in the last few years.
The last point is my main inspiration behind this post. You see, during University my written English could best be described as British English with some influence from Scottish English on how I construct sentences. However in the last few years my written English has developed into some kind of bastardised hybrid of American and British English. This has developed due to the time I spend working online.
There are many differences between American and British English however the most notable is the difference in spelling of certain words. For example, American English uses f instead of ph in many words, it uses o instead of ou and it uses a z in many words where British English would use an s.
My strange hybrid form of English
I have been aware of the fact that I use some American English spelling for some time however something happened yesterday that made me take a closer look at how just how bad it was. For the record, I don’t believe that either form of English is right or wrong, however this example will show you why having a mixed up version of it can look really bad.
I was writing an article the other day and used the word color. The British English spelling of this is of course colour (ie. ou instead of o) and it’s this spelling which I used up until a few years ago. For years I have used the spelling color on a regular basis as it’s the spelling which is used in HTML, CSS and other programming languages. It was inevitable that I would use this spelling because I was using it on such a frequent basis. At first I tried to fight it and would go back and add the letter u but over time I got lazier and eventually just used the American spelling (A vast majority of people reading my posts were from North America anyways so I didn’t think it would be a major problem).
However, the other day I noticed that shortly after using the word color I had wrote the word colourful ie. for the noun I used the American spelling and for the adjective I had used the British spelling. When I looked back at the paragraph it looked strange to say the least. The funny thing is, I know it doesn’t look right together however individually my brain thinks that color is the correct spelling to use and that colourful is the correct spelling too (instead of colorful).
I also use center and centre interchangeably, another problem which has been caused by programming a lot. Common programming words aside, another bad habit I have is checking the spelling of words online by typing them into Google. Quite frequently this brings up results using the American spelling. Frequent searches have highlighted the fact that many other British people are being influenced by the American spelling of words and perhaps there are others out there who use British spelling for some words and American spelling for others.
American English creeping into the UK
As someone who has been influenced greatly by the American English form, I’m not too surprised that other native English speakers from the UK are being influenced too. For example, I have seen some UK websites use the date format month-day-year instead of day-month-year (which seems to have annoyed some people greatly). It is also becoming common for the American spelling of words to be used.
For example, familiarise is the British spelling of the verb to be familar with something whereas the American spelling is familiarize. If you search for familiarise on Google UK you will notice that Google asks if you mean familiarize ie. the American spelling. When you do click on the American spelling you will see that thousands of mainstream UK websites are using the American spelling of this word instead of the British one.
Other native English speaking countries like Australia and New Zealand are obviously being influenced by American English too however there are less differences in spelling so perhaps it’s less of an issue.
The search results for familiarize surprised me a little and showed that many other British people are using the American spelling of words from time to time too. I do believe that over time there is going to be less differences between the different forms of English. Internet usage in English speaking countries is very high and for most people the internet is where they will do the majority of their writing so it makes I think it would be impossible not to be influenced by the way other people use English.
This is an interesting subject and one which I admit I don’t know all the answers to. Do International readers mind posts which has words spelled in the British English way? Do readers mind posts with some words spelled in American English and some spelled in British English?
I’d love to hear what readers think about this, particularly if you believe that your English grammar or spelling been influenced from using the internet a lot 🙂