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The main variants of the english language
General Characteristics of the English Language in Different Parts of the English-Speaking World
It is natural that the English language is not used with uniformity in the British Isles and in Australia, in the USA and -in New Zealand, in Canada and in India, etc. The English language also as some peculiarities in Wales, Scotland, in other parts of the British Isles and America. Is the nature of these varieties the same?
Modern linguistics distinguishes territorial variants of a national language and local dialects. Variants of a language are regional varieties of a standard literary language characterized by some minor peculiarities in the sound system, vocabulary and by their own literary norms. Dialects are varieties 01 a language used as a means of oral communication in small localities, they are set off (more or less sharply) from other varieties by some dlsitncttve teatufes of pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary.
Close inspection of the varieties mentioned above reveals that they are essentially different in character. It is not difficult to establish that the varieties spoken in small areas are local dialects. The status of the other varieties is more difficult to establish.
It is over half a century already that the nature of the two main variants of the English language, British and American (Br and AE) has been discussed. Some American linguists, H. L. Mencken for one, speak of two separate languages with a steady flood of linguistic influence first (up to about 1914) from Britain to America, and since then from America to the British Isles. They even proclaim that the American influence on British English is so powerful that there will come a time when the American standard will be established in Britain.1 Other linguists regard the language of the USA as a dialect of English.
Still more questionable is the position of Australian English (AuE) and Canadian English (CnE).
The differences between the English language as spoken in Britain, the USA, Australia and Canada are immediately noticeable уд the field of phonetics. However these distinctions are confined to the articulatory-acoustics characteristics of some phonemes, to some differences in the use of others and to the differences in the rhythm and intonation of speech. The few phonemes characteristic of American pronunciation and alien to British literary norms can as a rule be observed in British dialects.
The variations in vocabulary, to be considered below, are not very numerous. Most of them are divergences in the semantic structure of words and in their usage.
The dissimilarities in grammar like AE gotten, proven for BE got, proved are scarce. For the most part these dissimilarities consist in the preference of this or that grammatical category or form to some others. For example, the preference of Past Indefinite to Present Perfect, the formation of the Future Tense with will as the only auxiliary verb for all persons, and some others. Recent investigations have also shown that the Present Continuous form in the meaning of Future is used twice as frequently in BE as in the American, Canadian and Australian variants; infinitive constructions are used more rarely in AE than in BE and AuE and passive constructions are, on the contrary, more frequent in America than in Britain and in Australia.
Since BE, AE and AuE have essentially the same grammar system, phonetic system and vocabulary, they cannot be regarded as different languages. Nor can they be referred to local dialects; because they serve all spheres of verbal communication in society, within their territorial area they have dialectal differences of their own; besides they differ far less than local dialects (e.g. far less than the dialects of Dewsbury and Howden, two English" towns in Yorkshire some forty miles apart). Another consideration is that AE has its own literary norm and AuE is developing one. Thus we must speak of three variants of the English national language having different accepted literary standards, one spoken in the British Isles, another spoken in the USA, the third in Australia. As to CnE, its peculiarities began to attract linguistic attention only some 20 years ago. The fragmentary nature of the observation available makes it impossible to determine its status.
Lexical Differences of Territorial Variants
Speaking about the lexical distinctions between the territorial variants, of the English' language it is necessary to point out that from the point of view of their modern currency in different parts of the English-speaking world all lexical units may be divided into general English, those common to all the variants and 1ocally-marked, those specific to present-day usage in one of the variants and not found in the others (i.e. Briticisms, Americanisms, Australianisms, Canadianisms, -etc.).
When speaking about the territorial differences of the English language philologists and lexicographers usually note the fact that different variants of English use different words for the same objects. Thus in describing the lexical differences between the British and American variants they provide long lists of word pairs like
BE
flat
underground
lorry
pavement
post
tin-opener
government
leader
teaching staff
AE
apartment
subway
truelr
sidewalk
mail
can-opener
administration
editorial
faculty
From such lists one may infer that the words in the left column are the equivalents of those given in the right column and used on the other side of the Atlantic. But the matter is not as simple as that.
These pairs present quite different cases.
It is only in some rare cases like tin-opener-can-opener or fishmonger-fish-dealer that the members of such pairs are semantically equivalent.
In pairs like government-administration, leader-editorial only one lexical semantic variant of one of the members is locally-marked. Thus in the first pair the lexical semantic variant of administration-'the executive officials of a government' is an Americanism, in the second pair the word leader in the meaning of 'leading article in a newspaper' is a Briticism.
In some cases a notion may have two synonymous designations used on both sides of the Atlantic ocean, but one of them is more frequent in Britain, the other-in the USA. Thus in the pairs post-mail, timetable-shedule, notice-bulletin the first word is more frequent in Britain, the second-in America. So the difference here lies only in word-frequency.
Most locally-marked lexical units belong to partial Briticisms, Amer-icanisms, etc., that is they
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