Language is a funny thing, isn’t it? An arbitrary collection of sounds that make sense to some but not others; the same letters able to mean different things when strung together in different ways and our society and culture defined around the way we move our tongues. Yes, language is a funny thing. And when it comes to English, it gets funnier when you dive into the delightful differences that divide its two most prominent variants: American English and British English. So, make yourself comfortable with your cup of tea or coffee and let us embark on a journey exploring the charming contrasts between these linguistic cousins.
The lexicon of the two English forms is one of the first things that stand out. It truly is charming how the British are comfortable in trousers but the Americans insist on pants. If you’re living in the United Kingdom, you may rent a flat. But in the United States, you would have to choose an apartment. If that flat or apartment is on the sixth floor, you might choose to take an elevator. Or, are you someone who uses the lift?
Most British cars have their engine in the bonnet while the boot is the space for us to keep our stuff. These words would make little sense for American cars though where the front is the hood and the back is the trunk. An Englishman could wear a jumper to university while an American would rather prefer to go to college in a sweater.
A Brit could come to Nepal on his holiday. He would be advised to bring a pair of trainers though as the good shops here are rather expensive. An American would also find Nepal an enjoyable destination for his vacation. But again, he should bring his sneakers from home.
If I were in the UK, I would love to pair my plate of chips with a glass of fizzy and maybe buy a bag of crisps to snack on at home. Any Americans nearby though would insist on assigning a nationality to my chips by calling them French fries. Fizzy would also be too simple a word for them and they would ask for a glass of soda. They would see the crisps in my hand and proclaim that I had purchased a packet of potato chips.
It's all a marvellous linguistic adventure!
But, let’s not exaggerate much. American and British English are forms of the same language after all. There are many words common to the vocabulary of both countries but do be careful about how you spell them. A Britisher may find that painting in the gallery wonderfully colourful while an American would probably label it colorful. A citizen of Great Britain may chide you for your bad behaviour while an American may also do the same if he finds your behaviour unacceptable. In the UK, we have metre and centre while in the US, we have meter and center.
American English also seems to have a love-hate relationship with poor old ‘l’ as it removes it in words like canceled and marvelous (which are cancelled and marvellous in British English) but adds an extra one in enroll, fulfill and skillfull (that are enrol, fulfil and skilful in the UK).
There is no love for ‘s’ and ‘ogue’ though as America completely does away with them. That is why UK’s organise and familiarise become America’s organize and familiarize and analogue, dialogue and catalogue shorten to analog, dialog and catalog.
Actually, to people like this scribe who have English as a non-native language, American English seems to make more sense. After all, why are defense, offense and license spelt with a ‘c’ in the United Kingdom? And why on Earth did an ‘o’ and an ‘a’ find their way into diarrhoea and encyclopaedia? (The American spellings of diarrhea and encyclopedia are simpler).
Language is indeed funny but linguistic diversity is not something to make fun of. English, and every other language in the world, is a living entity that is moved and moulded by the people who speak it. This weaves a tapestry that makes our conversations lively and our culture rich. Our variations are what make us unique and give us a special flavour, or flavor.
As for us in Nepal, we enjoy using both forms of English, always have and always will. That is our brand of English, Nenglish if you will, and we ought to be proud of it.