An excellent question

Posted by Bob on January 03, 2005

In Reply to: An excellent question posted by Word Camel on January 03, 2005

: : : : : : : : : "Do You Speak American?" A series on PBS (the Public Broadcasting System in the U.S.) beginning Wednesday, Jan. 5, at 8 p.m.

: : : : : : : : : "There's more to a country's prowess than just the amount of land it possesses. Britain once boasted a huge empire, while the United States never did; yet now, for every one speaker of British English, there are four speakers of "American." Forces like the Internet, television and the film industry have done more to spread our way of speaking than any army or navy could, and today, American English is as much a global influence as this nation itself."

: : : : : : : : I have Dutch relatives who can pass for Americans in America. Perfect accents, idiomatic American English. They explain that Dutch TV shows American movies with subtitles, so they hear American. The French and many other Europeans dub American movies and only hear classroom English.

: : : : : : : I shall try to view this program--if I can remember and if I'm permitted--but I found the sentence from the promotion curious. Actually, it sounded chauvinistic to me. The British had this huge empire (which they didn't acknowledge as an empire until 1867 or so), and the Americans had at least a small empire (although unacknowledged. And under the slogan of Manifest Destiny stole land from Mexico to make their nation, not to mention all the land stolen from the Indians--the pepper-belly Indians, that is, not the curry-belly Indians, who, as one of the most populous nations on earth, demonstrate the lasting effects of British rule and British speech. And just how does speaking the American version of English demonstrate as much global influence as the nation itself. Even if it's just empty rhetoric, I expect better empty rhetoric from public television. SS

: : : : : : English and Dutch are close relatives among Germanic languages, almost as close as English and Frisian (spoken in part of the Netherlands). To some people, Dutch sounds like English spoken with a potato in one's mouth. So it's natural that the Dutch would learn English rather easily. SS

: : : : : I expected to draw fire from the Brits, not my fellow American.

: : : : You didn't draw any fire unless you are the author of the passage quoted, beginning "There's more ..." And even then, it was only small-arms fire. SS

: : : I was hoping to hear from the guy who gets mad when I quote references that say a phrase originated in the U.S. (Imagine smiley-face emoticon here.)

: : You won't see me getting irked at the show's promotional statement, because, being a US-based transmission, it'll have the usual thoughtless jingoistic bias and therefore be undeserving of any serious consideration. However, it's clearly more than possible that a malformed younger bastard child gains a vast level of notoriety when compared to its rightful legitimate older sibling...

: : Having said that, I wonder how the implied census was measured? How does one distinguish between spoken English and spoken American? It cannot be a matter of accent, because that's defined by the nature of whatever the local language is. It also can't really be a matter of idiom - and I will fully grant that US-created movie and TV media exports idiom non-stop.

: : In fact, on further consideration I think the premise is fallacious - who actually does speak "American", besides US nationals? You won't find a Canadian or an Australian claiming that they do, and *if* it's a matter of Empire or colonisation, then any English speakers in both Africa and Asia must by default "speak" British English...

: I think I'll need to give this a little more consideration and record the program. However, I can'resist taking a stab now.

: My first thought is that it is possible to talk about an American style of speaking English. It doesn't rest on the past. Americans don't value the past and don't seem to place much value in learning about English, much less following its rules. It's philistine, it's dynamic, it's pragmatic. It's a juggernaut of jargon determined to make the point by any means necessary - except perhaps for really using the language well. The language and what Americans take a lead in doing to it, (all that "transitioning", etc.) is a reflection of the American society and its particular characteristics. These aren't so different from other English-speaking places, but given the influence of America in the world, I guess it is probably inevitable that it would be labled "American English".

We're crude, loud, vulgar, practical and pragmatic all right. We nickname god's creatures. We nickname Everything for that matter. Our slangy shorthand is transmitted by entertainment (our biggest export) ... but I don't beleive we have established a linguistic hegemony over the civilized world. I'd guess (just a guess) that more people listen to the BBC World News Service than see the latest Tom Cruise movie. More people, more often, and more seriously.