Why do Americans change English words? [changed title]

Really? When I was back in the UK over Christmas 2002 I watched a program on TV about the development of the English language. On that they claimed that Shakespeare would have sounded like someone from Birmingham (aka a Brummie).

As a general rule, I would not trust any source that says “Shakespeare’s English was more like the modern X accent than any other modern English accent.” Shakespeare’s English was different enough from modern English that it’s a little bit deceptive to claim that it’s like any modern accent.

Amanset’s post reminds me that sometimes the differences are highly exaggerated. I remember one British mystery that made a big point of the fact that Americans were supposed to call a lady’s purse or handbag a “pocketbook”. Now I do recall this word used to be used before that got to be a synonym for paperback (I think it was actually a tredemark for one publisher), but it has been long time since it has been in common use, although I guess it is still used occationally.

And oh yes, the subjunctive. A British copy editor asked for about 100 subjunctives to be changed to indicative in a book I coauthored. I ignored him/her and since I produced camera-ready copy, I won. He obviously thought I didn’t know that the third person singular was supposed to have an added “s” and it never occurred to her it was anything else.

Why do the Brits take a good word like television or TV and turn it into “tellie”. The same thing for breakfast turned into “brekie”.

[ul]:frowning: [sup]I will admit that breakfast itself is quite different in the U.S., but that’s another thread.[/sup][/ul]

Why do the French take a perfectly good word like “breakfast” and turn it into “petit dejeuner”? What’s wrong with those people? It’s like they speak a completely different language.

Can you give any examples of a “subjunctive” versus “indicative”?

(My grammar knowledge consists completely of “what sounds right” and I am almost completely ignorant of the names for the various tenses.)

Indicative is a simple statement. For example: I am an American. Subjunctive mood is used for a wish or desire or when you are supposing something contrary to fact. For example: If I were British, I wouldn’t change perectly good words. The verb “were” is subjunctive. It is usually used in the past tense. Present tense subjunctive mood sounds awkward to me. Singular third person present tense subjunctive mood uses the same verb form as indicative third person except for the verb to be. I can’t think of an example that doesn’t sound very awkward.

Thanks to the pervasive influence of Hollywood and American television, British English is rapidly moving towards American English anyway. Give it a century and I suspect there will be little difference between the two, other than, of course, regional variations.

sigh I knew I was going to have to trot this out again.

There is absolutely NO evidence that media has any effect whatsoever on dialects, apart from the occasional vocabulary addition. See Bauer and Trudgill’s Language Myths.

Here are some examples of third-person subjunctive verbs:


The subjunctive has a distinct form only in the third-person singular. The final -s is omitted from the conjugation. For the verb to be, the subjunctive form is be or were.

The subjunctive is used to talk about something happening when it hasn’t really happened.

Congress mandates that the matter be fulfilled.

Her Majesty’s Government mandate that the provisions are fulfilled.

Where I grew up (in southeastern Pennsylvania) “pocketbook” is still very common, even among younger generations. So it didn’t completely die out in all dialects, but when I moved away to go to college in Pittsburgh I started saying “purse” pretty quickly so people understood what I meant. (I did not, however, start saying “pop”. I have my dignity :D)

I was just having a discussion with my family about why it’s called a pocketbook, in fact. My mother seems to prefer that term to purse, unlike most females I know.

I can hear it now…

Loif ees burruh walkin’ shadoh,
Uh pooah playah
‘Oo strrroots un’ frrrets ees ‘owah oopun the stayge,
Un’ thenees ‘eard no mowah,
Eet ees uh tayul, towilled boi uneediot,
Full uv sowund un’ foory,
Seegneefoyin’ nuthin’.

Oh, the sheer poetry of it.

Shakespeare would of had a midlands accent. He defintely would not of had a Bostonian accent as that is a compoiste of several different English/Irish/Scotttish/Welsh(?) accents.

They call it a pocketbook in southern NJ, too… maybe it’s a Northeast Corridor kinda thing?

We used them interchangeably in New York when I was a kid. When I lived in Boston I also heard ‘handbag’.

Since there’s like 4-5 times as many Americans as Brits, though, maybe we’re the default English speakers now! :smiley:

Oh, wait, India…never mind.

In 1994, it was reported that Great Britain was planning to send English language teachers to India to improve the quality of Indian English.

Newsweek printed some irate letters from people who protested, “Where do the British neocolonialists think they get off imposing their standards on India…” But one letter writer had a sense of humor. “If the figures you cited are right, 90 million people in India speak English. So they should be the ones teaching English to Britain!!!”

Then what explains the current English youth dialect that mimics Australian by the rising cadence at the end of each sentence- it seems like Neighbours and Home and Away have had a serious effect on teen-speak!

That rising inflection at the end of the sentence is called “uptalk,” and it’s been slowly infiltrating into English for several decades now. I’ve heard a claim that it did start in Australia, but it’s been spreading mostly by the influence of peers. It reached the U.S. two or three decades ago. (I’ve heard a claim that it spread among surfers from Australia to Hawaii to California. Certainly it sound rather Valley Girlish to me.) It’s clearly more common in younger people than in older ones. I’d be surprised to hear anyone older than 45 speak that way. It seems to be more common among women than among men. It would be strange if Neighbors and Home and Away were only now influencing British English, since those shows have been shown on British TV since the '80’s.