United States Language

United States Language

In the US over 200 million people speak English as a native language with a high degree of homogeneity, due to the continuous movement and contacts of populations since the colonial period, as well as to the not marked division between social classes and a certain tendency for standardization. British English (English English) and American English (North American English) constitute the main varieties of English in the world, both now accepted in teaching (see also English, language, in this Appendix). The British standard (RP or Received Pronunciation, also used with slight differences in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of South Africa) corresponds to use in the BBC, public schools and middle classes, and has its origin in southeastern England; the American standard corresponds to the use learned in the US and Canada, and today tends to imitate the use of the most important television networks (Network English) of central-northeastern origin.

English was introduced to the North American continent and has been changing there through three main directions: the settlement of 4 million colonizers, mainly from Great Britain, along the east coast from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth century; immigration from Northern Europe, especially from Ireland and Germany, until 1890 and the simultaneous expansion towards the West; immigration from southern Europe after 1890, with strong participation of Italians. Since the mid-20th century, immigration from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Latin American countries and Southeast Asia has prevailed. The introduction of English in the Elizabethan period and the conditions encountered in the New World explain the different and independent development of flat a), both typical of English up to the eighteenth century (v. XXXII, p. 588). Contact with indigenous peoples, with non-English-speaking settlers and with successive waves of immigrants contributed to the enrichment of the North American lexicon. From the contact with the Amerindian languages ​​derive terms such as mooseskunksquashsequoiachipmunk ; from the French colonists they are lent, for example, chowderprairie ; from hispanic ones marijuanaarmadillotacosierrapueblocanyon ; from Dutch derive coleslawcookieyankeeboss ; from German noodledelicatessensauerkrauthamburger ; from the Italian minestronipizzaravioli ; from the Chinese chow ; from African languages jazzbanjo ; from Yiddish schlep (“to carry”).

Among the regional varieties proposed by the Linguistic atlas of the United States and Canada (1939-), now registered in the impressive Dictionary of American regional English by FG ​​Cassidy (1985-), those of New England, New York City, ‘northern hinterland (Great Lakes), North Midland (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland), South Midland (West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee), the South and the controversial General American, each with particular characteristics that however, they do not prevent communication and therefore are not comparable to the dialectal differences of the United Kingdom.

The reform in spelling (honor per honorwagon per waggon, etc.) and the important lexicographic work of N. Webster (1758-1843), which aspired to the autonomy of an American language with simplifying tendencies, did not however lead to one prescriptive standard and commonly accepted by all Americans. The important sociolinguistic research carried out by W. Labov also highlights the presence of social varieties of which the English of the black population is the most marked and most studied. This variety (the so-called Black vernacular English) tends today to be explained as a creole whose base would be a pidgin spoken on the West African coast and developed further in the United States. Among the most important American Creoles are the South Carolina coast gullah, the Louisiana French Creole and the Hawaiian Creole.

The plurilingualism present in the US was investigated by JA Fishman (1966) who lists 111 different languages ​​spoken as mother tongue by 35 million people, with 17 million bilinguals: among these languages ​​Spanish is the most relevant, used especially in Florida South, in the Southwest of the US and in New York. The Bilingual Education Act was approved in 1968, with the aim of favoring pupils with limited knowledge of English, but this law has sparked strong controversy over the language policy to be followed. Recent studies show how the majority of emigrants are already linguistically assimilated by the second generation, and how the use of the original language is limited to the private sphere.

As regards the linguistic differences between British and North American English, in addition to what has already been said in XXXII, p. 588, we can point out the lenition of / t / intervocalic (for which there is no difference between latter and ladder), and in the Southern dialects the tendency to monotongization (highride = [ha ‘] [ra’d]). The accent often falls on different syllables, especially in forestryisms (SU: cígaretteínquiryrésearchwéekend ; Great Britain cigarétteinquíryreséarchweekénd). Certain ” sensational ” spellings, used mainly in the advertising language but also in road signs, are typical of SUs: hibilothrunitexing for highbuylowthroughnightcrossing. In the morphosyntax we find numerous differences, albeit slight, such as the general substitution of the modal auxiliary shall in British English with will in the American one, of should with would in the hypothetical; replacing strong verb forms with weak ones in the past tense (burnedspelleddreamed, instead of burntspeltdreamt); the different position of the attribute (the Hudson river / the River Thames); the use of different prepositions (to be on a teamto be on sale / to be in a teamto be in a sale), etc. A remarkable linguistic agility is also noted in the frequency with which American English changes the grammatical category in the formation of new words: from noun to verb (an author > to authora room > to rooma contact > to contact), from the adjective to the noun (personal > the personals, in advertisements), from the verb to the noun (to dump > a dump). Also noteworthy is the productivity of derivations of the type – ify and – ize (city > citify ; slenderizeburglarizedemoralize).

Notable differences concern the lexicon: eg. in America the post is called mail and the postman letter-carrier or mail man, in Great Britain respectively post and postman ; the railway is railroad in America and railway in Great Britain; American luggage baggage corresponds to English luggagetruck (the truck) a lorrygas (oline) a petrol (petrol), subway a underground, etc. Also note items such as go-getters (“enterprising guy”), joy-ride (“stolen car ride”), dope-fiend (“drug addict”), etc.

The prestige that the US enjoy in the world continues to exert its influence as a linguistic superstrate; just think of the influx of Anglo-Americanisms in Italian, as well as in many other languages ​​of the world. There is also a push to use a reduced type of Anglo-American English as a lingua franca in many sectors (economic, scientific, cultural).

United States Language