The History of American English
Most people are aware that there are quite a few differences between British and American English, particularly where spelling in concerned. But do you know why this is true? Were these deliberate changes? Or did they happen gradually, as a natural process due to geographical separation?
Striving for Independence
When determining the English spoken by the new nation, the American Revolution was of paramount importance. The rebels were determined to have their independence from the British in every respect; not just politically. At one point they even considered adopting an entirely different language – some patriots proposed French, German, and even Hebrew. But finally, they realized that this would be virtually impossible to implement so they decided on English being the United States of America’s de-facto language, even though they believed that this classical language would not be the best conveyor of their revolutionary ideas.
Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklins’ Contributions
And so, Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers of the nation, coined words such as the verb ‘belittle’ and terms to be used on the new currency such as ‘cent’ and ‘dollar’. And then in 1768, doing his part, Benjamin Franklin published an article entitled ‘A Scheme for a New Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling’. Within this article were words like theater (theatre), curb (kerb), and honor (honour); and so we had new spellings.
Noah Webster: Teacher and Author
Without any doubt, one of the main contributors to American English was the work of a teacher, Noah Webster, who wrote three important volumes which made up the book ‘A Grammatical Institute of the English Language’. One such volume was ‘American Speller’ which was designed to create accuracy and uniformity of pronunciation in schools. Then, in 1806, Webster’s first dictionary was published, and in 1828 he published his ‘American Dictionary of the English Language’.
Webster had a huge influence on American English: he introduced the spellings of color (colour) and fiber (fibre) and he also got rid of the English pronunciation of ‘forehead’ (with its silent ‘h’) and suggested its current pronunciation. He is also instigated the adoption of the distinctive US rhythm, quite different to that of the British, where each syllable has almost equal importance: this resulted in the characteristic pronunciation of words like ‘waistcoat’ and ‘secretary’.
In American English ‘an airplane’ translates to ‘an aeroplane’ in British English. ‘An apartment’ translates to ‘a flat’; ‘candy’ translates to ‘sweets’, and ‘a cookie’ translates to ‘a biscuit’. As any translator will confirm, there are dozens of differences between American English and British English, so the translator must be fully aware when completing translation assignments.
So, obviously the United States achieved its goal when it comes to language identity because its English type is very distinctive and recognizable right around the globe.