When you listen to a British person speaking you obviously notice the difference between their accent and that of an American, but have you ever really listened to the actual words? It is funny how similar and yet how different the British English language is from American English—so many words have different spellings in the two types of languages. Words such as flavor in American English would become flavour in British English. Both spellings are indeed correct but if you are used to American English the spelling might throw you off.
While both languages have similarities, they also have differences such as the words we have just looked at, although other aspects differ as well. Here are some of the key differences between British English and American English:
- Pronunciation: while Britain changed, the Americans kept the rhotic way of speaking, except in certain areas like New York and New England. These two places switched over to the non-rhotic accent and some speculate it was due to their close British connections.
- Spelling: words such as flavor, honor, analyze, color, etc., in the American English form, would become flavour, honour, analyse, colour, etc., in the British English style. There are many differing opinions as to why this difference in spelling occurs; some say it is because in American English they spell things the way they sound, unlike British English which has silent letters.
- Definitions: words may not always mean the same from one language dialect to another. An example of this is “pants”—in American English most people define this as being trousers, whereas in British English it is the definition for underwear.
These differences may not seem very important or even troublesome; however, they can pose issues when it comes to academic writing. While both forms are correct in their own areas, when writing a paper you want to be sure that you are using the appropriate dialect. While both ways are correct, if you wrote a paper for an American school using the British English writing style you would probably lose points for it. The main thing is to be consistent, so if you choose to write in British English then this should be the case throughout your paper, and the same is true for American English.
How about a little piece of history on the two languages? Before the American Revolutionary War and independence from Britain in 1776, the accents were very similar. Both languages were rhotic, meaning speakers pronounced the letter R in a “hard” way. However, after 1776 things changed. It was towards the end of the eighteenth century when non-rhotic speech became popular among the upper class of Southern England, and its use has since spread and could be why each type sounds different from the other.
When you delve into the history of certain things you will be surprised at all the interesting facts you can learn which previously never even crossed your mind. The difference between British English and American English is one such subject.