British bites back

25-Oct-2012

The USA’s influence on the world stage, and the huge reach Hollywood movies and popular music have had over the past few decades mean American English words like candy, trash and elevator, to name but a few have become well-known and sometimes widely used in other English dialects.

However, an interesting article on the BBC website explores how ‘Britishisms’ or words normally seen as very specific to UK English have recently been slowly creeping into everyday speech in the US.

Why this is happening is unclear, but it could have something to do with a bit of a British invasion across the pond. British culture has become cool with hysterical teenagers screaming for boyband One Direction, other singers like Adele and Leona Lewis taking the top spot on the Billboard charts, the success of the Harry Potter books and the world’s televisions being switched on to the Olympics in London this year.

Here are some examples that our friends from across the Atlantic said they had been hearing in daily conversation. You could use these with your class to challenge them to finding the American equivalent and vice versa (and maybe asking them which ones they prefer!) You could even get them to make up sentences – one American version and one British. You’ll also find plenty of exercises through the search functions of Macmillan English Campus and www.onestopenglish.com.

Some of the more simple examples include:

Autumn (vs Fall)

Bum (vs bottom) This is quite interesting as the word ‘bum’ often has the connotation of a homeless person in the US

Mobile  (vs cell phone)

Others are maybe a little more interesting as they are more specific:

Chav: a very British word often used to describe a badly behaved young person, and often referring to someone of low status

Skint: Being absolutely penniless (a word I used often in my university days)

Fancy: A verb to express liking someone romantically, or really wanting something at a certain moment – “She really fancied Brad Pitt” or “I fancy a cake”

Although the contributors to this particular article seem to enjoy the fact that words are creeping into their language, others think that this is just a pretentious fad that won’t last, playing on the view that British English is used by stereotypical British people who are all either very posh, polite or stuck in the past wearing bowler hats (we don’t, just in case you were wondering).

What do you think? Is it a good thing to allow words from certain dialects into the language of others? Or even into different languages? Do you think it could be confusing for students trying to study the most international version of English? Maybe this is a nice idea for a class discussion…

Peter

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