Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Who Needs U

When I first moved to America from England, it never crossed my mind that there would be a language barrier, after all, we all speak English, right? Wrong! Although Californians always remarked, "I just love your accent," few of them actually understood a word I said. Anyone brave enough to venture an opinion as to where I was from generally thought, Australian, (as in, you speak English, but not as we know it). Or, the alternative, "Scotch," (I was always sorely tempted to be pedantic and explain that scotch was a drink, not a nationality). But I should also point out that in those early days, I would have been hard pressed to recognize many of the different American accents

Actually, I hale from the north of England, and have an accent that any self respecting Londoner would describe as pure "hicksville," but which, for some reason, Americans seem to think is "posh." Of course, they don’t actually use that expression, more something along the lines of, I "speak correctly." It is my belief that they are of this opinion because I pronounce T’s as T’s and not D’s as is the American way.

I encountered similar problems when I began writing for an American audience, particularly with the differences in spellings between English English and American English.

I should add a proviso here; it is not my intention to deride the American version of English, because believe me, the English, myself included, do an excellent job of murdering our language without any help from anyone else.

Over here there is a definite aversion to the letter U, hence neighbour becomes neighbor, labour becomes labor, (even now my spellchecker is having a thrombosis), and the word queue becomes line. Now, why Americans chose to dispense with the letter U, I have no idea, perhaps they just considered it superfluous. But it can be a bit of a nuisance when playing scrabble, it’s difficult enough getting rid of those pesky U’s as it is.

Language, however, is always in a state of flux. Take the zed, (an American friend once asked me to spell zed, I replied Zed, E, D, of course), or zee, for example. At home, I have an old copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, in it words such as realize, analyze, and theorize are all spelt with a Z, as they are today in the U.S. In a modern English dictionary the Z has been replaced by an S. I have no idea when or why this occurred, but it is natural for me to use S.

So, you see what I’m up against? And this is just the tip of the iceberg, there are also subtle differences in grammar and punctuation, as well as expressions and turns of phrase that have no comparison here. I could go on, and on, but I won’t, I think I’ve bored you enough for one day. Have a great week.

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