The World Rushes to Speak and Write 'American' English Britain's 'Mother Tongue' Takes a Lickin' from the Americanization of the Emerging Global Language

By Kim Campbell, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 4, 1996 | Go to article overview

The World Rushes to Speak and Write 'American' English Britain's 'Mother Tongue' Takes a Lickin' from the Americanization of the Emerging Global Language


Kim Campbell, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Like many Russians, Ilya Bezouglyi learned English the way his teachers preferred: British style.

But after being laughed at in Canada for using the word "chaps," and after a year of graduate study in the United States, Mr. Bezouglyi says that he and his English are "pretty much Americanized."

The "Americanization" of English is happening around the world today, from Africa to Britain itself. American English is seeping into the nooks and crannies of English everywhere thanks to education, business, Hollywood, and the Internet. Although British English - which many countries consider to be the "real thing" - is widely taught around the world, what those learners use in their private lives is more influenced by the US. As a result, "American English is spreading faster than British English," says Braj Kachru, a linguist in India and a founder and co-editor of the journal "World Englishes." In television broadcasts alone, the United States controlled 75 percent of the world's programming as recently as 1993, beaming "Sesame Street" to Lagos, Nigeria, for example. Americans also outnumber Britons: People are more likely to encounter one of the 260 million Yanks than one of the 55 million Brits. "It's more practical to speak and understand American English these days," says Bezouglyi, who adds there are more Americans than Britons in Russia today. The spread of American English began in the decades after World War II. Experts say the simultaneous rise of the US as a military and technological superpower and the receding of the British empire gave many in the world both the desire and option to choose American English. English in general has spread during that time as well. More than 1 billion people are thought to speak it as a native, second, or foreign language. Among the roughly 350 million native English speakers, the American version is spoken by about 70 percent. "There's no question that Britain made English an international language in the 19th century with its empire," says Bill Bryson, an American author of several books on the history of English. "But it's Americans that have been the driving force behind the globalization of English in the 20th century" because of their commercial and cultural clout, he says. Examples of the influence of American English include: *Young people in Europe, Asia, and Russia using it in casual conversation - including the notorious US export, "you guys" - even when many of them have been taught British English. "As far as I can see, it's exactly equivalent to wearing Nike baseball caps, or Air Jordan shoes," says Mr. Bryson, who listened to teenagers speak with American accents in the Netherlands recently. "It's a kind of linguistic badge." *In Brazil, people often ask for courses in "American," rather than English, according to Bernabe Feria, head of curriculum and development for Berlitz International in Princeton, N.J. *In Nigeria, years of trade with the US - and contact that blossomed in the 1960s with the Peace Corps - have greatly increased the use of American English. It is now spoken along with British English, a leftover of British colonial rule. *In Cairo, as recently as 1984, some university students received lower grades if they used American spellings instead of British. Since then, there has been an increase in the number of teachers in Egypt trained by Americans. "You can well imagine that nobody gets a red line through their paper for spelling 'center' with an 'er' anymore," says Richard Boyum, the head of English-language teaching activities at the United States Information Agency (USIA). *In Thailand, the standard in both schools and the English-language press is British English. But university teachers may speak English with an American accent because they have studied in the US. *The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), long the promoter of proper British English, now includes Americans in its broadcasts (see story at right).

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