English Words and Their Background

By George H. McKnight | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
AMERICAN ENGLISH

Closely related to the subject of dialect is the special form of English used in America, which some prefer to call the American Language. A German schoolmaster once inquired of the present writer, "Have you always lived in America?" When answered in the affirmative, he continued, "Wo denn haben Sie englisch gelernt?" Where then did you learn English? That is to say, an educated German was surprised to learn that the national language of the United States is English. The American language is English, but English with a difference. The story is told that when the English actor, Cyril Maude, was playing in New Mexico, a group of cowboys who had been in the gallery, left the theater saying, "We can't understand a thing the guy says." In London, before the war, one saw on store fronts, not only the familiar signs, "Ici on parle franqais," and "Man spricht deutsch," but an occasional "American spoken here." In all this there is evidence that the language of America is not entirely identical with that of England, that there is a difference between the "King's English" and what has been called the "President's English.

The English language was brought to America by English colonists of the seventeenth century. The language brought to America at that time differed in many ways from the English of present-day England, and one of the sources of difference to-day between the languages of the two countries is the preservation in the new country of many features of language lost in the mother country.

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