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
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
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). …