eli5 – how did American and UK English language and dialect diverge and why ?


Perhaps 2 questions here. England is full of accents and dialects and America is too. Given our somewhat shared history – what caused this diversion ?

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2 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

You’re thinking about it wrong. American is several accents of english. Same as Australian English, Canadian english etc. All versions of english are the same base language with an accent.

Most of the deviation involved comes from the original settling population’s own accent changing, for example criminals who were sent to Australia didn’t have spectacular english (necessarily, some did) in the first place, so it’s evolved into modern Australian accents. Unfortunately I couldn’t tell you the exact circumstances of the American accents origin, but I doubt anyone could be that specific.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It is almost impossible for two groups of people separated by geography to end up speaking the same way for a variety of reasons

Generational differences: We are all born with exactly no knowledge at all of our own language and, relearn the whole thing from scratch in our infant years, inevitably bringing subtle changes that accumulate over time. I think most people are not at all concerned with how people spoke hundreds of years ago, as long as they fit in with their close friends. When these changes stack up in separated communities, they become more pronounced and noticeable when you compare them to each other after a long time.

Intentional differentiation: We are aware we speak the same language, but are politically and culturally separated, so we tend to latch on to and amplify any differences as a way of digging in to our own identity. I can’t say ‘trash’ or ‘garbage’ for example, even though I know it’s the same as ‘rubbish’, it makes me feel a bit like an impostor to use the American equivalent, I would only prefer an American term if it was the only way to avoid confusion

Outside influence: We are all exposed to different neighbours and how we communicate them also has subtle effect on how we use our own language. US English tends to borrow words from Spanish for example, while UK English might be more likely to pinch a word from French or German. I have no idea what cilantro is, I just know it tastes exactly like coriander.

Second language adoption: Most of the areas the English language has spread to has a very strong influence from whatever the first language was of the people that had to learn to speak it. There was a massive amount of Irish immigration to the US for example, and this is very strongly reflected in the way it influenced the ‘standard’ accent, in a way that did not really occur wholesale in the rest of the UK, where Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, and even Scandinavian languages left an indelible imprint on the way the language is spoken.

There’s probably a lot more , those are just a few reasons I could think of off the top of my head