Eli5 – Why is American and British English different?


Eli5 – Why is American and British English different?

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Simple answer to all dialectal variance, isolation and distance over time. As the two are isolated from one another, each inherits and purges different sounds and words according to internal and external influence (population migration, immigration, new discoveries, phrases etc).

All languages are living breathing entities that evolve over time. If you take one, and split its population (like AmE and BrE) over time they are going to sound and be implemented differently. It’s the same reason the French and Spanish etc don’t speak Latin anymore, after the fall of the empire they were isolated and eventually grew into the languages they speak today.

Because the colonies split hundreds of years ago. Languages constantly evolve. British English today is very different than it was in the 1700s too. Just like how there is many American accents now too.

Numerous reasons.

They’re separated from each other by quite a long distance, especially when you consider how much English can vary inside each country and at times within cities in those countries.

Spelling reforms. There was a popular dictionary in the 19th Century in the US which changed the spelling of many words.

Culture. Each culture introduces their own words for things. This can range from words considered proper all the way down to slang.

Influences from other languages. English overall has a lot of words from other languages, known as loanwords, and this has happened differently in both countries.

tl;dr Time and distance

They were the same when the American colonies were established in the 17th Century. Since the revolution, the geographic separation allowed English to diverge in different ways by way of sound changes and changes in which accent is “prestige.”

e.g. English R’s were always pronounced when they appeared in words by the time of the Revolution. Over time, the prestige accent in England (and by extension much of the Commonwealth) began dropping R’s if they appeared at the end of a syllable, and thus became “non-rhotic.” Across the Atlantic, Americans generally retained R pronunciations except in the Deep South (along with many African-Americans) and in localized areas like Boston and New York but the rhotic accent wasn’t considered “prestige” until America became a superpower in the 20th Century.