Sociolinguistics


British Standard English and American Standard English

Apart from some minor differences in phonology, vocabulary, spelling, and grammar, British and American English are very similar. According to Kortmann (2005), the differences are strongest on the level of phonology, followed by those on the level of vocabulary. Spelling differences and especially grammatical differences are less significant.

The table below illustrates some examples of the typical differences between British Standard English and American Standard English.

 British EnglishAmerican English
Phonology (RP versus GA)e.g.
pronunciation of /r/ only when it precedes a consonant: hairy [] vs. hair []
-> /r/ is dropped in word-final positions in many British varieties (speakers of Irish and Scottish English follow the American pattern rather than the British pattern
Pronunciation of /r/ in all distributions: GA = rhotic accent
-> retroflex /r/ in word-final position in most American varieties
 Pronunciation of /a/ usually as [] in words like can’t, dance etc. in British varietiesMost American varieties: pronunciation of /a/ in words like can’t, dance etc. as []
 In British varieties /t/ is usually not pronounced as a flap [] between two vowels the first of which is stressed/t/ usually pronounced as a flap [] between two vowels the first of which is stressed -> sitter []
   
Spellinge.g.
Colour, labour, favour
Licence, defence
Analyse, organise
Theatre, centre
Dialled, cancelled
Instalment, skilful
tyre
programme
catalogue
e.g.
Color, labor, favor
License, defense
Analyze, organize
Theater, center
Dialed, canceled
Installment, skillful
tire
program
catalog
   
Grammare.g. perfect:
Experiential perfect: Have you ever gone to Rome?
Simple past: Did you ever go to Rome?
 e.g. perfect:
With certain adverbs (e.g. just, already, recently): He has just finished his homework; She has left already.
Simple past can be used: He just finished his homework; She left already.
 No use of additional past participle form gotten of the verb getTwo past participle forms of get: got and gotten. Their use marks a semantic difference:
-> gotten = used to indicate situations which are dynamic or in progress
-> got = used to indicate static situations and resultative states:
They’ve gotten interested (‘have developed interest in…’)
versus
They’ve got interested (‘are interested’)
   
Vocabularye.g.
Lift
Petrol
Lorry
Queue
Torch
Boot
e.g.
Elevator
Gas/Gasoline
Truck
Line
Flashlight
Trunk (of a car)

(Information adapted from Finegan (2004) and Kortmann (2005) )


Read more on British and American English:

Crystal, D. (2004). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (2nd ed., reprinted). Cambridge et al.: Cambridge University Press.