economical: tendency to shorten words, e.g. "math"
regular: preference for regular grammatical patterns, e.g. burn, burned (instead of burn, burnt); only "will" ("shall" rarely used)
democratic: standard, widely embraced dialect
tolerant: no strict observance of traditional usage rules, e.g. the word "hopefully" used to mean "it is to be hoped" or "let us hope" is widely used in America ("Hopefully, I'll win the lottery") but is generally rejected by traditional grammarians who accept it only as meaning "with hope" or "in a hopeful manner" ("She spoke hopefully of her dream to become an actress").
informal and direct: general avoidance of formalisms and polite expressions common in other languages (e.g. use of first names in conversation); tendency to conciseness, bluntness, no b.s. spirit
prudish: common use of euphemisms (e.g. "restroom," "toilet," "powder room," "john," "facilities," "a roll in the hay," "to make love," "to score," "to do someone" )
inflated: tendency to exaggeration, tall talk inherited from life of the frontier (e.g. "World Series," "Super Bowl," "humongous," "awesome" "bodacious")
inventive: dynamic anc highly active word formation mechanisms (e.g. nouns becoming verbs: "to interface," "to impact," "to access")
imaginative: common and creative use of metaphors and other figures of speech, e.g. "couch potato," "lame duck," "shrink," "to bark up the wrong tree," " to brainwash"
action-oriented: e.g. "take a shower" (instead of "have a shower"), "hit the books," "grab a sandwich"; widespread influence of sports and business language "make a killing" "play the field" "play hardball" "touch base" "strike out"
nasality and drawl (vowel elongation)
Sources and origins:
British English: historical origins in seventeenth-century colonial English; Jamestown (Virginia) settlement (1607), Plymouth Plantation (1620); about 90% of the 4 million inhabitants of the thirteen colonies (around 1790) were of British origin
Contact with other languages: arrival of first African slaves (1619); contacts with Native American languages, Spanish, French, Dutch, German
Cultural, intellectual, and other influences: Puritanism, rationalism, frontier-life conditions, utilitarian/pragmatic/exploitative/expansionist mentality of European immigrants in America
Colonial Period (1607-1789):
Colonial Period begins with settlement at Jamestown (Virginia) (1607); New England settled by British East Anglian Puritans; Mid-Atlantic regions settled first by the Dutch (New York was called "New Amsterdam" till 1664), then by the English; English Quakers in New Jersey; Quakers, Germans, Welsh, Scots, and Irish in Pennsylvania; South Atlantic areas settled by the English, French Protestant; Irish migrations toward the southwest in the 1700's; end of Colonial Period with ratification of the Constitution in 1789
National Period (1789-1900)
frontier life and westward expansion; central role of Scots-Irish immigrants in the shaping of the language and culture of the period (e.g. Davy Crockett 1786-1836, Tennessee pioneer, hunter, and politician; quoted as saying, "You can go to hell -- I'm going to Texas"); 30 million immigrants between 1840-1900 (mostly Irish and Germans); development of English as the national language; influence of Noah Webster and others in the shaping of the language
International Period (1900-present)
Repeated waves of immigration from many parts of the world: northern Europeans (e.g. Swedes in Minnesota); southern and eastern Europeans (e.g. Italians, Austro-Hungarians, Jews); Hispanics (e.g. Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans); Asians (e.g. Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Philippinos). Growth in the importance and influence of American English all over the world (connected to cultural appeal of American life as well as the economic and political imperialism of US foreign policy since the 19th century)
Some differences from British English:
Archaic features of 17th century English retained in American English but lost in British English:
Miscellaneous other differences:
Vocabulary borrowings (selected examples):
American Indian: hickory, pecan, sequoia, caucus, totem, igloo, kayak, squash (also idioms like "bury the hatchet," "go on the war path")
French: bayou, levee, depot, cache, prairie, rapids, bureau, voyage, cent, dime
Spanish: barbecue, chocolate, tomato, alfalfa, coyote, mustang, bronco, canyon, mesa, rodeo, ranch
Dutch: Brooklyn, Harlem, Bronx, waffle, coleslaw, cookie, landscape, sleigh, Santa Claus, Yankee, boss, hay
German: kindergarten, hamburger, frankfurter, noodle, pretzel, sauerkraut, lager, seminar, semester
Italian: pizza, pasta, spaghetti, espresso, broccoli, zuchini
Yiddish: bagel, lox
General American: the standard dialect of most Americans, associated with the central midlands
New England: clipped, featuring r-elision, e.g. r'ally, un'neath, pooty ("pretty")
Southern: also clipped, marked by certain elisions and vowel elongations, e.g. a-doin' ("doing"), wunst ("once"), hoss ("horse").
Ethnic dialects: Chicano English, Black English (Ebonics)
Ben Franklin (1706-1790) was one of the first advocates of spelling reform in America and influenced the work of Noah Webster (1758-1843)
"I have heard in this country ... errors in grammar, improprieties and vulgarisms," John Witherspoon (1723-1794) speaking about American English (Witherspoon was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence)
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) believed in the usefulness of neologisms and invented/adapted many words, among them " belittle" and "dollar"
John Adams (1735-1826) wanted an American Academy to preserve the "purity" of the language; Adams was also aware that American English would one day become the dominant language in the world
term "the American language" first recorded around 1802
Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828); Webster was instrumental in the development of many characteristically American spellings as counterparts of British spellings, e.g. color/colour, wagon/waggon, fiber/fibre, theater/theatre, center/centre, defense/defence, tire/tyre; he also recommended the measured, careful enunciation of each syllable (e.g. "sec-ret-ary" and "waist-coat" as opposed to British "sécretr'y" and "weskit"); Webster's spelling handbooks sold about 80 million copies in his own day and were highly influential in the development of a standard form of American English
the English novelist Frederick Marryat (17921848) made a trip to America in 1837-1839 and concluded that Americans had very bad manners and also commented on their "nasal twang"
Westward expansion and pioneer life associated with a boisterous, bragging attitude and tendency to aggrandize and exaggerate which are reflected in vocabulary and phonology. The novelist Thomas Low Nichols noted that "it is certain that men open their mouths and broaden their speech as they go West." Mimicking the Western speech and attitude Nichols also noted that "[the Westerner] walks the water, out-hollers the thunder, drinks the Mississippi, calculates that he is the genuwine article, and that those he don't like ain't worth shucks." Western, frontier life contributed colorful vocabulary and expressions such as "discombobulate" (to confuse), "lallapalooza" (something extraordinary), "absquatulate" (to go away), "squablification" (quarreling), "to stake a claim," "gold fever," and, in particular, many expressions derived from gambling ("you bet" "fair deal" "raw deal" "bid deal" ""I'll call your bluff" "put up or shut up") and drinking ("bootlegging" "saloon" "cocktail" "firewater" "bartender" "bar-room")
"very corrupting," Prince Charles's characterization of American English (1995)