Many years ago, awoman visiting Londoncame across the followingsign outside a movietheater:NewSensationalAmericanWestern film –Englishsubtitles.A bird’s eyeview: ageneralconsideration
The woman thought this was just anexample of the dry humor the Englishare famous for. A few weeks later whilein Paris, she came across another signoutside a shop. The sign said: “Englishspoken here. American understood.”
We can only imagine what thewoman’s reaction must have been bythis time. Was she outraged by thesuggestion that she and million ofother Americans don’t speak English?Or did she thinkthe shopkeeperwas merely makingfun of the wayAmericans speakEnglish?
The story, whichincidentally is basedon trueoccurrences, lendscredence to the viewheld by the late Irish-born writer GeorgeBernard Shaw whoonce said that“England and Americaare two countriesseparated by acommon language.”
Whatever conclusions we draw from eitherthe story or Shaw’s famous dictum, onething is clear: English is spoken differentlyon both sides of the Atlantic. Over theyears, the differences betwen British andAmerican Englishhave not only beena source of humorbut have alsogiven rise to muchheated debate anddiscussion.
During much of the nineteenthcentury, some English people held theview that the Americans were “defiling”or “corrupting” the mother tongue. Ifwe* Sb who believes that sth shouldbe done in the correct or traditionalway, especially in the areas ofart, sport, music, and language.Understand “defiling” and“corrupting” to mean“changing”, then those Englishpurists* were indeed right.
However, such purists failed tounderstand that change is theinevitable destination of all livinglanguages.
Still, their reaction seemsunderstandable. Perhaps the proudcitizens of the mother country thoughtof themselves as the “guardians” of theEnglish Language. Buteven the “guardians”themselves weren’t imuneto attacks from their“Yankee” brothers. TheAmerican statesman JohnHays, for example,
openly criticized British English asaffected and pompous, while he praisedAmerican speech as incisive andstraightforward.Even nowadays you’llstill hear peoplecomparing British andAmerican English anddiscussing which is“the best kind ofEnglish”.
Such discussions, however, ultimatlyreveal nothing more than one’spersonal preferences. To argue thatany variety of English is superior toanother is like saying that “roast beef”is tastier than “fried chicken”.X
Today, English has become a true linguafranca* spoken with many accents bymany peoples throughout the world.*a universallanguage.In view of thisEnglish-speakingcultural diversity, theidea that BritishEnglish is the “bestkind of English” isclearly an outdatednotion.
British English is simply one of the manyunique varieties of English that now exist.
Before we deal with the subject ofBritish English in detail, let’s first clarifythe term British English. For ourpurposes, we’re going to us the termBritish English to refer only to theEnglish spoken in England.
Such a distinction is necessary forthe simple reason that the termBritish English can be misleading.It could be understoodas a generic term forall of the varieties ofEnglish spoken in theBritish Isles, whichconsist ofEngland, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
The idea that these countries from ahomogeneous culture orlinguisticgroup is erroneous. TheIrish, Scots or Welsh would probablytake offense at being called English.
Unlike England, most of whoseinhabitants are of Anglo-Saxonorigin, the populations ofIreland, Scotland and Wales are ofpredominantly Celtic origin.The only way wecould do justiceto Irish, Scottishor Welsh Englishwould be to granteach separatediscussion.
Since it would be impossible toadequately cover all regional Englishaccents in the short spacealloted, we’ve decided to limit ourdiscussion primarily to standardBritish English. This is the variety ofEnglish you’re likely to hear usedby BBC Broadcastersor such famousEnglish actors as ...
... as Jeremyirons, Julie Andrewsor Alec Guinness. Oneof the most noticeablecharacteristics ofStandard BritishEnglish is its clearpronunciation andintonation.