On British and American English


When it comes down to it the artificial or natural quality of language, whether written or spoken, is more or less subjective, and our cultural background has quite a bit to do with this as does our education. My degrees in English fostered an education in British literature and by implication, its language. I had to take one course in American literature to satisfy my undergrad degree requirements. Since I was never forced to take further American lit courses I continued to worship at the altar of British literature and even wrote my master’s thesis on William Blake’s prophecies and art.

For me, British English and its literature is natural and displays a certain class and control as exhibited in its narration and dialogue, and is a product of British culture and the education system there. Well-educated British people enunciate clearly and use words we Americans would consider five-dollar words. They take care of their language by speaking properly and writing in the same fashion, and in doing so they preserve it and present it as a natural, beautiful part of their culture; as I see it they have a true appreciation and love for something they have bestowed upon the world.


Most Americans will view British English as stilted, highly cultivated, and artificial as a result, as if there is no emotion or character, no personality or color in it. The British will counter by saying that American English has no culture, no self-control, no class, that it is vulgar and grating on the ears. Personally, I would agree because of my self-professed elitist literary background. Yet we Americans would rebut with the fact that our language is full of emotion, whereas British English seems unfeeling. This, however, is not the case. British English is just more naturally reserved in its tone and expression.

We all have an end to our fuses but culturally the British usually express their distaste over something quite a bit more coolly than we ever would. Americans tend to quickly and shamelessly let you know how they feel about something; hiding our thoughts or emotions is not something we have been prone to do as a people. We are not shy about what we may love or hate; we seem to think our personal opinions were made for public consumption. Hence our social media, blogs, and video site obsession. The British tend to be more private and controlled about their opinions and beliefs. Americans seem to think and feel that everything we each do or say should be made everyone else’s business and shoved in their faces. The British seem not to desire that everyone else know their personal affairs or business. This is not to say that on both sides of the Pond there aren’t many defectors from these perspectives, but rather how the people of each nation have acted within their respective cultures and thus been perceived historically.

How we view our language and its purpose is certainly a consequence of our culture and our education, and of how we are taught to use it and understand it at home. How we speak, read, and write develops and molds our perspective on the world, broadening or contracting it based on whether we appreciate language and all it offers in the way of communication and interaction or whether we abuse it by degrading and manipulating it for ends that do not foster positive values and meaning, thereby divorcing it from its priceless nature as one of the most distinct, fundamental identifiers of not only our history and culture as a nation and as a people but as human beings able to know and render the world through language as well.

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