Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why British English Is Better: A British Perspective

At The Lingua File we write from both sides of the pond, which can occasionally make edits and redrafts a little tricky. Since we constantly bicker, today and tomorrow we're discussing which is better, British English or American English. Don't be hating, it's just a bit of fun!

It's time to get patriotic... linguistically.

Words

The lexicon of British English has more fun words. British comedian Michael McIntyre has made some good points on the lack of ambiguity in the American English lexicon. A few examples include sidewalk instead of the obviously correct pavement and path. We really don't need to be told where we're walking.

We can go horse riding instead of horseback riding. We know where to sit on a horse. That's why we did so well in the Olympics... at least in equestrian events. Mitt Romney's horse is shit.

The Swearwords

We have fantastic swear words (curse words) that Americans should study:
Arse, ass is the animal.
Bollocks, you will grow to love using this adaptable word.
Fanny refers to female genitalia, not the buttocks, please do not tell us about how you fell on your fanny.
Knackers are your testicles, unless you're a girl, then you don't have any.
Shite is a good replacement for shit, it rhymes with "light" if you're wondering.

Pronunciation

Don't get me started on tube (toob), Tuesday (toosday), due (doo) and my personal favourite, duty (doody). Longitude is just a nightmare, lon-ji-tood... give me a break!

This is the tube. It's also very British.

Mary, merry and marry are three distinct words, for those that don't pronounce them this way, please work on it.

Caught and cot are also different, please work on this. Wok and walk? Same rules apply.

How about the letter a? Why do Americans have such trouble with this? Even in the General American accent this sound can grate on British ears. It sounds like they're chewing gum.

There's also another vowel sound we like, which leads us perfectly to...

The Schwa

schwa is a neutral vowel sound. It's just about the laziest vowel sound you can produce.

British English has a certain flow to it. Usually the stress is at the beginning of a word and the rest just sort of falls out of our mouths. As the length of a word increases, the chances of encountering a schwa approaches one. It's basically a certainty that a speaker of British English will use the odd schwa.

The issue with American English is that there aren't enough schwas! Words are too meticulously pronounced and it can come across as condescending.

The Accents

British English has a rich variety of accents across such a small island. Of course there are accents across American English, too, but they just don't change wildly enough for my liking. Most British people can tell where you're from within a 20 mile area just from your accent. I've seen Americans having to double-check if somebody is Canadian... though you can usually tell by the maple leaf on their backpack.

Look at that variation just on the "a" in "bath".

The Spelling

Though he can be commended for helping teach Americans how to read and write, Noah Webster was a known hater of the English, and therefore a wanker. Most of his spelling amendments were not only to make the language easier to write, but also as a big middle finger (rather than the better "v" sign) to the Brits who liked their language with a bit of historical colour and flavour, rather than color and flavor. It seems everyone else was quite fine with the way things were spelt... Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and even Canada to some extent.

Even though the -ize suffix is older, the language should really be moderated by those whose language it is. It is English after all, not American. The British should be allowed to change their language as and when they see fit.

The Oxford (or serial) Comma

This is an ongoing debate. From what I've seen, the Oxford comma is actually more frequently used in the U.S. rather than the UK. It can be used in both places, but we were told in school that you never put a comma before and. Of course, I will put a comma in if it can make a sentence clearer, but only then.

Idioms

The main offender here is "could care less". The British equivalent is "couldn't care less" which shows just how little you care about something. The American option makes no sense.

Zed

As always, zed is last. It's not zee... where did zee even come from? Sure, it rhymes if you sing the song rhyming with vee... as in "T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z. Now I know my ABCs", except you don't as it's ZED! It rhymes with head!

At least Canadians learn the alphabet correctly...

Obviously there is no right answer to this. Tomorrow we'll have our American perspective on the issue but given that it's subjective it may never be resolved. It's a matter of opinion and we're just taking the piss.

*Note: This article and its counterpoint were written as satire. Neither of the writers actually believe that one variety of English is better than the other. Please keep this in mind and be respectful when commenting.