Anonymous
Anonymous asked in Arts & HumanitiesHistory · 9 years ago

British English or American English, which came first?

Don't judge me because I'm only fourteen, but did British English come first and then Americans just changed some words. I'm really curious as to why? The reason is because I was reading a book about an American girl with a British boyfriend, he said (as he was walking to the car) something along the lines as, "Put this in your boot." The American was confused and looked at his feet and for a moment I was confused too because I forgot that Americans call it a "trunk". Anyway, I'm kind of getting off topic. I'm Australian and we spell and pronouce similarly like the British, so why didn't Americans do the same--why choose to complicate it? For example, Americans call it a sidewalk, but British call it a pavement, but Australians (at least I do) call it a pathway. How did Americans come up with sweater when it was originally called jumper--two very different words. Hmm, I'm babbling so... just an informative answer would be great. I've never been a history buff but I'm really interested in this.

Thanks for answering. :D

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  • Ashley
    Lv 6
    9 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    If you mean modern day British or American English, there is no answer because it's always changing...people today don't speak the way people spoke a hundred years ago, I would think that if you went to England 500 years ago and heard them speak, you would find that they sound a lot different than any English speaker today...

    As for spelling, there was no standard way to spell a word. When dictionaries were wrote, Webster (the for the American dictionary) wanted to simplify the complicated English language, and at the same time, show the British that Americans spoke a completely different dialect than them--thus he wrote his dictionary to show that. He changed the spelling of some words to make them easier to spell, they were spelled more phonetically. So the "-ise" in many words that really sound like "ize" were changed. (realise changed to realize)

    Also, British spelling in words like, "favourite, colour, metre" etc. are derived from french spellings (French also use -ise). Webster looked at this and decided that it made no sense to spell "meter" as "metre", because phonetically it is "meet er", not "meet trey". I think Latin also uses an "-ize" ending as well, another reason he changed it.

    I don't know how the difference sweater and jumper came about, (is that what you call a sweater? a jumper? lollol weird) I think for those words...maybe they didn't exist way back during colonial times and when they were introduced to different countries, they were given different names. It sorta makes sense, car trunk and boot, sidewalk and pavement, those things didn't exist 300 years ago.

    I've heard that the spelling and such changed because Americans wanted to distance themselves from the British following the Revolutionary War, I don't know how true that actually is, personally, I don't think that's the main reason, languages change and evolve over time, especially when you put an ocean between them.

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  • 9 years ago

    There is no such thing as British English. The original English language is what you refer to as British English and this is the one that came first. However, it was, and is, an evolving language and will not stay the same forever more.

    There were immense variations of spelling which gradually became standardised because of better education and the ever increasing use of books and newspapers. There were, and are big differences in pronunciation due to regional accents and these probably never will be standardised. (The American English spell checker wants me to change the s to z in the word standardised) As stated in a previous answer, the Oxford English Dictionary is the definitive work on the true English language and nothing can change that.

    When Webster produced his dictionary he had the backing of the American Government but he also had his own political historical/agenda. Another reason was that the standards of literacy were not high at the time and simplification of the system of spelling made life easier. That is not intended as an insult to Americans, it is simply a fact.

    In a country of more than a quarter of a billion people, you can spell words however you want to and that harms no one. Call it plain American if you like - its your country. The main point is that, as a Brit, I can understand written or spoken American English and Americans can understand what you call written or spoken British English. So we can communicate easily and I cannot see that there is a problem at all. It's called tolerance and mutual respect so there is no need to standardiZe American English with standardiSed "British" English.

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  • Anonymous
    9 years ago

    What you call British English started off around the 13th Century as English.

    Why complicate matters, well in the 1480s William Caxton set up a printing press near Westminster Abbey in London. He was the First English printer, although about 50 others were already doing printing in Europe (America and Australia were unknown to Europeans at that point). What sets Caxton apart from all the other printers is the fact that he would put little one page essays at the sart or end of his books.

    One of these noted the fact that the word for egg had changed from eyn during his lifetime. That would be the end of the matter, if it wasn't for the fact that this would be noted by scholars, when people would say that one way of speaking English was correct over another.

    Language changes, the French don't understand this and French has few words for anything, because they have a Government body that allows or dissallows words to become official. English has no such restrictions, hence there are now over 250,000 different words in English with over a million meanings.

    Oh and your jumper, do you mean jersey, sweater, pullover, woolly, guernsey to say nothing of cardigan or cardi.

    English is wonderfully wide ranging, enjoy it in all its differences and learn as many words as possible, they can be fun.

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  • 9 years ago

    Obviously the English, in Britain would have spoken this language before the Americans. I think you'll find it's the Spanish influence that changes some of the spellings. In British English it's 'Colour' etc while in American English it's 'Color'. Color is the Spanish word for Colour. There are other examples of where British English words finished with 'our' but became 'or' in American English. And you'll find it was the Spanish language influence most of the time that made that change. But to answer your question, British English was first.

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  • 9 years ago

    Before the colonisation of North America by Europeans, including the English, there were only native or indigenous peoples speaking many forms of language. On this basis "British English" was spoken first and introduced to North America along with French and Spanish.

    I think that "American English" has developed with different meanings and pronounciations because it has had so many influences from other cultures/countries whereas Australia, apart from its' own indigenous Aborigonies, was originally colonised primarily by the British(convicts and guards) and therefore the language has stayed closer to "British English".

    Anyway, what is that they say about America and UK - "2 countries separated by a common language"

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  • 9 years ago

    Neither came first, during early colonisation of the Americas English had not been standardised, so that each region in England often had very different spellings and rules for pronouncing words. Modern day English does not really begin to form until the 18th century with the start of a large print culture, which required a common set of rules for punctuation, spelling and so forth. By which point American English and British English had sufficiently diverged that when the spellings were standardised either side of the Atlantic they had minor differences. The languages have also continued to develop since then, hence the differences that exist today. However, both of the languages are formed by the gradual process of standardisation that happens in every language.

    Edit: I really think the level of nationalism about 'we came first' is ridiculous... Its a statement of fact that the languages are formed by a process of standardisation. I have literally read 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th century texts, I can assure you that the English wirtten in East Anglia, Shropshire, Cornwall, Yorkshire, The lowlands of Scotland, have often completely different spelling for words. The fact a form of English was spoken in England first does not make modern British English older than American English, both are formed by a print culture. The exact same process happened in France, Italy and Spain, with Tuscan Italian being the dominant form, Castilian being the main language in Spain. You are just wrong. I'm British and I use British English, but can we stop being ridiculous please. You could argue that british english came first because we had an earlier, more diffused print culture, but it would by a matter of decades.

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  • Anonymous
    9 years ago

    British English being that England has been around a lot longer than America. And language changes for many different reasons. There's really not a single reason. There are different dialects in every language based on what region it is being spoken in. In the United States things go by different names all the time. Like a stream can be referred to as a brook, creek, crick etc. Rubber bands are also called gum bands.

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  • Mod
    Lv 6
    9 years ago

    Daniel Webster played a big role in the differences found between English vs. American words or “language reform”. After the War of Independence, he was dead set on the idea of detaching the former UK colonists from their “Mother Land”. He was unhappy with the British textbooks available for teaching the American students and became determined to produce his own books to use in the classrooms. Later, he created the famous dictionary. He was quoted as saying, "too much pride to stand indebted to Great Britain for books to learn our children." He purposely changed the spelling of traditional English words (King’s English), dropping the “U” as in colour to color as an act to disassociate us from them and add an uniqueness to the English language that was strictly all American. Also, he felt that words should be spelt more as they sounded.

    Another possible thought: geographical distance between the two Nations led to people creating their own variations regarding their accent and the use of language. Perhaps too, America became a less formal type Nation than GB, so their choice of words reflects that fact. i.e. “whilst” is regarded as a more formal or upper class use of our word, “while”, and whilst fell out of fashion here. Americans are ever so reminded of the negative associated with class difference and pride themselves on equality for all. i.e. we the people….

    So I assume that it has to do with a mixture of a sense of national pride, a desire to be a unique nation, the changing thoughts regarding use of expressions, words and their meanings and grammar throughout our country’s history concerning what the citizens considered proper use of speech.

    <Another reason was that the standards of literacy were not high at the time and simplification of the system of spelling made life easier. That is not intended as an insult to Americans, it is simply a fact.>

    That same fact would apply to GB at the time as well.

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  • 9 years ago

    Language is always changing. All forms of English spoken today have a common ancestor and all are equal descendants of that language. There is no priority, timewise, between any. Some earlier forms survive today in some parts of the English world but not in others. "Gotten" and "herb" with a silent "h", the spelling "judgment" with only one "e" are older forms that survive in North America but not in southern England, whilst "fortnight", "wrath" with the vowel of "on", and spelling "centre" French style are older forms that survive in England, but not in North America."Mrs." is an abbreviation of "mistress" that is still pronounced as such in the English speaking Caribbean, but not in England nor in North America. Generally speaking the form of English used by Shakespeare has long gone out of fashion in both mainland North America and mainland Britain, but something very similar to it still survives in Ireland and in Newfoundland. This is because both islands were largely settled by English speakers in the time of Shakespeare, and largely preserve the pronunciation of his English, so you could conceivabley argue that their forms of English are earlier than either "British English" or "American English," both of which come in a variety of forms ("dialects") anyway.

    Source(s): Having lived and used English in Greater London, the West Country, rural Northamptonshire, Stoke on Trent, Dublin, St. Johns (Newfoundland), Trinidad & Tobago, Missouri, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, California, Oregon, Ontario, Edinburgh, Cumbria, Florida, Barbados, Texas, and N.E. Essex, not forgetting Earl's Court (London's Little Australia).
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  • 4 years ago

    I would like to have a brain storming session with you, I think you got it all wrong here or you were talking to the wrong people, I work in London in a place half of the employees are Americans and the other half are British, we never talk about this, maybe we talk about our local food and beers, haven't said that most of the Americans love our British accent.

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