Lexicology. Different dialects and accents of English
Every language allows different kinds of variations: geographical or territorial, perhaps the most obvious, stylistic, the difference between the written and the spoken form of the standard national language and others. It is the national language of England proper, the USA, Australia,
New Zealand and some provinces of Canada. It is the official language of
Wales, Scotland, in Gibraltar and on the island of Malta. Modern linguistics distinguishes territorial variants of a national language and local dialects. Variants of a language are regional varieties of a standard literary language characterized by some minor peculiarities in the sound system, vocabulary and grammar and by their own literary norms.
Standard English – the official language of Great Britain taught at schools and universities, used by the press, the radio and the television and spoken by educated people may be defined as that form of English which is current and literary, substantially uniform and recognized as acceptable wherever English is spoken or understood. Its vocabulary is contrasted to dialect words or dialectisms belonging to various local dialects. Local dialects are varieties of the English language peculiar to some districts and having no normalized literary form. Regional varieties possessing a literary form are called variants. Dialects are said to undergo rapid changes under the pressure of Standard English taught at schools and the speech habits cultivated by radio, television and cinema.
The differences between the English language as spoken in Britain. The
USA, Australia and Canada are immediately noticeable in the field of phonetics. However these distinctions are confined to the articulatory- acoustic characteristics of some phonemes, to some differences in the use of others and to the differences in the rhythm and intonation of speech.
The few phonemes characteristic of American pronunciation and alien to
British literary norms can as a rule be observed in British dialects.
The variety of English spoken in the USA has received the name of
American English. The term variant or variety appears most appropriate for several reasons. American English cannot be called a dialect although it is a regional variety, because it has a literary normalized form called
Standard American, whereas by definition given above a dialect has no literary form. Neither is it a separate language, as some American authors, like H. L. Mencken, claimed, because it has neither grammar nor vocabulary of its own. From the lexical point of view one shall have to deal only with a heterogeneous set of Americanisms.
An Americanism may be defined as a word or a set expression peculiar to the English language as spoken in the USA. E.g. cookie 'a biscuit'; frame house 'a house consisting of a skeleton of timber, with boards or shingles laid on'; frame-up 'a staged or preconcerted law case'; guess
'think'; store 'shop'.
A general and comprehensive description of the American variant is given in Professor Shweitzer's monograph. An important aspect of his treatment is the distinction made between americanisms belonging to the literary norm and those existing in low colloquial and slang. The difference between the American and British literary norm is not systematic.
The American variant of the English language differs from British
English in pronunciation, some minor features of grammar, but chiefly in vocabulary, and this paragraph will deal with the latter.1 Our treatment will be mainly diachronic.
Speaking about the historic causes of these deviations it is necessary to mention that American English is based on the language imported to the new continent at the time of the first settlements, that is on the English of the 17th century. The first colonies were founded in 1607, so that the first colonizers were contemporaries of Shakespeare, Spenser and Milton.
Words which have died out in Britain, or changed their meaning may survive in the USA. Thus, I guess was used by Chaucer for I think. For more than three centuries the American vocabulary developed more or less independently of the British stock and, was influenced by the new surroundings. The early Americans had to coin words for the unfamiliar fauna and flora. Hence bull-frog 'a large frog', moose (the American elk), oppossum, raccoon (an American animal related to the bears), for animals; and corn, hickory, etc. for plants. They also had to find names for the new conditions of economic life: back-country 'districts not yet thickly populated', back-settlement, backwoods 'the forest beyond the cleared country', backwoodsman 'a dweller in the backwoods'.