You’re probably familiar with the differences between British and American English. You’ve heard people swoon over the British accent and often it can feel as if American English was the base version – accent-free and neutral. But even the term “American English” encompasses a huge variety of regional accents and different forms (as does “British English”, naturally). Some have even argued that various different dialects have developed on the continent. And while it’s difficult to say what constitutes a separate dialect, it is also clear that the languages spoken in Alaska and Alabama do have some very apparent differences.
In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the forms of English that are used in North-America and whether they really constitute different dialects of English.
American English is a myth
The term “American English” itself is actually somewhat of a myth. It is such a generalised term that it becomes somewhat meaningless. The fact is that the versions of English spoken in this part of the world differ from each other in such a stark manner that bunching them together under one nondescript accent or idea of English is rather difficult.
It would be a lot more accurate to talk about the various regional languages and that is, indeed, what most linguists have been starting doing.
Coke, soda, and pop, or the different vocabularies in North America
Most people writing about North American English these days recognise a number of different local varieties of English. What they don’t agree on, however, is the number of these local “dialects”. The guesses range from eight to twenty-four, and some even beyond these limits. That is, of course, understandable since it’s impossible to draw static borders in such a dynamic phenomenon as language.
What is certain, is that North Americans tend to use different words and phrases for the same everyday objects based on where they’re from, as this video from the Atlantic well demonstrates.
The huge difference in accents
Another thing that becomes evident from the video above is that there is also a wide range of different accents starting from the much-made-fun-of way Canadians say “a-boot” instead of “about” to the typical “y’all” of the American South.
In addition to these well-known examples, there are numerous other, slightly less obvious, examples. From the dropped R’s and T’s of New Englanders to the influence of Native American languages on the English spoken in the Pacific Northwest. The Washington Post did an excellent rundown of the most obvious accents here, as does this very informative video:
How different is the written language?
It’s clear that there really are big differences in the way North Americans both in the US and Canada speak. They use different pronunciation and sometimes vocabulary to get their point across. To characterise these regional differences as dialects, however, there should also be rather convincing evidence of different grammar in use.
There is, however, rather little evidence of that. Despite using different vocabulary, people all across North America will use the same grammar rules when writing. There are differences between British and American grammar but across the pond, most of the rules remain ubiquitous.
However, since there are several ways to define what a dialect itself is, one could maintain that the North Americans have really developed their regional differences into separate dialects of English.