When I was 17, I was very lucky.  My first flight ever was to the US (from the UK) for 2 weeks on an educational study tour of the north east of the US and Canada.  It was run by Guardian Overseas Education, a long since defunct wing of the eponymous newspaper.

As part of the tour, we were asked to right a short essay about some aspect of our trip.  Since the trip was during my Easter break, the last thing I wanted to do was write a short essay.  I was however, doing latin and greek at school, and have always been interested in language.  Not necessarily speaking it, but from a more structural point of view, concerning grammar, syntax, etymology and the like.

Various luminaries such as Shaw and Wilde have  described the US and Britain as ‘two countries divided by a common language’.  (Let’s not get into a further division, namely that of British English into English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh versions.  That’s the topic of a further post.) This is even more true these days, and will continue to be so as the two languages develop, despite the massive unifying efforts of the Internet and instantaneous global media.  Language change is constant, and it’s not good or bad, it’s just change, which characterises all living things.

On my trip, it was my etymological leanings that led me to notice that American english in some cases seemed to favour a more latin-derived word over one with perhaps more anglo-saxon origins.  I remember writing that the Americans would use ‘elevator’ for ‘lift’, ‘suspenders’ for ‘braces’ and ‘vacation’ for ‘holiday’, and that this seemed like an eminently sensible way of going about things.  I also remember the trip organisers being distinctly underwhelmed by my essay, but I’m going with it anyway.

This tendency, along with the US habit of ‘izing’ words like ‘productize’ and ‘awesomize‘, seems to make American english more accessible than British english to those for whom english is not their first language.  A huge factor is also the universality of American english, from its arts and media output, the sheer number of Americans on the planet and their hegemony as an economic, political – and therefore linguistic – powerhouse.

Let’s face it, the english we’ve all inherited is a pretty irregular and complex language, and so any moves towards people being able to converse in it more easily should be applauded.

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