It has always been very easy for English speakers in the British Isles to look down on the way Americans, and other nations for that matter, have adapted our language, some would even say ruined it. But we have to stop and look at the way language changes and then we can see that the differences are merely part of a gradual evolution that takes place at a slow yet constant pace in all languages. An examination of the last thousand years within England itself will clearly show what I mean. A thousand years ago or so, on the eve of the Norman invasion the language spoken by the majority of people would have been closer to German than anything we would recognise as English. This is due to the people that make up the recently united English nation (Angle-land or England) were descended from German migrant tribal groups who had ventured here in the wake of the Roman retreat in the period now known as the Dark Ages. With the arrival and enthronement of William of Normandy the ruling classes would have been made up of people speaking French with a heavy mix of Scandinavian from their Viking heritage. As the Middle Ages proceeded the mix was constantly added to. The Early rulers and their entourage were more French than English and as ruling houses rose and fell, Scottish, Welsh, and even German words and phrases were constantly added into the melting pot.
The result of this constant mixing of language meant that it would have been a fluid and ever evolving beast and the language of Chaucer in the early medieval period would have been as alien to Shakespeare’s players as the bards own language is to us today. The British Empire also brought new words into common usage. Pyjamas, bungalow, verandah, jungle shampoo, khaki and curry are all words that came into English usage as a result of the British Colonial control of India. When American was established a myriad mix of races peopled it and although English has remained the dominant language it is only one of many that have resulted in the today’s American English. The size of America has also meant that there is a lot more regional diversity to found, more so that in Britain, for obvious regions. That diversity is also partly dependant on the cultural and ethnic groupings that are to be found in various regions.
One interesting story, which illustrates how easily language is influenced, is regarding the predictive text function on mobile phones. It was told to be that upon giving a present to a nephew an acquaintance of mine heard the lad to say “thanks, that’s really book” At a loss the uncle asked the meaning of the word book in the way the boy had used it. It was revealed to him that when you start to type in the word “cool” into a mobile phone with a predictive text function, it immediately offers the word “book” as an option. Kids being what they are, instead of going through all of the rigmarole of typing the correct word, the word “book” has now been adopted in both text and verbal communication to mean cool. Whether this use of the word will come to have any longevity remains to be seen, but it does show just how easily manipulated the English language can be.
The bottom line is that although there seem to be strict guidelines as to how we use English, these guidelines are constantly changing and words and phrases, spellings and usages are coming in and out of use all the time. Language is not about rules and regulations; it’s all about communication and so what if the Americans don’t spell humour the same way as the British. With the planet becoming smaller all the time and the increase in the mobility of the population and the direct communication that the Internet allows, language will be changing ever more quickly, but doesn’t that just make the world just that little bit more interesting.