English is Not English is English is Not…

It’s a beloved stereotype of Americans, the idealizing and idolizing of British English (he sounds so smart- he’s got a British accent!). And while we may recognize that this perception exists, it is often hard to see any reason to discontinue it, because it’s not really a negative stereotype, after all, we rationalize. Some Americans see posh and classy; others see presumptuous and ridiculous. But is such conflict really necessary? Is it not possible to simply observe linguistic differences, be aware of them, admire them, be open to the idea of using them interchangeably (or with discretion)? Perhaps it is intriguing to explore similarities and differences for naught but curiosity’s sake.

Sometimes non-American spellings and usages do burrow their way into my writing (perhaps from having read or heard them one time too many), but I don’t see it as putting on airs. Sometimes we’re not pretending to be who we are not, but the awareness of different conventions can be satisfying to know, and irresistible to exercise once in a while. (I prefer grey to gray for aesthetic purposes, but find turning in papers with behaviour a tad excessive.) And however ethnocentric putting British English on a pedestal (or lumping all dialects into one, for that matter) may be, one must admit it can be quite the bit of fun to occasionally pretend at being someone else. Actors can adopt an entirely different set of mannerisms and ways of speaking, often quite well, but it’s not mockery. It’s not pretentious. It’s not ignorance.

Other times, what is interesting is how much English-speaking countries assume each other to be much the same, but for different pronunciations of words. And even then, this can prove a source of surprise and amusement. (“How do you say ‘car’? Oh my gosh, really? How do you say ‘banana’? Say it again! Say it again!”) There are, naturally, usage differences in our vocabularies, and sometimes different vocabularies altogether. More than once I’ve happened upon friends struggling to identify an object because they could not agree upon a mutually understood term. (This is for you.)

Recently, as I was thumbing through one of my textbooks, I came upon a section examining linguistic differences in dialects of English spoken everywhere. While we- or perhaps just I, really- tend to think that most differences in pronunciations lie in vowels (in their roundness or flatness, in length and the position of the tongue, for instance), and perhaps in the treatment of the letter r, it raised other good points. Allophones, sounds that are distinctive to the speakers of a language or dialect and will affect meaning if changed but make no difference to another language or dialect, vary even in English, for instance. What make the sounds of spoken variants of English distinctive from one another are often difficult to pinpoint, but they are there, somewhere.

This has a been a rambling discussion on English. Thank you for following.

Terrie Chen

Writes, photographs. (Images that do not belong to T Chen should be linked to their respective sources. Please leave a note if you would like one of your images to be removed.)

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