The Evolution Of The American English Language In a world full of languages how does

In a world full of languages how does one place the English language' Most languages have a full history going back thousands of years. Can this really be said of English' No, but we can say that the history is full, one full of war and violence as well as compromise and inclusion.

We might start in the year 449 AD in the island of Britain. At this time the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain as the Romans left to defend their homeland. The local Celtic people quickly adapted the ways of the German tribe and we saw the beginning of English, it is said that the majority of its words can be traced to this. As the next thousand years progressed we saw the invasion of the Danes, French Normans as well as the influence of the Church. This leads us up to the time when this small political power comes into its own.

The time when England reaches its grand power is under the reign of Queen Elizabeth. She made England the world power at that time due to her great naval power. This is also the time of Shakespeare, a man who changed the English language into what is more commonly known today. So what does this have to do with American English' Without the power of Britain at this time there would have been no English Speaking America. Even the word America comes from the first explorers, the Spanish, who were the world power before the time of Queen Elizabeth. Yet she was the beginning of many Kings and Queen who were interested in expanding their powers all over the globe, starting colonies, leading to the spread of the English language.

In the year 1607 Jamestown was established by seaman who came mostly from the southern part of England. Later in 1620, the Pilgrims established Plymouth with mostly people from the Eastern parts of Britain. This lead to a very American / East coast accent that is still in existence today. In fact, in America during this time small groups of settlers became established on islands far from the coast, and others went into the Appalachian Mountains and made communities that became separated from the rest of the East Coast. This has lead to pockets of “language communities” where it sounds very similar to the original places in England. We find the “awww” sound as in “you all” becoming “yawl” and the dropping of letters like “R” after a vowel. Some of these groups, such as the “Hill- Billies” of the Appalachian Mountains have had a strong influence on the Southern accent common in America today.

What is interesting about this American English is the close ties it has to the Elizabethan / Shakespearean period. While Great Britain continued to evolve its English as it was influenced by its own writers as well as other European countries close by, some of its older words stayed and become a fixed part of American English. For Example we have:

OLDER NEW I guess - I think Mad - angry Fall - autumn

One of the important things to recognize though, is that the distance was causing even greater changes. The American landscape was different from Europe and there were so many new plants and animals for them to learn about. Thus, they borrowed names directly from the Native Americans, things like “skunk” and “chipmunk” as well as “go on the war path” and “bury the hatchet”. However, greater changes were coming. As mentioned before, English is a language of invasion and war, as well as compromise and inclusion. The Americans had become more and more separate in culture and politics, leading to a revolution. By 1781, America had won and separated itself from Britain. The new country was eager to make a distinction between themselves and Britain. One of the signers of the American Constitution and future president said “We must make every effort to develop American English”. Men like Benjamin Franklin worked hard at creating new words and some of them stuck.

Bamboozled - to trick Belittle - make fun of Advocate Calculate Seaboard Presidential And even Book store

Shortly after this a man named Noah Webster took upon himself to create a tool to help the new immigrants to America learn the new American English language. It was called WEBSTER’S DICTIONARY. It first gave a standard way to spell many American English words as well as make changes in the way British had spelled things that now America was pronouncing differently. It also included a way to learn how to pronounce American English. This led many to develop a very precise way of saying each syllable in a word, with strong intonation.

With all the direct efforts, it was really the unintended things that caused much of the changes to English in America. The country soon started to develop its own culture and as this happened new words were created or borrowed from outside influences. To state just a few:

Mississippi River Boats: America loved the new frontier and as it grew the magic and charm of the River Boats became a part of the culture. It was especially known for its gambling and from this came many new words and phrases.

Fold - quit You bet- for certain Ace in the hole – a sure thing Fair deal-a good arrangement Square deal- a good arrangement Raw deal-not a good arrangement Big deal-an important thing Pass the buck-not take responsibility Stack the deck- to cheat Poker face- show no emotions Call your bluff- I think you’re lying Hitting the jackpot- success String along- to fool someone Throw in the hand-to quit

The Wild West with frontier men and gold miners:

Eager beaver - hard worker Work like a beaver- hard worker Bucks- money A gold mine- a successful venture Pans out- it’s a success Strike it rich- make a lot of money

The American cowboys: This started with old English but soon took on many new meanings from the Spanish, Native Indians and their own way of life

SPANISH stampede, desperado, lasso, ranch, coral, rodeo, cinch, loco INDIANS horn squabble, discombobulated, “no can do” “long time no see” OTHER “son of a gun” “bite the dust” “kick the bucket” “hot under the collar” ( unbelievable) ( die or fall) ( die) ( angry)


Letting off steam-relaxing Back tracking-going back on what you said and changing it Side tracked- getting away from your main objective One track mind- only thinking about one thing Stream line- to make simple Main line- the important thing Make the grade- to full fill expectations Down and out- with nothing Mass Travel: As America developed, it built miles of track and had a connection with the train and rail system. This had a strong effect on the American language. Now many different accents could merge together to form a new standard. This was seen the strongest in the Mid-west. Now we have what is considered the standard American accent, one with a flat vowel sound and clear enunciation of each syllable.

With the development of the United States came another great wave to the English language; immigration. The country had always had immigrants, that’s where English had come from. It had had some influence from the French, Spanish, Dutch and others but now a great wave was coming. As conditions in Europe were falling apart, many were coming to America. During its peak there were as many as 15,000 a day coming into New York City. It was said by 1900, half of the country was immigrants or their parents were. In the City of Chicago, 90% of households had someone from another country living with them. As these foreigners arrived they were mostly eager to adapt to their new home. Many changed their family names to “pass” and they were anxious for their children to learn English. Many stopped speaking their native language to help their children learn English quicker. This happened in my family. My grandparents came from Germany, yet they refused to speak German in the home, thus my father never had the opportunity to learn German. Yet, despite all their efforts, their language did make it into English.

From the Italians: many foods like Pizza, spaghetti, mozzarella and salami

From the German: they came to America with a higher education and brought many new ideas to the industry of America. We have things such as; Westinghouse, Singer sewing machines, and Budweiser beer. In addition their words did come in.

Don’t be fresh- don’t be so forward Don’t’ be dumb- stupid Cylinder Delicatessen Ouch Nix- no or not Cook book Kindergarten

From the Jews: They used Yiddish, however, these started to make their way into English mostly by TV

Flat footed-a derogatory meaning Like a hole in my head- I really don’t want it Who needs it' Alright already Schmoozing- to make up nice to someone kosher- alright / high standard Shumuck- a stupid person

African : Slavery was a horrible thing that America did, but it has lead to making our culture and language better. And as Black Americans have gained influence they lead the way in a style of music that changed everything, First blues, then jazz, and finally, rap. The African American culture still has a strong sub-culture in America that carries its own vocabulary. O.K. This is the most recognized word in the world, but it is thought to come from Africa with the slaves Tote - To carry Blue - Sad Cool - really great

To go on would take a whole book, the influence from Chinese, Arabic, Polish and so many others had made the American English alive with color and emotion. It has been said that with close to one million words, its vocabulary is twice the size of some languages like Spanish. America truly became a melting pot not only with culture but with language.

This new form of English was pretty much isolated though. America was still seen by the world as a new country, almost as an experiment, on the other side of the ocean. Things were about to change. The first was World War I. When America entered the war in 1918, it sent thousands of troops abroad to Europe. American English was spoken by these soldiers as they traveled from country to country. The next thing was the growth in United States power. It quickly grew to the richest country in the world and then with the strongest army. It has grown to the point where today, if one is to succeed in the business world one has to have access to English in their company. However, it’s the last influence that has the most controversy, the entertainment industry. As Hollywood has grown in the movie industry, they have transported “American English” all over the globe. Now teenagers in China sit and listen to Julia Roberts or Will Smith, the famous American actors speak this different way of English. If they don’t listen to the movies in English, they do listen to Madonna or the Back Street boys singing the latest pop songs. It has become inescapable. American English has taken over the world. But what about the future'

To say that this “American English” is “The English” would be a lie. The one thing about English is that it has never belonged to one country. It is about change; political and social. It’s about war and compromise. It’s a language that has been forced upon people and for some reason, they like it. Today it has become a second language for many countries. If you take the countries of Great Britain, America, and Australia in total population, the country of India still has more English speakers. In fact, more people speak English now than at any time in history, but as a second language. What will become of English' What will India do to our language, what will China do' In fact, in America it has become a bi-lingual society. The second language is now Spanish as more and more people immigrate. It’s true they have passed laws so that English must be taught in school, but anyone in America knows that we are becoming a Spanish speaking country quickly. Now we say “adios” instead of “good bye”

Some have said that English will soon become not just a language, but a group of languages as each country takes it and changes it to suit itself. We saw this with the Latin language. But for now, it’s American language that’s the in-thing.

Source information:

The Story of English / video series / produced by MacNeil Lehrer Gannett Productions Based on 1986 British Broadcasting Corporation

NPR radio series “Talk of the Nation” on Empire of the Word.