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It’s something that can happen to all of us. We’ll be happily typing away on Word or on our web browser, when all of a sudden… that dreaded red squiggle. What have we misspelled? On closer inspection it seems correct, but then of course! You’ve used an s instead of a zee, or inconsiderately used a u in the word colour. How irritating, our computers’ native language is American English. This onslaught of misplaced corrections is a minor annoyance, but it is something we could stop if we wanted. All it takes is a simple settings change.
However, this encroaching of the American on what is British is not just confined to computers, it is involved in our very language. Little things that you might not notice, like people saying ‘truck’ instead of ‘lorry’, or ‘apartment’ instead of ‘flat’, mark a wave of words and phrases we have adopted from the states. In this case, it’s no longer a matter of pressing the right button to get rid of the annoyance. It’s clear why these ‘isms’ from across the pond are being incorporated into our language, considering the dominance America holds in the media, specifically TV and film (note: even saying you’re going to see a ’movie’ instead of ‘film’ is a betrayal to your national language). With TV shows like ‘Friends’ constantly on our screens, and only a few British films like Harry Potter to rival Hollywood productions, it’s no wonder the media is helping Americanisms trickle into our society.
This is not a new phenomenon, however, nor has it only been happening since the advent of TV and cinema. American words making their way over the Atlantic have been irritating advocates of ‘pure’ English since the young country’s establishment. Originally, words such as ‘lengthy’, ‘reliable’ and ‘influential’ were not part of the English language, and their arrival on our shores caused fury and outrage. The poet Coleridge even described the word ‘talented’ as a ‘barbarous word’. These days these words are commonplace, and hold a useful place in our vocabulary.
What this helps demonstrate is that English is a very flexible language, one that is always changing and evolving. This is not just shown through our use of Americanisms, but also in youth slang arising (primarily in London) from the diverse and numerous cultural backgrounds of our country. Other cultures and languages are constantly influencing our language, and Americanisms are no exception. But does this mean we should accept all these changes without batting an eyelid? Some naysayers turn to the examples of Welsh and Celtic, pointing out the attempts to preserve them in their original forms. Why should English be any different? This is a difficult comparison to make, as English is hardly an endangered language. However, an important point we can take away from this example is that language is an important part of cultural identity, and as such we should respect it.
We should try and preserve our own way of speaking, as language is a huge part of how we define ourselves – it would be a mistake to succumb to complete AmericaniZation. This doesn’t mean we should be going around speaking the Queen’s English all the time, but you could make the effort to say ‘Father Christmas’ rather than ‘Santa’ and ‘trousers’ instead of ‘pants’.