Origin of American English



American English variety of the English language spoken in the United
States. Although all Americans do not speak the same way, their speech has
enough in common that American English can be recognized as a variety of
English distinct from British English, Australian English and other
national varieties. American English has grown up with the country. It
began to diverge from British English during its colonial beginnings and
acquired regional differences and ethnic flavor during the settlement of
the continent .Today it in

nfluences other languages and other varieties of
English because it is the medium by which the attractions of American
culture – its literature, motion pictures and television programs – are
transmitted to the world.



American English shows many influences from the different cultures and
languages of the people who settled in North America. The nature of the
influence depends on the time and the circumstances of contact between


The first settlements on the East Coast of North America in the 1

century were composed mostly of British subjects. Accounting for about 90
percent of the people, the British vastly outnumbered French and German
settlers. English was therefore the only real candidate for a common
American language. The settlers spoke varieties of English from various
parts of
f England, but in the creation of American English, there varieties
were leveled –that is their differences largely disappeared. Michael
Guillaume Jean de Crevecoeur, a French born writer who published under the
name J. Hector st. John de Crevecoeur and became famous for his book
Letters from an American farmer (1782), describes the desire of settlers to
“become an American”, their common ideal to own and work their own farms,
without prejudice toward neighbors whatever their neighbor’s religion or
national origin. This shared goal encouraged development of a shared
variety of the languages, which came to be enriched by contributions from
many cultures.

As the European settlers came into contact with Native Americans,
American English collected a large stock of Native American place names
(Allegheny, Chicago, Mississippi, Potomac) and Native American names for
things no
ot founds in Europe or Asia (moose, opossum, squash, moccasin,
tomahawk, totem). Sometimes, Native American words were spelled by settlers
so that they looked more like English words; woodchuck, for example,
probably comes from the Cree word wuchak. Cultural exchange with Native
Americans was more limited than might be expected, because diseases brought
by Spanish explorers and European settlers greatly reduced the Native
American population in eastern North America during early settlement.

In the 18th century people from Ireland and Northern Europe joined the
British settlers. By the ti
ime of the American Revolution (1775-1783), there
were comparable numbers of British settlers from other European countries.
Some Europeans formed separate communities, such as the Pennsylvania
Germans, but most mixed with British settlers and contributed to American
English words from their own languages. Examples include pumpkin, bayou,
and bureau from French; cookie, waffle and boss from Dutch; and pretzel,
pinochle, and phooey from German. Scottish and Irish settlers were already
English speakers but they influenced American English with features from
their own varieties for example, pronunciation of r after vowels (while
many British English speakers were losing the r after vowels) and double
verb forms like might could.

Africans were imported as slaves throughout the early settlement of
North America. By the American Revolution one- quarter of the American
population consisted of African Americans, and as much as 95 percent of the
population living in plantation areas was African American. Slaves were not
allowed to share in Crevecoeur’s American ideal, but they learned American
English from their owners, overseers, and other slaves. Some slaves may
have developed Creole languages on plantations. A Creole is made of words
from different languages- in this case, English and the African languages
spoken by the slaves. It also has its own grammar. Over time, especially
after slavery was abolished, the language of African Americans came to have
fewer Creole characteristics. One authentic American plantation Creole
remains: Gullah, spoken by African Americans in communities on the Sea
Islands off South Carolina and Georgia. African words in American English
include gumbo, okra, and voodoo.


During the 19th and 20th centuries settlers pushed westward as the
United States acquired control of land from the French, the Spanish, and
the Native Americans. Crevecoeur’s American ideal of separate farms lasted
well into the 20th century, and a shared sense of purpose maintained social
pressure for immigrants to participate in American language and culture.
This period also saw the rise of great cities, first in the East and later
in other regions. Development of industries brought opportunities for
immigrants to work in cities instead of on farms, and the resulting
concentration of people in urban areas allowed for maintenance of immigrant
languages in some quarters while most people still found it best to learn
and use American English for everyday discourse.

At the same time that settlers from other countries were adapting to
English, they were influencing it as well. Settlement of the West and
Southwest by Northern Europeans meant contact with the Spanish- speaking
settlers who were already there. As a result, American English adopted many
words commonly associated with Spanish, such as enchilada, pueblo,
sombrero, tortilla, and also many words not usually thought of as Spanish,
such as alfalfa, cockroach, marina, plaza, and ranch. Scandinavians
established homesteads in the upper Midwest and gave American English the
words smorgasbord and sauna. Other European immigrants are particularly
associated with New York City, for example, and provided such words as
kosher, and kibbitz. Polish immigrants, strongly associated with Chicago,
provided kielbasa and pierogi; Chinese immigrants, associated with San
Francisco or Los Angeles, chow mein and mahjong; Italian immigrants,
associated with many cities, contributed the words spaghetti, pizza. Many
other cultural groups have also had an impact on American English, often
more local than national, as, for example, Cubans in Miami, Florida.


All speakers of English share a common linguistic system and a basic
set of words. But American English differs from British English, Australian
English, and other national varieties in many of its pronunciations, words
spellings, and grammatical constructions. Words or phrases of American
origin, and those used in America but not so much elsewhere, are called


In broad terms Canadian and American speakers tend to sound like one
another. They also tend to sound different from a large group of English
speakers who sound more British, such as those in Australia, New Zealand,
and South Africa. For example, most Canadians and Americans pronounce an r
sound after the vowel in words like barn, car, and father, while speakers
from the British English group do not. Also, some British English speakers
drop h sound at the beginning of words, so that he and his are pronounced
as if they were spelled ee and is. The English spoken in Australia, New
Zealand, and South Africa sounds more like British English than American
English does because these varieties have had less time to diverge from
British English. The process of separate development began later in these
countries than in North America.

Although Canadians and Americans share many speech habits, Canadian
speakers of English sometimes tend more toward British English because of
the closer historical association of Britain with Canada. One prominent
difference between American English and Canadian English is the vowel sound
in words like out and house. Americans often say that the Canadian
pronunciation sounds as if the words were spelled oot and hoose.

In some cases there are differences between American English and
British English in the rhythm of words. British speakers seem to leave out
a syllable in words like secretary, while Americans keep all the syllables.
The opposite is true of other words, such as specialty, which Americans
pronounce with three syllables (spe- cial-ty) while British speakers
pronounce it with five syllables (spe- cial- i- ty). Vowels and
consonants may also have different pronunciations. British speakers
pronounce zebra to rhyme with Debra, while American speakers make zebra
rhyme with Libra. Canadian and British speakers pronounce the word schedule
as if it began with a sh sound, while Americans pronounce it as if it began
with an sk sound.


The most frequently used words are shared by speakers of different
varieties of English. These words include the most common nouns, the most
common verbs, and most function words (such as pronouns, articles, and
prepositions). The different varieties of English do however use different
words for many words that are slightly less common- for example British
crisps for American potato chips, Australian billabong for American pond,
and Canadian chesterfield for American sofa. It is ever more common for the
same word to exist with different meanings in different varieties of
English. Corn is a general term in Britain, for which Americans use grain,
while corn in American, English usually refers to an artificial body of
water, whereas ponds also occur naturally in North America. British English
chemist is the same as American English drugstore, and in Canada people go
to the druggist. Many of the words most easily recognized as American in
origin are associated with aspects of American popular culture, such as
gangster or cowboy.


American English spelling differs from British English spelling
largely because of one man, American lexicographer Noah Webster. In
addition to his well-known An American Dictionary of the English Language
(1828), Webster published The American spelling Book (1783, with many
subsequent editions), which became one of the most widely used schoolbooks
in American history. Webster’s books sought to standardize spelling in the
U.S. by promoting the use of an American language that intentionally
differed from British English. The development of a specifically American
variety of English mirrored the new country’s separate political
development. Webster’s most successful changes were spellings with or
instead of our (honor, labor for the British honour, labour); with er
instead of re (center, theater for the British center, theatre); with an s
instead of a final ck instead of que (check, mask for the British cheque,
masque); and without a final k (traffic, public, now also used in British
English, for the older traffick, publick). Later spelling reform created a
few other differences, such as program for British programme. Canadian
spelling varies between the British and American forms, more British in
Eastern Canada and more American in Western.


The grammar of educated speakers of English differs little among
national varieties. In the speech of people with less access to education,
grammatical variations in regional and social varieties of American English
are very common as normal, systematic occurrences (not as errors). One
major difference between British and American English is that the two
attach different verb forms to nouns that are grammatically singular but
plural in sense. In American English, the team is. or the government
is.(because they are viewed as single entities), but in British English the
team are. or the government are.(because teams and government are
understood to consist of more than one person). Sometimes function words
are used differently: The British stay in hospital but Americans stay in
the hospital.


The outlook for the future of the indigenous American languages is not
good; most will probably die out. At present, the aboriginal languages of
the Western Hemisphere are gradually being replaced by the Indo- European
tongues of the European conquerors and settlers of the New World- English,
Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch. The investigation of Native American
languages contributes much to a scientific knowledge of language in
general, since these tongues possess a number of linguistic features not
otherwise, known. Some Native American groups in the United States are
working to revitalize the languages of their peoples as a result of
increased ethnic consciousness and feelings of cultural identify. By the
end of the 20th century there was an increasing number of such language-
learning facilities as tribal classes, language camps, and local college
courses in indigenous languages.