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American English
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American English

 Major English dialects:
American English
Australian English
British English
Canadian English
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Filipino English
Indian English
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American English is the diverse form of the English language used mostly in the United States of America. It is the primary language used in the United States. According to the 1990 census, 97 percent of U.S. residents speak English "well" or "very well". Only 0.8% (8 people out of a thousand) speak no English at all, as compared with 3.6 percent in 1890.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Phonology
3 Differences in British English and American English
4 English words that arose in the US
5 Regional differences
6 Miscellaneous
7 Further reading
8 External links


English was inherited from British colonization. The first wave of English-speaking immigrants was settled in North America in the 17th century. In this century, there were also speakers in North America of the Dutch, French, German, Native American, Spanish, Swedish and Finnish languages.


In many ways, compared to British English, American English is conservative in its phonology. It is sometimes claimed that certain rural areas in North America speak "Elizabethan English," and there may be some truth to this, but the standard American English of the upper Midwest has a sound profile much closer to seventeenth century English than contemporary speech in England. The conservatism of American English is largely the result of the fact that it represents a mixture of various dialects from the British Isles. Dialect in North America is most distinctive on the east coast of the continent; this is largely because these areas were in contact with England, and imitated prestige varieties of British English at a time when those varieties were undergoing changes. The country was settled in the interior by people who were no longer closely connected to England and did not travel there often by sea, and as such the inland speech is much more homogeneous than the East Coast speech, and did not participate in changes imitated from England.

Most North American speech is rhotic, as English was everywhere in the seventeenth century. In most varieties of North American English, the sound corresponding to the letter "R" is a retroflex semivowel rather than a trill or a tap. The trilled or tapped /r/ was a sound change that took place in England in the eighteenth century, and in which most current North American varieties did not participate. The loss of syllable-final /r/ in North America is confined mostly to parts of New England, New York, New York, and the southern coast of the United States. In England, lost /r/ was often changed into /ə/ (schwa), giving rise to a new class of falling diphthongs. Furthermore, the "er" sound of (stressed) "fur" or (unstressed) "butter", which is represented in IPA as stressed [ɝ] or unstressed [ɚ] is realized in American English as a monophthongal rhoticized vowel. This does not happen in the non-rhotic varieties of North American speech.

Other British English changes which most North American dialects do not participate include:

North American English, while more phonologically conservative, has undergone some sound changes. These include:

Differences in British English and American English

Main article:
American and British English differences

American English has both spelling and grammatical differences from British English, some of which were made as part of an attempt to rationalize the English spelling used by British English at the time. Unlike many 20th century language reforms (e.g., Turkey's alphabet shift, Norway's spelling reform) the American spelling changes were not driven by government, but by textbook writers and dictionary makers.

The first American dictionary was written by Noah Webster in 1828. At the time America was a relatively new country and Webster's particular contribution was to show that the region spoke a different dialect from Britain, and so he wrote a dictionary with many spellings differing from the standard. Many of these changes were initiated unilaterally by Webster.

Webster also argued for many "simplifications" to the idiomatic spelling of the period. Somewhat ironically, many, although not all, of his simplifications fell into common usage alongside the original versions, resulting in a situation even more confused than before.

Many words are shortened and differ from other versions of English. Spellings such as center are used instead of centre in other versions of English. Conversely, American English sometimes favors words that are morphologically more complex, whereas British English uses clipped forms, such as AmE transportation and BrE transport or where the British form is a back-formation, such as AmE "burglarize" and BrE "burgle" (from "burglar").

A key area where American English has grown (on both sides of the Atlantic), is in the world of business and commerce, where use of the rhetorical euphemism is common. One example would be the phrase "are you comfortable with that". This phrase will typically be used by a business manager introducing a change which may, or may not, be welcome. A negative answer is neither expected nor, indeed, invited. However, the question is, at least on the face of it, conciliatory.

However, it was the British composers Gilbert and Sullivan who felt it necessary to point out that their ideal officer in HMS Pinafore "almost always said 'If you please.'".

Loanwords not common in British English

American English has further changed due to the influx of non-English speakers whose words sometimes enter American vernacular. Many words have entered American English from Spanish, Native American languages, and so on.

Examples of common American English loanwords, not common in British English (many, however, would be recognised due to Hollywood movies):

From African languages
gumbookra, or a stew thickened with okra

From Chinese
gung hoeager or fervent

From Dutch
cookiebaked sweet, never called a biscuit, digestive; sometimes called shortbread

From French (Some of these terms are exclusive to the state of Louisiana)
banquettea raised sidewalk
beigneta square, holeless doughnut
boudina spicy link sausage
café au laita mixture of half milk and half coffee
chowdera thick seafood stew
étoufféea spicy stew of vegetables and seafood
jambalayarice cooked with herbs, spices, and ham, chicken, or seafood
lagniappean extra or unexpected gift
pain perduNew Orleans-style French toast
piroguea canoe made from a hollowed tree trunk
pralinea candy made of nuts suspended in a boiled sugar syrup
toboggana sled
zydecoa native Louisiana style of music

From Native American languages
bayoua swampy, slow-moving stream or outlet
cape (kepan)a headland
chinooka strong wind blowing down off the mountains
hickory (pawcohiccora)a North American deciduous tree of the genus Carya
high muckamuckan important person (often used ironically)
mugwumpa political independent
that neck of the woods (naiack)an expression; from whence a person hails
powwowa gathering or meeting, esp. of Native Americans
squash (askutasquash)a vegetable, similar to English marrow
succotashmixture of corn and other vegetables like peas, beans
teepeea pyramidal tent -- also tipi
woodchuck (wuchak)a marmot-like mammal

From Spanish
adobea mud-based construction material
arroyogulch, often dry except when it has rained recently
barrioshantytown or historically poverty-afflicted area of a city
barbecuea grill
gringoa disparaging term for a foreigner meaning "white", esp. English or American
haciendathe principal dwelling on a ranch
hammocka bed
mesaflat topped mountain
siestaa short, often postprandial nap

From Yiddish
chutzpahgall, nerve
klutza clumsy person
loxcured salmon
schlepto carry or to travel
schmucka fool, or the penis
shlemiela fool
shmatnewspaper, rag

From Japanese
tycoonsuccessful business leader
honcholeader, ie: "The Head Honcho"

From Tagalog
boondocks (bundok)rural area, backcountry

For detailed differences in British English and American English see American and British English differences.

English words that arose in the US

A number of words that have arisen in the United States have become common, to varying degrees, in English as it is spoken internationally. Perhaps the most famous is OK, which is sometimes used in other languages as well. Other American introductions include "belittle," "gerrymander" (from Elbridge Gerry), "highfalutin" (from Hiram Falutin), "blizzard" and "teenager," and there are of course many more.

Regional differences

Written American English is fairly standardized across the country. However, there is some variation in the spoken language. There are several recognizable regional variations (such as New York-New Jersey English), particularly in pronunciation, but also in slang vocabulary.

Most traditional sources cite Standard Midwestern American English (alternately referred to as General American) as the unofficial standard accent and dialect of American English. However, many linguists claim "California English" has become the de facto standard since the 1960s or 1970s due to its central role in the American entertainment industry; others argue that the entertainment industry, despite being in California, uses Midwestern.

African-American colloquial English (sometimes called Ebonics) contains many distinctive forms.

Regional dialects in North America are most strongly differentiated along the eastern seaboard. The distinctive speech of important cultural centers like Boston, Massachusetts (see Boston accent phonology), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Charleston, South Carolina, and New Orleans, Louisiana imposed their marks on the surrounding areas. The Connecticut River is usually regarded as the southern/western extent of New England speech, while the Potomac River generally divides a group of Northern coastal dialects from the beginning of the Coastal Southern dialect area (distinguished from the Highland Southern or South Midland dialect treated below, although outsiders often mistakenly believe that the speech in these two areas is the same); in between these two rivers several local variations exist, chief among them the one that prevails in and around New York City and northern New Jersey. A distinctive speech pattern was also generated by the separation of Canada from the United States, centered on the Great Lakes region. This is the Inland North dialect - the "standard Midwestern" speech that is generally considered free from regional marking in the United States of America (those not from this area frequently confuse it with the North Midland dialect dealt with in the following paragraph, referring to both collectively as "Midwestern").

In the interior, the situation is very different. West of the Appalachian Mountains begins the broad zone of what is generally called "Midland" speech. This is divided into two discrete subdivisions, the North Midland that begins north of the Ohio River valley area, and the South Midland speech; sometimes the former is designated simply Midland and the latter is reckoned as Highland Southern. The North Midland speech continues to expand westward until it becomes the closely related speech of California, although in the immediate San Francisco area the speech more closely resembles that of the mid-Atlantic region.

The South Midland or "Highland Southern" dialect follows the Ohio River in a generally southwesterly direction, moves across Arkansas and Oklahoma west of the Mississippi, and peters out in western Texas. This is the dialect associated with truck drivers on the CB radio and country music. It is a version of the Midland speech that has assimilated some coastal Southern forms, most noticeably the loss of the diphthong /aj/, which becomes /A:/, and the second person plural pronoun "you-all" or "y'all". Unlike Coastal Southern, however, South Midland is a rhotic dialect, pronouncing /r/ wherever it has historically occurred.

The northern cities, which corresponds to a broad swath of the United States, beginning near Syracuse, New York and extending west through Cleveland, Ohio, Chicago, Illinois, and north to Minneapolis, Minnesota, have undergone a shift called the northern cities vowel shift, where the vowels in the words stuck, stalk, stock, and stack have shifted from [ʌ], [ɔ], [ɑ], [æ] (SAMPA [V], [O], [A], [{]) to [ɔ], [ɑ], [a], [eæ] (SAMPA [O], [A], [a], [e{]). This type of shift, where a group of sounds all shift at once, some taking the place of others, is called a chain shift.

The sounds of American speech can be identified with a number of public figures. President John F. Kennedy spoke in the accent associated with the Boston Irish, while President Jimmy Carter speaks with a Southern coastal dialect. The North Midlands speech is familiar to those who have heard Neil Armstrong and John Glenn, while the South Midland speech was the speech of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.


Liberian English is a descendant of American English.

Further reading

External links