American English versus English English
Posted: 27 September 2013 11:35 PM   [ Ignore ]
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This is a topic that can probably be discussed without end.

However, I’m interested in how certain words were either changed in America or didn’t change since their early usage in that country.
It seems to me that some English words still in current use in the US, are either marked as obsolete in the OED or are shown as archaic for the rest of the English speaking world.
The word faucet springs to mind. The Americans still use this old English word for tap.

Where words have undergone an apparent change in the US, some changes are quite easy to understand but others, especially where the past tense is concerned, are more difficult to fathom.
Take the word: to dive. Past tense - dived. But in American English - dove. (maybe they want it to be the same as -drive and drove)
“ “ to spit. Past tense - spat. But in American English - spit
And there are many more.

And then there’s the use of the word - than - in US English.

Normally this word is only used as a conjunction between comparative adjectives and adverbs, as in - He is taller than she is. She is prettier than her mother. They move more slowly than their counterparts.

However, I notice the Americans (and sadly now others are adopting this usage) use ‘than’ as a conjunction after the word ‘different’, as in - current members are different than their predecessors.  This should be, current members are different from their predecessors, or even - different to their predecessors.

I wonder whether the “misuse” of certain words in America is due to the fact that so many foreigners emigrated to that country, and they invariably “mis-learned” the past tense of some verbs in some cases, and correct use of conjunctions in others.

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Posted: 28 September 2013 02:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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This is a topic that can probably be discussed without end

Let’s hope not. As far as I’m concerned, the discussion’s already over. It’s utterly pointless, as I believe the OP knows very well. The careful crafting of several phrases (e.g. the use of the comment “sadly” ; the provocative expressions “misuse” and “mis-learned”, written with inverted commas, as though the poster were seeming to distance himself from them and their implications) suggests to me that this post is deliberately intended to provoke acrimonious discussion.
Lately we’ve had several brand-new posters starting off pointless discussions which did nothing but provoke ill-feeling. I can’t help having a suspicion at the back of my mind, that all of them originate from the same Protean source. Call me paranoid if you will --- but I do beg all other posters in this forum: consider my words, and whether you agree with my suspicions or not, ignore this thread, which invites a discussion that, I believe, will not serve the ends of wordorigins.org and can only lead nowhere. 

You say “spit”, I say “spat”. Azoi. Fred Astaire said it all: “you say tomaytoes, I say tomahtoes.....Let’s call the whole thing off”. I concur.

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Posted: 28 September 2013 03:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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First, they’re not the same. I have the ability to check IP addresses and where a poster is logging in from (not with high precision—I’m not the NSA—but I can see where the ISP is). Arga is on the other side of the world from other recent posters.

As to different than/from, both are standard in both British and American usage and have been for centuries. (Different to is a British only usage.) Different from is older of the pair, dating to at least 1593, when Shakespeare used in The Comedy of Errors. Different than appears by 1644. Some grammarians have been objecting to different than since the late eighteenth century, but it’s just a case of a personal peeve getting the better of people.

Dove can also be found in Britain, but it is more common in Leftpondia. It appears in the nineteenth century, probably formed by analogy with drive/drove. Originally it would have properly been classified as an error, but it’s now so common that it must be considered standard.

Both spat and spit are common in North America; spat is the preferred term in Britain.

I wonder whether the “misuse” of certain words in America is due to the fact that so many foreigners emigrated to that country, and they invariably “mis-learned” the past tense of some verbs in some cases, and correct use of conjunctions in others.

This isn’t a standard pattern of language change. With the exception of cases where the immigrants in large numbers bring with them a grammatical usage from their native language that becomes adopted into a regional dialect of English, the grammar of second-language speakers isn’t going to have much of an impact. The children of the immigrants will learn English as natives, even if it is not spoken in their home. Language change almost invariably comes from native speakers.

[ Edited: 28 September 2013 03:35 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 28 September 2013 04:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thanks for setting my mind at rest, Dave, and for your admirable (and enviable) imperturbability. I guess it takes all kinds to make a forum. My apologies to arga (for thinking you’re a troll. I still don’t like your OP on this thread).

(scuttles across to corner where bottle is kept, grimacing over shoulder and muttering unintelligibly)

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Posted: 28 September 2013 05:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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No offense, Arga, but the best topics for this forum are clearly defined (Where does such-and-such a word/phrase come from?), not vague generalities like “American English versus English English.” It’s always a good idea to lurk for a while on a forum new to you to get a feel for how it works.

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Posted: 28 September 2013 09:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I see I may have disturbed a hornet’s nest on this one. But I’d like to make it clear there was no intention of causing ill feeling. I just notice that in Leftpondia certain “anomalies” (whoops, done it again!) exist with regard to the past tense and conjunction usage. May I say thanks to the administrator for drawing on his knowledge reserves (and reference books) to enlighten me concerning the origins here.

Concerning future topics, examinations and discussions, I hope I don’t alight on ‘contentious’ material, for fear of being rebuked again.

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Posted: 29 September 2013 12:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Languagehat:

No offense, Arga, but the best topics for this forum are clearly defined (Where does such-and-such a word/phrase come from?), not vague generalities like “American English versus English English.” It’s always a good idea to lurk for a while on a forum new to you to get a feel

Discussion Forums:
The purpose of the forum is to answer questions and conduct discussion regarding word and phrase origins and about the English language writ large.for how it works.

I think that some people are just a little too sensitive, or perhaps defensive, when it concerns usage, (dare I say proper).  Arga’s question seemed legitimate and Dave responded accurately and informatively.

As to different than/from, both are standard in both British and American usage and have been for centuries. (Different to is a British only usage.) Different from is older of the pair, dating to at least 1593, when Shakespeare used in The Comedy of Errors. Different than appears by 1644. Some grammarians have been objecting to different than since the late eighteenth century, but it’s just a case of a personal peeve getting the better of people.

I don’t understand the constant reference to Shakespeare when discussing usage, as if his works were a dictum on perfect examples of grammatical English. Shakespeare was a playwright and dramatic poet, his writing was not historical or scholarly. Shakespeare’s artistic license allowed him colloquial freedom as well. In addition during his time English was a lot more flexible as a language. Keep in mind, English grammar rules initially codified in the late 16th century. Therefore, Shakespeare did not observe the rules of grammar because he didn’t have them. He did not know how to compare adjectives or how to distinguish who from whom.

If we’re going to illustrate a usage from an author’s works shouldn’t we use expository text rather than fiction? 
I don’t want to prolong this thread, but I would appreciate a response.

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Posted: 29 September 2013 04:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Keep in mind, English grammar rules initially codified in the late 16th century. Therefore, Shakespeare did not observe the rules of grammar because he didn’t have them. He did not know how to compare adjectives or how to distinguish who from whom.

This is wrong on so many levels. To start, Shakespeare was an up-and-coming playwright in the late sixteenth century, and the first written codification of English grammar dates to the late tenth/early eleventh centuries. Although it is true that prescriptivism didn’t become the vogue until the eighteenth century. (Dryden’s pronouncement on stranding prepositions is a bit earlier, but prescriptivism began in earnest some time after that.)

And of course Shakespeare had grammar. A six-year-old knows grammar. Grammar is not created by people who write grammar manuals. The manuals simply describe what grammar is.

I have no idea what you mean by not knowing how to “compare adjectives.”

And the who and whom question is an excellent example. Shakespeare’s use of the pronouns is almost exactly in accord with how most professional writers use the words today (e.g., use an objective who to start a clause, or after certain prepositions, such as than). It’s the prescriptivists who actually get it wrong. The observation that who is always nominative and whom always objective is a gross oversimplification. 

I don’t understand the constant reference to Shakespeare when discussing usage, as if his works were a dictum on perfect examples of grammatical English. [...] If we’re going to illustrate a usage from an author’s works shouldn’t we use expository text rather than fiction?

Shakespeare is definitely not a good example for illustrating modern usage, but less because he was a poet and playwright, and more because his writing is four hundred years old. (Although in some instances, like who and whom, his grammar is largely the same as ours today.) Shakespeare and other great writers have really good ears for how people use language, which is one of the reasons they’re great. They’re often better at understanding how the language is actually used than are those who write grammar manuals. And when it comes to true grammar, there should be no difference in genre. Grammar, as opposed to style or diction, is the same regardless of the genre in which you are writing.

But the reason that Shakespeare is given as an example so often is that prescriptivists insist that not obeying their dictums is “bad English” or “wrong.” Shakespeare and other great writers are used to show that the prescriptivists are the ones who are wrong, and that it can be perfectly appropriate, even desirable, to disregard what they say.

When prescriptivists stop insisting on one-size-fits-all rules for style and composition, then descriptivists can stop quoting great writers as counter-examples.

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Posted: 29 September 2013 03:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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This is wrong on so many levels. To start, Shakespeare was an up-and-coming playwright in the late sixteenth century, and the first written codification of English grammar dates to the late tenth/early eleventh centuries. Although it is true that prescriptivism didn’t become the vogue until the eighteenth century. (Dryden’s pronouncement on stranding prepositions is a bit earlier, but prescriptivism began in earnest some time after that.)

Again, you’re using a straw man argument, and for this reason these threads go on ad infinitum.

Shakespeare’s works belong to Early Modern English and the history of English grammar began in the late 16th century. The codification of English grammar might well have begun in the 10th century, but why would that apply to Shakespeare’s writings concerning usage of today? What I was trying to articulate was that if one employs an ungrammatical usage today one can’t justify it because Shakespeare used it four hundred years ago. 

I have no idea what you mean by not knowing how to “compare adjectives.”

The basic rules of forming comparatives: One syllable words take –er.  Multi-syllable words take “more”.
Shakespeare’s comparatives were faulty: “most poorest,” “more fitter” and “more corrupter” and “more sweet”.

Shakespeare’s grammar and language is certainly innovative and he did not conform to traditional rules, but again for this reason we should not apply his usage to rationalize misusage of today.

But the reason that Shakespeare is given as an example so often is that prescriptivists insist that not obeying their dictums is “bad English” or “wrong.” Shakespeare and other great writers are used to show that the prescriptivists are the ones who are wrong, and that it can be perfectly appropriate, even desirable, to disregard what they say.
When prescriptivists stop insisting on one-size-fits-all rules for style and composition, then descriptivists can stop quoting great writers as counter-examples.

As I stated previously, I would think that if we are going to use an author’s novels as an example on usage, then we should use their expositional writings as an illustration rather than their creative fictional works. I’ve read a few letters by James Joyce and those letters adhered to grammatical construction, as you undoubtedly know this isn’t the case in his fictional works.

There are many circumstances where prescriptivism is perfectly appropriate. I am not aware of a prescriptivist who denounces Shakespeare’s usage because of his innovative language. In addition prescriptivists are not “always” wrong. Regardless, descriptivists cannot quote Shakespear’s “more corrupter” and “more sweet” to countenance its usage today.

Let’s be honest, if Faulkner in his often quoted and most eloquent Nobel acceptance speech had rambled off in an incoherent southern dialect it would never have had the recognition that it does today, nor would it have been as comprehensible. 

After all, can we write a scholarly thesis without punctuation and justify it by using Faulkner and Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness as a defense? I don’t think so.

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Posted: 01 October 2013 03:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Also note that saying Shakespeare used some construction does not mean that he personally thought it to be correct grammar.  He put it in the mouth of some character who may have had their own idea of what proper grammar was.

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