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Someone please check this! As an American I think of British English as any dialect in Britain (except Scots which may in fact be a separate language since it is mainly incomprehensible with English). Queen's English is what happens to one after public school has been inflicted on oneself. --rmhermen


Some people do learn the Queen's English that way, but for most upper-class Britons, it's their native language, and they don't need to learn it at school, public or otherwise. As for the different dialects within Britain, I'm sure that you would find Geordie, Yorkshire or West Country just as difficult to understand as Scots. Most RP speakers certainly do. -- Derek Ross


And what is Received Pronunciation? (Shows up on the rhotic page) --rmhermen

Received Pronunciation is the accent of the Home Counties of England. It's also the BBC's preferred pronunciation. An RP speaker is normally thought of as someone who speaks the Queen's English with a Home Counties accent. -- Derek Ross



(Question for Brits: is the two-syllable form "learned" still used to mean "educated" in BrE??)

Yes it is, although not often.

Its most often heard in Parliament: When an MP addresses another in the house of commons, and the addressee is a barrister, the correct form of address is "My learned friend"

Oh, and we'll cheerfully use "fucking" as an adjective. "Bloody" is considerably milder, "this damn car" = "this bloody car"


I have never seen the word "bank" spelt "banque" here in the UK; although all this changed when I went to France! Does anyone have another example of this kind of spelling we can replace this with?

No. There aren't any (he boldly asserts). I've moved "cheque" vs "check" into the miscellany.


I'll agree with both of the above points: I think 'learned' is usually writen 'learnèd', to put emphasis on the pronounciation, and I've never seen bank spelt banque either. I'm not sure about the fitted, forecasted, knitted, lighted, wedded bit, either. Lit, wed, forecast are British English too, but I'm not entirely sure about the context.

Archeology, encyclopedia and medieval are also highly acceptable variants in British English, almost preferred; upwards would be only preferred to upward. I'd personally also write 'skillful', not skilful; 'argument' not arguement, 'jail' not gaol.

The list should be split into cases where there are additional British English words and where the words aren't understood. Balls is perfectly unacceptable, whilst Dialling Code, fag, lorry, lounge, pissed, pudding, randy, ring someone and shag are all just alternatives... the american words are acceptable too. 'Concession' generally refers to a reduction for certain people (old people, kids... generally classed as 'concessions'), where as a discount is general. I think I'm right in saying 'tube' would just refer to the London Underground. -- almost but not quite: see The Tube. sjc

I think the most important thing to say is that American English and British English are growing together. With the world spanning media, within a few hundred years there will be no American English or British English - there will be only English. (Hell, by that time, there might only be one global language.)

-- I disagree strongly with your theory of convergence of language. English and American are becoming different languages by slow and sure degree. Also, if history teaches us anything, it is that languages are strongly culturally based entities, and that meaning will never ever be truly global. I (and most British people I know who are literate) would never write archaeology, encyclopaedia, or mediaeval in the fashion you indicate above. sjc

Whether you disagree or not, it's still true. Since the advent of the mass media British English has become more and more similar to American English in line with our culture which is doing the same. The whole western world is becoming Americanised. This may or may not be a good thing. But it's true. I myself would certainly spell the word above 'ae' but i would often use center and color (unless it was in an exam or something) and i freely interchange different spellings where appropriate.

And frankly, it is this kind of slackness in the use of language which debases it. Language is like currency: bad usage and spelling drives out good. If you are English you should use the orthodox spelling and not resort to the incorrect. In France the Academie des Belles Lettres would be down on this like a ton of bricks. sjc

I recall reading a book by Mario Pei written in about 1950 which said that American English and British English had been converging for about a century, due to improved global communications. Presumably the rate of change of langauges is sufficiently small that even relatively small amounts of intercommunication are enough to prevent dialects drifting apart. --Zundark

The improved global communications hypothesis is an interesting one, but actually is underdetermined by the physical evidence. In 1978, Robert Burchfield, chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionaries made a speech in Chicago in which he thought that on the balance of all the evidence available that 'British' English and American English were moving so far apart and so inexorably that in 200 years they would be mutually unintelligible. This did not go down too well with the convergence theorists at the time. But in the last thirty years or so, that gap which Burchfield predicted between the implementations of the languages has actually widened by a great deal. Usage has changed significantly on both sides of the language. American English has considerably more Hispanic loan words now than thirty years ago; it has changed grammatically; it forms verbs from nouns more easily; it is altogether a more flexible language than 'British' English.

I think the confusuion here stems from the fact that the majority of the population of the UK do not speak 'British English' as it is defined here. We speak what could be considered American English with a English/Scottish/Irish accent. We form verbs from nouns, i.e. Text has been officially changed to a verb recently. And speak in a grammaticallt similar way. I think the American perception of the British is of people such as the Royal Family and 'well spoken' people such as Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley who do in fact speak 'British English' though these people form a small percentage of the population.

The real worry, however, from my point of view is not that the languages will diverge but that they will become one homogenous grey mess... sjc

But what about the Internet? What about globalisation? The next thirty years are going to be very different from the last thirty. And even if they continue to diverge, so long as the whole world watches Hollywood movies they will still be mutually intelligible. -- Simon J Kissane

The Internet will ultimately accentuate divergence more than ever before, and the prime movers will fight tooth and nail to protect their own particular implementations since they recognise that language is a key feature of self and cultural definition. Certainly the future of English as the dominant language itself is not unconditionally guaranteed. It is by no means a rational language and it is not easy for novitiates to acquire. Grammar, and usage are only to a certain extent ever going to be determined by minor cultural epiphenomena such as 'movies'. sjc

I didn't want to get involved in this rather silly debate, but I can't imagine anything I disagree with more than the above statement. The more the "prime movers" you mention want to protect their uniqueness, the more it will become apparent that they are completely impotent to affect the real users of language--you and me and the kid in the drive-through at MacDonalds, who just want to watch TV, buy stuff, and do all the other ordinary business of life that will cause us to do whatever it takes to commuicate. Nobody in the real world cares--or should care--about authority or purity in language. Language is a tool of the common man, and it will bow to what what people actually need and use to get their work done. If a Brit needs to know what "que pasa" means to understand an American sitcom, he will. If Americans need to know what "knickers" are to understand a British one, they will. Both will make it into dictionaries on both sides, and whichever new coinages are most useful will spread to the point where we won't even remember where they came from, just as most Americans have not the faintest clue that "bread" as a slang for money came from Cockney rhyming slang. "Educated" users of the language should strive for clarity and precision, but they still have to use the language that their audience will understand; they just have to use it more carefully. But they don't get to define it--their audience does. --Lee Daniel Crocker

There is nothing silly concerning this debate about language whatsoever. As The Blessed William Burroughs once opined: 'Language is a virus'. These 'real' users of language you seem to advocate do not do whatever it takes to communicate: the preponderance of this putative polis are barely articulate, let alone literate (current estimates suggest that fewer than 5% of the US population read books). My native language (see Cornish language) was systematically suppressed over four hundred years and has been brought back from extinction by people who care about language, meaning and culture; if language was a matter of life and death for my forebears, then so it is for me. Let me state this one time unequivocably: languages do not converge, they diverge. The only way in which two disparate languages can possibly merge is by absorption which is not at all the same thing as convergence, and this can only be brought about by the sort of expedients mocked so effectively in George Orwell's 1984.

The arguments about lexical equivalents are entirely consistent with the sort of arguments levelled at Burchfield 30-odd years ago, and it seems that the convergent hypothesis has apparently got no further in the intervening timespan. Never have languages converged in the history of humanity: what makes you think they will now? The Internet? In twenty years, let alone two hundred years time, the Internet will not exist in its present form. sjc

--- Found a resource on Cockney slang, but it's copyrighted: http://www.byrne.dircon.co.uk/cockney/cockney3.htm. It's on my todo list to request permission to add the info to the Wikipedia. <>< tbc

--- On the subject of the terms 'Underground' and 'Tube' British people use these terms specifically to refer to The London Underground in London and would not normally refer to other underground transit systems as such. I am British and i wouldn't for example refer to the New York subway as the underground or the tube, i'd just call it the subway and i'd call the subway in Paris the Metro because that's what it's called. Am i making any sense? - JamieTheFoool

But what term would you use for an underground railway system in general, as opposed to a particular one? A subway? -- Simon J Kissane
Yes, a subway - JamieTheFoool
But your usage certainly isn't universal. A subway is a pedestrian passage under a road. I would refer to the New York underground as the New York underground, unless I was speaking to an American. --Zundark, 2001 Sep 14
Well, Australians like me call it what the Americans do -- we say subway, not underground. We also pedestrian passages under roads subways as well. So obviously that is an example of a case where Australian English is closer to American than British. -- Simon J Kissane
I disagree. Outside Sydney, underground railways don't really have a name in Australia (in Melbourne the underground railway is usually called "the loop", and the rest of the system is usually referred to as "the train"). Using "subway" as a canonical example of where Australian English is closer to American English is not a particularly good choice. -- Robert Merkel
Well, the cannonical example would have to be truck vs. lorry. But anyhow, I grew up in Melbourne, and I have always called it a subway. The Melbourne subway may be nicknamed the loop, but what it is is a subway. Just as that human over there is called John, but what John is is a human, not a John. -- Simon J Kissane
I would not be so sure. In the UK underground passages under road have always been called subways.

ALSO: The Tube = London Underground minus The Bank to Waterloo Line, Docklands Light Railway, etc. London Underground = All the lines now and historically controlled by London Underground Limited inclusive often of few primarily overground lines such as Docklands Light Railway. The Tube and London Underground, or even 'the underground', are not coterminous. sjc