A friend of mine who was educated at Oxford told me once, “The difference between British vs. American English pronunciation is that British English is correct.” As an American, I feel it’s my duty to disagree. But accents and pronunciations aren’t right or wrong, just different.
After the American Revolution and the two countries started to diverge (separate), Americans started doing some things differently from the English in an attempt to differentiate themselves. This is why the Americans, as an example, use their forks the way they do with the tines (the pointy parts of a fork) up, and not as Europeans do with the tines down- though “tines up” originated (started) in Europe.
Think about this: the original British colonists that “settled” America had…British accents. However, as England began trading with other countries, their language and pronunciation was influenced (changed) by the foreign accents, pronunciations, and word borrowings they encountered.
This, however, didn’t happen in the US. With less foreign influence on their language, it is argued (some say) that Americans have held on to more “original” English words (see our blog next week!) and actually have a more authentic British accent (circa 1600!) than the Brits! In this vein, Americans actually have a closer accent to that of Shakespeare’s time, while the English accent is the one that has changed the most. Take that! (Ha)
Following Part 1: American vs. British English spelling, the question of British vs. American English pronunciation is a logical continuation. In any case, here are some of the words I always pronounce differently to my English friends.
This has become almost a running joke with my friends. We all pronounce these two sportswear brands differently. I say Adidas as ah-DEE-das, and my friends say AH-dee-das. When it comes to Nike, I say it as NIGH-kee, while they all say it to rhyme with ‘like.’
Of course, I stand by the fact that I’m right, and my friends all disagree. But that’s all part of it, isn’t it?
Garage popped up in our article about French words in English. In this case, Americans have kept a closer pronunciation to the original French word (pronounced ga-RAHJ), while the English say it as GARE-idge.
This word in particular demonstrates (shows) the difference in stress that we place on words due to our accents. It’s as simple as that, really. Americans have a tendency to place the stress on the second syllable, while the English place the stress on the first syllable.
I remember when I was a kid, my grandma taught me an example of British vs. American English pronunciation with the word aluminum. It was the first time the difference between the two pronunciations had been pointed out to me.
Americans pronounce it as al-LOO-mi-num and the English say it as al-loo-MIN-ee-um. It’s easy to pinpoint where the difference in pronunciation comes from, as the British English spelling has an extra i in it (aluminium).
Do you like adding herbs to your cooking? Well, if you’re cooking with an American or an Englishman, you might need to say the word a little differently to be understood.
The English pronounce the h in herb, while Americans don’t. Americans make herb sound like erb…unless you are talking about the pronunciation of the man’s name. Then we say HER-b.
For our last word, this one is also very distinctive. If you have trouble distinguishing (telling the difference between) accents, this one is an easy way to tell whether someone is American or English.
Americans pronounce schedule like SKED-ual, and the English pronounce it as SHED-ual. To me, it’s a pretty telling difference, and it’s one of the things I find so great about the English language.
What words have you noticed distinguish British vs. American pronunciation? Share your favorites in the comments below!
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Check out these other popular blogs: Taboo words in English, 7 Synonyms for Being Drunk, 7 American English Slang Words, or these Sports Idioms used in English!
Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, and yoga instructor, and even though she does like a good British programme once in a while, she’ll never lose her American accent!