The primary language spoken by Americans is English. Americans refer to their language as “English” rather than “American.” In American schools, at all levels, students study the academic subject called English, initially to master the spelling and grammar of the language and later as an introduction to both American and British literature. Immigrants from other language backgrounds take classes in English as a Second Language (ESL).
The term “American English” differentiates the language from other forms of English, especially “British English.” The next section explains some of the differences between these two forms of the language. Of all people who speak English as their first language, nearly two-thirds are in the United States. Although the British with their empire got a head start in making this so, today American English has major bearing on the position of English as the world’s most widely used vehicle of communication. Educated Americans tend to have a great deal of respect for British English and its literature. Most other Americans give the British form of the language little thought. While Canadian English has some pronunciation, vocabulary and spelling variances from American English, the similarities outweigh the differences.
The nature of the formation of the English language in Great Britain gave it tremendous flexibility and ability to evolve. This quality continued in North America. American English has always been in a constant state of change. Every generation of American youth manages to add vocabulary to the language. The older generation initially resists the change, and then eventually caves in. As new areas of technology, business, and culture develop, they also add words to the vocabulary and change the meanings of existing words. Social, cultural, and lifestyle groups enrich the language. Entertainment, movies, television, the Internet and advertising all make their mark.
The level of competence in the English language among native speakers varies widely in the United States, both as to pronunciation and especially as to grammar. Do not expect every American to speak or write English properly. Avoid the temptation to correct an American’s grammar, however. Further, given the levels of immigration and the strength of the Spanish language in the United States, it is a mistake to automatically expect the person next to you to be a native speaker of American English.
Next Section:American vs British English
Land, History and Language: Chapter Home
Life in the USA Home Page.