Case study by Emile Pelekanos
“England and America are two countries divided by a common language.” George Bernard Shaw.
This study, unique in nature, attempts to ascertain whether there exists a significant etymological difference in the composition of Standard American (United States of America) and British English (England) across the different genres of broadsheet newspaper articles and tabloid newspaper articles. There exists vast amounts of research in the difference in vocabulary between these two main rival varieties, however as of yet, there has been no large attempt to calculate if there exists a difference in the makeup etymologically of the vocabulary of each variety. This study has found that there is indeed a difference, albeit a relatively small one, in the etymology of the word stock of each type of English, and this paper recommends that further research be carried out in this field, incorporating not just American and British English, but further World Englishes as well.
Introduction / Background:
Since the Americas were colonised over 400 years ago, the form of English used in the United States has deviated from that used in the United Kingdom. Therefore, the form of English used in the United Kingdom is called British English, and the form of English used in the United States is called American English.
When American and British people interact with one another, the first obvious difference is in their accent, the pronunciation of words. However, at a deeper and less apparent level, vocabulary differences give the right to define the two varieties as two completely separate languages. Now this may seem at first as somewhat of an exaggeration, and to be fair at the present date, it probably is, but the fact that numerous books, such as John Saffron’s Murder in Mississippi, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, had to be released in two separate editions, translated as it were into both British and American Englishes, gives some credence to the above claim. The key difference at first between these two editions may seem to be as shallow as orthographical conventions, but once analysed at a deeper level, one notices relatively large differences in the choices made to lexical items.
Just to exemplify this point a dictionary made by David Grote for Americans who read British English texts contains over 6,500 entries. Sometimes, words are used in different ways to name the same thing, such as for the American ‘railroad tie’ and the British ‘railway sweeper’. Sometimes, two different words are used but their meaning is quite obvious, such as for the American ‘luggage’ and the British ‘baggage’. In other cases, some words that are common in one place are rare in the other, such as the words ‘soppy’ or ‘row’: although they are listed in American dictionaries, they are very uncommon in American speech but they are quite well known in the UK. Some words retained in Great Britain have been dropped by Americans, such as ‘fortnight’ and ‘constable’ and many no longer used in British are retained in American, such as ‘mad’ (in the sense of angry), ‘fall’, in the sense of Autumn and ‘candy’ versus the British ‘sweets’ (1992).
There are numerous examples in the literature where these differences are analysed. Many online sources offer useful comparisons between the British and American lexicon, such as the Macmillan English Dictionary Magazine 2004 and James Smith’s American to British Dictionary. David Crystal in his tome The Encyclopaedia of the English Language (1995) and Richard Hogg and David Denison in their History of the English Language (2006) also explore the lexical differences between these two rival Englishes.
There are few authors who point to etymological differences between the two Englishes, who highlight the differences in origin of lexical items. One among them in Finegan. He highlights the large extent of borrowings which exist in American English, which either do not occur in British English, or which are extremely rare. He states that these differences exist as borrowings which were taken by waves of immigrants into the United States during its colonial and early post-colonial period (2004). Marckwardt notes extensive borrowing from French “Gopher, chowder, toboggan, dime”, Dutch “Yankee, pit (BE: stone, seed), bush” and German “hex, katzenjammer, loafer, spiel”, Yiddish “klutz, mensch, schlepper, schmooze, shtik” (1958). The West African languages spoken by the slaves to North America have also left a legacy on the language. Carver lists “Gumbo, voodoo, okra, pinder, juke (as in juke box), and the verb to tote” among many others (1987). The largest and most prolific contributor by far to American English, and not surprising considering the location of the United States is Spanish. Spanish has influenced American English since the time of the first colonies, and this has increased up to the present day, and this trend seems only likely to increase, not only because of the location, but also due to the growing number of Spanish speaking residents. Spanish according to Hogg and Denison has contributed thousands of words such as “bonanza, cafeteria, washeteria, mustang, ranch and rodeo” (1992).
While these authors have analysed the differences in vocabulary between the two main varieties of English, I have been unable to find a study where the etymological differences in the makeup of word choices have been compared with each other, or where the etymological make up of each variety has been compared to the other. The authors have pointed out that there is indeed a difference in the lexical items used by these varieties of English and that the etymology of the two word hoards is indeed different. What remains to be seen is if there is a significant difference in the overall breakup of etymology of each variety’s vocabulary.
Rationale, Aims and Methods:
This study seeks to undertake an investigation whereby texts in this case broadsheet and tabloid newspaper articles discussing the same current event in both varieties of English are analysed in the composition and ratio of the etymology of the word-hoard used. This study will endeavour to ascertain an answer to the following questions;
Is there an etymological difference in the composition of British and American vocabulary in a collection of newspaper articles?
Is there any etymological difference in the lexical items used between broadsheet and tabloid papers discussing the same events both in British and American English?
My method will be to analyse a selection of broadsheet articles and tabloid articles in equal amounts in both American and British English which discuss the same news item. I will then enter all the articles into a Macro-Etymological Analyser which will tell me the etymological composition of each article. I will then make a comparison between the two varieties of English to see if there is a significant correlation between the variety of English used and the etymological composition of its lexical items.
This study will collect a wide variety of articles on different topics from a range of newspapers, written in both American and British English. The articles will be collected from online sources, primarily from both broadsheet and tabloid papers. The samples of British English will be collected from the broadsheet paper “The Guardian” and the tabloid paper “The daily star”. The samples of American English will be taken from the equivalent American versions of these papers, namely the broadsheet paper “The New York Times” and the tabloid paper “The New York Post”.
This study will analyse these four newspapers, focusing on articles from all four paper which discuss the same topics. The topics will be subdivided into four different categories. Breaking news, sporting events, letters to the editor and celebrity gossip. Articles will then be selected which discuss the exact same topic from each of the four newspapers. This will be done in order to make sure that the etymological differences which are recorded are due to the different variety of English being used, and not because the articles discuss different events.
Once the appropriate articles have been selected they will be downloaded and individually entered into a Macro-etymological Analyser, which will individually analyse each article and qualitatively present the statistics of the etymological breakdown of the vocabulary of each article. The results will be presented both individually, that is, the etymological break down of each article, and also as a compilation. This way two analysis can be simultaneously undertaken, namely Is there an etymological difference in the composition of British and American vocabulary in a collection of newspaper articles? And is there any etymological difference in the lexical items used between broadsheet and tabloid papers discussing the same events both in British and American English?
This approach has been chosen as it is an accurate and efficient way to qualitatively analyse the categories of the etymological choices made across a vast amount of vocabulary looking both at the genre tabloid vs broadsheet and the variety American vs British English.
Sample Analysis / Preliminary Data:
This study has made some preliminary investigations which have resulted in some interesting observations. Four newspaper articles under the section ‘breaking news’ have been collected which discuss the death sentence of the perpetrator of the Boston marathon bombings. Two of these newspaper articles are from British sources, one is from a broadsheet paper, “The Guardian” and the other from a Tabloid “The Daily Star”. I have entered the articles into the Macro-etymological Analyser and have come up with the following results for “The Guardian” and “The Daily Star:
What one notices immediately is the difference in the compilation of Germanic versus Latinate words across the genres of broadsheet and tabloid papers. The Tabloid paper “The Daily Star” incorporates a far greater number of Germanic words in comparison to the broadsheet 82.2% compared to 75.5%. The percentage differences between the two papers is made up with the broadsheet “The Guardian’s” larger use of Latinate words 16.5% compared to 11.1% and words of Hellenic origin 1% to 0%. This replicates the analysis by Freeborn whose research discovered that broadsheet newspapers on average contain larger number of Latinate and Hellenic vocabulary in comparison to tabloid papers (1996).
The same procedure was repeated for two newspapers of American origin. An American broadsheet paper equivalent to the British source above was selected, namely “The New York Times” and a tabloid equivalent of the above British example was also selected in this case “The New York Post”. These articles were also entered into the Macro-etymological Analyser with the following results for “The New York Times” and “The New York Post”:
Similarly to the newspapers of British origin, The American newspapers show a significant variation in the etymological choice of lexis across the genres of broadsheet and tabloid newspaper articles. The broadsheet paper “The New York Times” contains fewer words of Germanic origin in comparison to the tabloid paper “The New York Post” a difference of 76.7% to 80.1%. This etymological difference in word choice continues at first in a similar vain to the British papers, with the broadsheet article containing a larger percentage of words with a Latinate etymology 14.4% to 11.7%. This however is where the similarities end. The American tabloid paper actually contains a higher percentage of words of a Hellenic etymology 0.8% to 0.6% and interestingly the broadsheet paper contains a very small percentage of words of Celtic origin 0.7%. This is the only article out of the four analysed which contained words with a Celtic etymology.
After analysing the articles according to the genre of broadsheet to tabloid, the articles were compiled along the lines of the national variety of English used. The complete texts of the two British articles, and the complete text of the two American articles were entered into the Macro-etymological analyser. When the texts are combined to give an overall etymological breakup of the data the results look as follows for British English, and American English:
There is a difference in the etymological make up between the two varieties of English, albeit the difference is not large enough to make any great conclusions. British English, in the case of the two articles analysed in this preliminary investigation shows a small tendency to use more words with a Latinate etymology in comparison to the two articles composed in American English. This sample of American English, also shows a small tendency over the British English sample in using words of a Germanic origin. The use of lexical items with a Hellenic origin is very slightly higher in the sample of American English, as is the use of vocabulary of Celtic etymology.
The results of this initial preliminary investigation may appear statistically insignificant at first appearance, however it is the opinion of the author of this paper that with a larger sample size and with a broader variety of texts, larger differences in the etymological composition of the vocabulary used in the two major varieties of English will become apparent.
The preliminary analysis has investigated only articles in the ‘breaking news’ section of each newspaper, and as such the unifying power of a standard language has disguised what is believed to be a far greater difference in the etymological composition of each variety of English. Once further sections of each newspaper namely sporting events, letters to the editor and celebrity gossip are analysed we will be far more likely to discover distinctive varieties of localised vocabulary, which it is hoped will yield more statistically significant results. This project shall contribute to the understanding of how discourse, in this case American and British English, across the differing genres of broadsheet and tabloid newspaper articles works. Since the establishment of English on the North-American continent 400 years ago the two varieties have continued evolving in separate ways. Lexical choices, and the differing etymology of new borrowed words are pushing the two varieties in different directions. According to McArthur, despite the globalisation and interconnectedness of modern society, the different varieties of world English, including British and American English, will eventually change enough from each other to fragment into a family of languages in the same way that Latin broke up and evolved into the modern Romance languages (1998). With this in mind, it is important to shed light on this language change between the two major varieties of English, in order to note how the rival Englishes are continuing their evolution, and how much the etymological makeup of vocabulary in use, across genres is changing as these languages experience the addition of lexical borrowing from different sources. This paper also recommends research in how the lexicon of each variety of English varies etymologically in the spoken versions of British and American English. One last further way in which this type of research should be expanded is by running similar investigations researching other varieties of English, from the more established Australian, New Zealand and Canadian, to the emerging Caribbean, South Asian and African varieties of English, where it is expected the etymological composition of vocabulary is already greatly different from that of British and American models.
This study is unique in that there exists no research into this particular field. As of yet the etymological differences in the makeup of vocabulary across the genres of tabloid and broadsheet newspapers in British and American English has not been explored, and as such this field will greatly benefit from investigations into this area. This investigation is however not without limitations. One of the initial prerequisites of this study was that the texts selected were discussing the same topic, so as any etymological difference could be attributed to the variety of English used, and not to the topic being discussed, as such it was determined that newspaper articles would be the best type of text which could be analysed. The limitations with using newspapers is that the language used is often somewhat conservative, and rather more formal that average speech, as localised vocabulary is often deemed unsuitable for the text type. As such the etymology of the two varieties appears a lot more similar to each other than is believed to be. This limitation will be attempted to be overcome by the inclusion of the rather less formal sections of sports, letters to the editor and celebrity gossip sections of the newspapers in the final project.
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