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|English to English translations [PRO]|
Art/Literary / Spelling Bee
|English term or phrase: American spelling|
|I know the English has a lot of borrowed French words and these are spelled differently than the original French spelling.|
But why do the Americans spell their words differently from the British? The original American pioneering settlers in the days of the Wild Wild West were largely British, weren't they? Which means they were of the same race and language group, yet the differences? How did it happen in the first place?
Examples of American/British spelling:
|Blame it on Noah Webster|
When spelling was formalized by such people as Noah Webster in the US and others in the UK, there were many existing options. Dictionary writers selected one version and their choices tended to stick. Here's an interesting discussion from the book "The Origins and Development of the English Language" by Thomas Pyles and John Algeo
British and American Spelling
Finally, there is the matter of spelling, which looms larger in the consciousness of those who are concerned with national differences than it deserves to. Somewhat exotic to American eyes are ‘cheque’ (for drawing money from a bank), cyder, cypher, gaol, kerb (of a street), pyjamas, syren, and tyre (around a wheel). But check, cider, cipher, jail, curb, pajamas, siren, and tire are also current in England in varying degrees.
Noah Webster, through the influence of his spelling book and dictionaries, was responsible for Americans settling upon –or spellings for a group of words spelled in his day with either –or or –our: armo(u)r, behavio(u)r, colo(u)r, favo(u)r, etc. The resultant American –or spellings are today far more obnoxious to the English than than the alternative forms with –our are to Americans, who, in addition to reading a great many books printed in England, are quite accustomed to seeing ‘glamour’ and ‘saviour’ in books printed in their own country. All such words were current in earlier British English without the ‘u’, though most Britishers today are probably unaware of the fact; Webster was making no radical change in English spelling habits. Furthermore, the English had themselves struck the ‘u’ from a great many words earlier spelled –our, alternating with
-or: author, doctor, emperor, error, governor, horror, mirror, and senator, among others.
Webster is also responsible for the American practice of using –er instead of the –re that the British came to favor in a number of words – for instance, calibre, centre, litre, manoevre, metre (of poetry or of the unit of length in the metric system), sepulchre, and theatre. The last of these spellings competes with American theater, especially in proper names. It is regarded by many of its users as an elegant (because British) spelling and by others as an affectation. Except for litre, which did not come into English until the nineteenth century, all these words occur in earlier British English with –er.
The American use of –se in defense, offense, and pretense, in which the English usually have –ce, is also attributable to the precept and practice of Webster, though he did not recommend fense for fence, which is simply an aphetic form of defense (or defence). Spellings with –se occurred in earlier English for all these words, including fence. ‘Suspense’ is now usually so spelled in British English.
Webster proposed dropping final ‘k’ in such words as almanac, musick, physick, publick, and traffick, bringing about a change that has occurred in British English as well. His proposed burdoc, cassoc, and hassoc now regularly end in k, whereas havock, in which he neglected to drop the ‘k’, is everywhere spelled without it.
Though he was not the first to recommend it, Webster is doubtless to be credited with the American spelling practice of not doubling final ‘l’ when adding a suffix except in words stressed on their final syllables – for example, grovel, groveled, groveler, groveling, but propel, propelled, propeller, propelling, propellant. Modern British spelling usually doubles ‘l’ before a suffix regardless of the position of the stress, as in grovelled, groveller, and so forth.
The British use of ae and oe looks strange to Americans in anaemic, gynaecology, haemorrhage, paediatrician, and in diarrhoea, homoeopathy, manoevre, and oesophagus, but less so in aesthetic, archaelogy, and encyclopaedia, which are fairly common in American usage. Some words earlier written with one or the other of these digraphs long ago underwent simplification – for example, phaenomenon, oeconomy, and poenology. Others are in the process of simplification: hemorrhage, hemorrhoids, and medieval are frequent British variants of the forms with ae.
Most British writers use –ise for the verbal suffix written –ize in America in such words as baptize, organize, and sympathize. However, the Times of London, the OED, H.C. Wyld’s Universal Dictionary (1932), the various editions of Daniel Jones’s English Pronouncing Dictionary, and a number of other publications of considerable intellectual prestige prefer the spelling with ‘z’, which, in the words of the OED, is “at once etymological and phonetic.” (The suffix is ultimately from Greek –izein.) The ct of connection and inflection is due to the influence of connect and inflect. The etymologically sounder spellings connexion and inflexion, reflecting their sources in Latin connexion(em) and inflexion(em), are used by most writers, or at any rate by most printers, in England.
Spelling reform has been a recurring preoccupation of would-be language engineers on both sides of the Atlantic. Webster, who loved tinkering with all aspects of language, had contemplated far flashier spelling reforms than the simplifications he succeeded in getting adopted. For instance, he advocated lopping off the final e of –ine, ite, and –ive in final syllables (thus medicin, definit, fugitiv), using oo for ou in group and soup, writing tung for tongue, and deleting the a in bread, feather, and the like; but in time he abandoned these unsuccessful, albeit sensible, spellings. Those of Webster’s spellings that were generally adopted were choices among existing options, not his inventions. The financier Andrew Carnegie and President Theodore Roosevelt both supported a reformed spelling in the early years of this century, including such simplifications as catalog for catalogue, claspt for clasped, gage or gauge, program for programme, and thoro for thorough. Some of the spellings they advocated have been generally adopted, some are still used as variants, but many are rarely used now.
Note added at 2003-03-24 15:16:59 (GMT)
Those of Webster’s spellings that were generally adopted were choices among existing options, not his inventions.
Selected response from:
Local time: 21:02
Chris Rowson got a point or two but I think Shakespeare's time was the Renaissance (words like thou or thee do not appear in neither US nor UK's modern day versions), which was much earlier than Independence day 1776.
4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer
6 mins confidence: peer agreement (net): -1
People grow apart...
Actually the modern spellings in Britain are not the same as they were 200 years ago. Another interesting thing is that not all the original settlers of America were British. They were about as many German speakers as English speakers. In fact, when the United States Constitution was written, there was agreat debate over whether it should be written in English or in German. Imagine the political implications if it had been written in German!