Major English dialects:
American English
Australian English
British English
Canadian English
Caribbean English
Indian English
Jamaican English
Liberian English
Malaysian English
New Zealand English
Singapore English
South African English

American English is a form of the English language used in the United States of America. It is the primary language used in the United States. According to the 1990 census, 97 percent of U.S. residents speak English "well" or "very well." Only 0.8% (8 people out of a thousand) speak no English at all, as compared with 3.6 percent in 1890.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Phonology
3 Differences in British English and American English
4 English words that arose in the US
5 Regional differences
6 Miscellaneous
7 External links and references


English was inherited from British colonization. The first wave of English-speaking immigrants was settled in North America in the 17th Century:

In this century, there were in North America speakers of Dutch, French, Native American, Spanish, Swedish and Finnish languages.

In 1763, Britain acquired the French colony of New France and the Spanish colony of Florida.


Compared to British English, American English is conservative in its phonology. It is often claimed that certain rural areas in North America speak "Elizabethan English," but in fact the standard American English of the upper Midwest has a sound profile much closer to seventeenth century English than the current speech of England has. The conservatism of American English is largely the result of the fact that it represents a mixture of various dialects from the British Isles. Dialect in North America is most distinctive on the east coast of the continent; this is largely because these areas were in contact with England, and imitated prestige varieties of British English at a time when those varieties were undergoing changes. The country was settled in the interior by people who were no longer closely connected to England and did not travel there often by sea, and as such the inland speech is much more homogeneous than the East Coast speech, and did not participate in changes imitated from England.

Most North American speech is rhotic, as English was everywhere in the seventeenth century. In most varieties of North American English, the sound of the letter "R" is a retroflex semivowel rather than a trill or a tap. This was a sound change that took place in England in the eighteenth century, and in which most current North American varieties did not participate. The loss of syllable-final /r/ in North America is confined mostly to parts of New England, New York, New York, and the southern coast of the United States. In England, lost /r/ was often changed into /ə/ (schwa, SAMPA /@/), giving rise to a new class of falling diphthongs. This does not happen in the non-rhotic varieties of North American speech.

Other British English changes which most North American dialects do not participate include:

  • /æ/ (/{/) -> /a/ before /f, s, T, D, z, v/ alone or preceded by /n/: bath -> bawth &c. (only in parts of New England) This is the British broad A.

  • intervocalic /t/ -> glottal stop; /bo`@l/ for bottle (does not appear in North America)

  • loss of /o:/, replaced by /@u/; cf. southern English v. North American pronunciation of boat.

North American English, while more phonologically conservative, has undergone some sound changes. These include:

  • levelling of distinction between /A/ and /O/; father and bother rhyme; the so-called cot-caught merger (almost everywhere except Northeast)

  • intervocalic /t/ -> /d/; ladder and latter sound very similar or identical, distinguished perhaps by degree of aspiration of consonant and/or by length of preceding vowel.

Differences in British English and American English

American English has both spelling and grammatical differences from British English, some of which were made as part of an attempt to rationalize the English spelling used by British English at the time. Unlike many 20th century language reforms (e.g., Turkey's alphabet shift, Norway's spelling reform) the American spelling changes were not driven by government, but by textbook writers and dictionary makers.

The first American dictionary was written by Noah Webster in 1828. At the time America was a relatively new country and Webster's particular contribution was to show that the region spoke a different dialect from Britain, and so he wrote a dictionary with many spellings differing from the standard. Many of these changes were initiated unilaterally by Webster.

Webster also argued for many "simplifications" to the idiomatic spelling of the period. Somewhat ironically, many, although not all, of his simplifications fell into common usage alongside the original versions, resulting in a situation even more confused than before.

Many words are shortened and differ from other versions of English. Spellings such as center are used instead of centre in other versions of English. And there are many other variations. Conversely, American English can sometimes favor more wordy or elongated versions of British English, as in transportation for transport.

A key area where American English has grown (on both sides of the Atlantic), is in the world of Business and Commerce, where use of the rhetorical euphemism is common. One example would be the phrase "are you comfortable with that". This phrase will typically be used by a business manager introducing a change which may, or may not, be welcome. A negative answer is neither expected nor, indeed invited. However, the question is, at least on the face of it, conciliatory.

American English has further changed due to the influx of non-English speakers whose words sometimes enter American vernacular. Many words have entered American English from Spanish, Native American languages, and so on.

Examples of common American English loanwords, not common in British English (many, however, would be recognised due to Hollywood movies):

From African languages
gumbookra, or a stew thickened with okra

From Chinese
gung hoeager or fervent

From Dutch
cookiebaked sweet, never called a biscuit, digestive; sometimes called shortbread

From English
attica loft; the topmost story of a house
back and forthas in backwards and forwards
to back upto reverse
bill (paper money)a note
blanket (small)rug
bugany kind of insect
bushela common unit of measurement
cabina humble dwelling
the checkthe bill
closeta cupboard or wardrobe
decka pack of cards
elevatora lift
fallthe season also known as autumn
hoga pig
jacka knave within a deck of cards
junkas in rubbish
rearas in raising an animal or child
madas in the sense of being angry
noonmidday (originally nones, the ninth hour of daylight, or 3pm
plumbas being complete
roostera male fowl
skilletfrying pan
sleetsmall, hard "snowflakes"
soccer fielda football pitch
stocksas in stocks and bonds; shares
yarda garden
zeroas in nought

From French
banquettea raised sidewalk
beigneta square, holeless doughnut
boudina spicy link sausage
café au laita mixture of half milk and half coffee
chowdera thick seafood stew
étoufféea spicy stew of vegetables and seafood
jambalayarice cooked with herbs, spices, and ham, chicken, or seafood
lagniappean extra or unexpected gift
pain perduNew Orleans-style French toast
piroguea canoe made from a hollowed tree trunk
pralinea candy made of nuts suspended in a boiled sugar syrup
toboggana sled
zydecoa native Louisiana style of music

From Native American languages
bayoua swampy, slow-moving stream or outlet
cape (kepan)a headland
chinooka strong wind blowing down off the mountains
hickory (pawcohiccora)a North American deciduous tree of the genus Carya
high muckamuckan important person
mugwumpa political independent
that neck of the woods (naiack)an expression; from whence a person hails
powwowa gathering or meeting, esp. of Native Americans
raccoonthe raccoon, a small mammal
skunk (seganku)the skunk, a badgerlike, foul-smelling mammal
squash (askutasquash)a vegetable, similar to English marrow
succotashmixture of corn and other vegetables like peas, beans
tipia pyramidal tent -- also tepee
woodchuck (wuchak)a marmot-like mammal

From Spanish
adobea mud-based construction material
arroyogulch, often dry except when it has rained recently
barrioshantytown or historically poverty-afflicted area of a city
barbecuea grill
gringoa disparaging term for a foreigner, esp. English or American
haciendaparticular style of house
hammocka bed
maizea kind of grain
mesaflat topped mountain

From Yiddish
klutza clumsy person
loxcured salmon
schlepto carry or to travel
schmucka fool, or the penis
shlemiela fool

From Japanese
tycoonsuccessful business leader
honcholeader, ie: "The Head Honcho"

For detailed differences in British English and American English see American and British English differences.

English words that arose in the US

A number of words that have arisen in the United States have become common, to varying degrees, in English as it is spoken internationally. Perhaps the most famous is OK, which is sometimes used in other languages as well. Other American introductions include "blizzard" and "teenager", and there are of course many more.

Regional differences

Written American English is fairly standardized across the country. However, there is some variation in the spoken language. There are several recognizable regional variations (such as that spoken in New York and New Jersey), particularly in pronunciation, but also in slang vocabulary.

Most traditional sources cite Standard Midwestern American English as the unofficial standard accent and dialect of American English. However, many linguists claim California English has become the de facto standard since the 1960s or 1970s due to its central role in the American entertainment industry; others argue that the entertainment industry, despite being in California, uses Midwestern.

African-American colloquial English (sometimes called Ebonics) contains many distinctive forms.

Regional dialects in North America are most strongly differentiated along the eastern seaboard. The distinctive speech of important cultural centeres like Boston, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Charleston, South Carolina, and New Orleans, Louisiana imposed their marks on the surrounding areas. The Potomac River generally divides a group of Northern coastal dialects from the beginning of Southern coastal dialects. A distinctive speech pattern was also generated by the separation of Canada from the United States, centered on the Great Lakes region.

In the interior, the situation is very different. West of the Appalachian Mountains begins the large river of what is generally called "Midland" speech. This is divided into two general subdivisions, the north Midlands that begins north of the Ohio River valley area; and the south Midlands speech. The North Midlands speech continues to expand westward until it becomes the closely related speech of California. This is the "standard Midwestern" speech that is generally considered free from regional marking in the United States of America.

The southern Midlands dialect follows the Ohio River in a generally southwesterly direction, moves across Arkansas and Oklahoma west of the Mississippi, and peters out in western Texas. This is the dialect associated with truck drivers on the CB radio and country music. It is a version of the Midlands speech that has assimilated some coastal Southern forms, most noticeably the loss of the diphthong /aj/, which becomes /a:/, and the second person plural pronoun "you-all" or "y'all". Unlike coastal Southern, however, southern Midlands is a rhotic dialect, pronouncing /r/ wherever it has historically occurred.

The sounds of American speech can be identified with a number of public figures. President John F. Kennedy spoke the Northeastern coastal dialect associated with Boston, while President Jimmy Carter spoke with a Southern coastal dialect. The North Midlands speech is familiar to those who have heard Neil Armstrong and John Glenn, while the South Midlands speech was the speech of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.


Liberian English is a descendant of American English.

External links and references

simple:American English