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The basic variants of the English language. “Word Englishes”
It is natural that the English language is not used with uniformity in the British Isles and in Australia, in the USA and in New Zealand, in Canada and in India. The English language also has some peculiarities in Wales, Scotland and in other parts of the British Isles and America.
Modern linguistics distinguishes territorial variants or a national language and local dialects. Variants of a language are regional varieties of standard literary language characterized by some minor peculiarities in the sound system, vocabulary and grammar and by their own literary norms. Dialects are varieties at a language used as means of oral communication in small localities. They have some distinctive features of pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary.
The differences between the English language as spoken in British, the USA, Australia and Canada are immediately noticeable in the field of phonetics. However these distinctions are confined to the articulatory-acoustic characteristics of some phonemes to differences in the rhythm and intonation of speech. e.g. Americans pronounce the word class as [klæs] and not long [kla:s], [græsp] but not [gra:sp]. They pronounce “r” before vowels: e.g. [fi:rm] not [fɜ:m]. In American variant they transfer stress to the last syllable: they say secretàry (sèctetary). There are certain differences in spelling: e.g. honor (Am) – honour (Br), practice (Am) – practice (Br) and others.
The dissimilarities in grammar like American gotten, proven for British got, proved are scarce. For the most part of these dissimilarities consist in the preference of this or that grammatical category or form to some others. For example American English prefers Past Indefinite to Present Perfect; the American of the Future Tense with “will” as the only auxiliary verb for all persons. Recent investigations have shown that the Present Continuous form in the meaning of Future is used twice as frequently in British English as in the American, Canadian and Australian variants. infinitive constructions are used more rarely in American English than in British English and Australian, and passive constructions are on the contrary, more frequent in America than in Britain and Australia.
As for the lexical differences all lexical units may be divided into general English (common to all the variants) and locally marked, those specific to present day usage in one of the variants and not found in the others (Briticisms, Americanisms, Australianisms, Canadianisms): e.g. usage of different words for the same objects: flat (Br) – apartment (Am), lorry – truck. Sometimes one word has different meanings: smart=well dressed (Br), smart-clever (Am). There are names of things of everyday life often connected with peculiar national conditions, traditions and customs. British and Australian variants have different sets of words denoting inland areas: only “inland” is common to both, besides BE has “interior, remote”, Australian English has “bush, outback” and many others.
As for local dialects in the British Isles they may be classified into six distinct divisions: Lowland (Scottish or Scotch), Northern, Western, Midland, Eastern and Southern. Only Scottish dialect can be said to have a literature of its own with Robert Burns as its greatest representative. Local lexical peculiarities are most noticeable in dialectal words describing local customs, social life and natural conditions (e.g. Scottish bonny=beautiful).
As for local dialects or the USA they are identified as Northern, Midland and Southern (Midland is divided into North and South Midland). There are certain differences in pronunciation, distinctions in grammar are scarce. The differences in vocabulary are rather numerous but they are easy to pick up. e.g. Northern “Dutch cheese” and New York city “pot cheese” for standard American “cottage cheese” (творог).
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