Written by Bilal Kadiri, King Khalid University
The ‘Featured Book’ blog articles will be released at least once a month and will focus on not only recently published books, but also those which have made a key contribution within the field of Corpus Linguistics. The first book to be featured on the AAC Blog is Paul Baker’s piece entitled ‘American and British English: Divided by a Common Language?’ , which is published by Cambridge University Press.
Baker examined changes in language usage in American and British English by analysing data from eight corpora (Extended Brown Family of Corpora, AmE 1930s, AmE 2006). These corpora contained data for both varieties of English, that was spread across a period of over seventy years, specifically the 1930s, 1960s, 1990s and 2000s. By employing a number of corpus techniques, Baker was able to identify some very specific areas of language variation between these time periods, some of which we will touch upon in this short article.
When identifying differences between British and American English, the majority of people will instinctively point to the differences in spelling (i.e. ‘colour’ vs. ‘color’) and vocabulary (‘football’ vs. ‘soccer’) and consequently, these were the very first areas that were covered in the book. In relation to spelling, Baker identified that in the period around the 60s, there was an increase in the usage of the American spelling ‘color’ by Brits. However, by the 90s, they had once again overwhelmingly returned to spelling it as ‘colour’. When it came to the spelling behaviour of Brits and Americans, Baker determined that overall they used each other’s spellings an almost equal amount, and there wasn’t much evidence to suggest one spelling variety had become dominant over the other.
Likewise, a similar theme was identified, when examining the vocabulary choices of the British, and their American counterparts. Although some American words (e.g. cop, jail) had become more popular amongst people in Britain, in the majority of instances, the American alternatives did not end up ‘crossing over the pond’.
As well as looking at spelling and vocabulary, the book looked at the variations between the usage of the two language varieties, by analysing the Parts-Of-Speech (POS) categories and Semantic categories from the eight corpora. One area in particular that was touched upon by Baker, was the declining usage of gradable adverbs (rather, quite, awfully) amongst Brits, pointing towards a trend possibly lead by their American counterparts of being more direct in their speech.
Although many books have previously tried to highlight the distinct nature of these two varieties of English, Baker has demonstrated that by employing a corpus analysis, we can more objectively define what exactly makes British and American English so distinct from one another.
More information about Paul Baker and his other publications can be found on the Lancaster University website: http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/linguistics/about-us/people/paul-baker
Official website for the book: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316105313
Please note: The ‘Featured Book’ articles do not intend nor claim to be a critical academic review of the specified book, but rather they intend to showcase some of the book’s content to those who have yet to read it.