English Around the World: American English

American English (AmE) is one of the most influential English dialects in the world as an estimated 370 million people speak this language in the United States and beyond. The number of native American English speakers now exceeds that of British English speakers worldwide thus it makes the standard American language a formal language in many universities and professional interactions.

It is worth noting that the American language was historically brought by settlers from England who came to this continent around the 17th century. Along with the arrival of other settlers from other European countries, such as the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Spain, this language evolved into the American language that exists today. 

Adaptation to Indigenous American Language

Linguists claim that American English is a linguistic melting pot that evolved from a variety of languages which makes it sound different from other English dialects. Although early American English mostly developed from British English, the interaction with other languages of the other settlers, immigrants, and the Native American languages later gave the language some unique and distinct characteristics from its origins. 

Some animal names like chipmunk, coyote, opossum, and raccoon are taken from their original names as the natives call them. The other evidence of indigenous languages’ influence on American English is some city names in the United States today derived from local indigenous languages, such as Connecticut, Chicago, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Michigan, and Oklahoma. 

The unique vocabulary in today’s American society was not merely resulting from the direct interaction between the British settlers in this country with the indigenous people. The earlier invaders from Spain and Portuguese in the southern part of the continent and the French in the northern area had also brought some language variations which later enhanced the evolution of English when they met in the US. 

linguistic evidence has proved that there are several regional dialects in the US.

Regional Dialects in American English 

American English is not just a single, uniform language that is used widely throughout the US. It could be simply said as a standardized language system specifically in the American writing system. In the context of communication, there is more than one type of language or specifically called ‘dialect’ that is distinctively spoken in some areas of the US. Although the dialect in the US is not as many as in UK English, several variations are very notable and become interesting in linguistic discussion. 

In some arguments, Americans are believed to only speak one type of English but with many variations of accents. But the linguistic evidence has proved that there are several regional dialects in the US. These regional dialectal variations are apparent in the different sound and pronunciation styles, lexicon, and even syntactic arrangement of English in different regions of the US. 

The birth of these dialects has a longer history than how English entered the United States. In the 17th century, English was more homogeneous throughout every region in the US. The colonialization of the British empire in this region had made the language dominant over other languages brought by settlers from Western Europe and immigrants from Africa and Asia. 

In 1776, the United States of America declared their independence from the British Empire which meant they also proclaimed language independence from their mother country. However, at that time the Britisher accent was still considered to have a higher level than the American English style. These sentiments create social class divisions that group people by race, cultural background, education, and wealth. 

As great migration continues in the 19th century, the emergence of local accents and dialects enriched the English varieties in the US. The local accent was created by smaller heterogeneous communities spread in some regions in the US. These communities often consisted of people with different languages, social statuses, and cultural backgrounds which created differences among the communities. 

However, many social groups were formed containing people of similar status and background. The new generation among these groups acquired the particular language accent of their group and some others even adopted unique language features born from both assimilation and isolation. Thus, the next social generation had spoken new regional dialects that have distinct features from the mother language.

Today, there are at least four recognizable regional dialects in the US which are the Southern, New England, Northern, and Midland dialects. Among these regions, several subgroups are speaking notable accents. Beyond these regional dialects, American English also consists of other English varieties which are not bounded by regional dialects. African-American vernacular dialect, for instance, is a style of English spoken by African American sociogroup. Although this dialect seems closely related to the southern dialect, they are always consistent in many regions that have strong hip-hop culture. There is also a Latino-American dialect spoken by Spanish-speaking groups in the United States. 

With a lot of complexity in how American English is developed, there is at least a consensus on the use of a uniform English system recognized by its government that unites them. The ‘general American dialect’ is one variety used generally when they come to professional interactions. This general accent would rather avoid slang and idioms to achieve mutual understanding in communication.

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