Thursday, February 17, 2011

You say tomato, I say tomato (again)

After five years of living here, I'm still struck by differences in American English (Am-Eng) and English English (Eng-Eng). Now you didn't expect me to say British-English I'm sure.

It's not just the pronunciation of a word spelled exactly the same. It's also the definition - sometimes similar, sometimes different.

As I mentioned in one of my first posts, I do now say to-MATE-toe rather than to-MAR-toe (probably the only American pronunciation Gail still doesn't use). Another great food example is AP-ricot as opposed to Eng-Eng APE-ricot.

Of the non-food differences there is, of course SKED-ule as opposed to SHED-ule (the American version does make sense, no one pronounces school "shool". Syllable emphasizing is another part of the language that takes some getting use to. IN-surance (Am-Eng) as opposed to in-SURE-ance (Eng-Eng); warran-TEE (Am-Eng) against warran-TY (Eng-Eng) and a-DULT (Am-Eng) versus AD-ult (Eng-Eng), are examples that come to mind.

I was discussing with some friends my views on the architecture of our church. It is, I suppose, a very English looking building. I was saying that in my opinion it could be improved (practically and aesthetically) by the addition of a porch. "What!", my Southern friends exclaimed, "It would look dreadful". I realized immediately what a goof I'd made. "Porch" in Am-Eng is a veranda (Eng-Eng) and so yes, it would look awful. They were thinking I'd gone out of my mind and probably had visions of some parishioners, quietly sitting in rocking chairs, enjoying a glass of iced tea! What I meant is the sort of church porch, a vestibule or lobby, found on the majority of older English churches!

A blog I read regularly and can thoroughly recommend is "Separated by a Common Language". The latest posting really makes a point about the layout of our neighborhoods. It uses the big 1980s hit "Our House" of English group Madness as a wonderful example of confusion. Check it out to see what I mean. Can you imagine a house "in the middle of the street". Of course you can if you're English. Not so if you are American.


Maggie said...

IN-sur-ance is a southern variant of American English. Up north we use the Eng-Eng pronunciation. I grew up saying AD-ult but that may be because my grandmother spoke Eng-Eng. I also pronounce forehead to rhyme with horrid, which isn't true for most Americans. Another north-south difference is whether one says UM-brel-la (southern) or um-BREL-la (northern/standard).

NorfolkBoy said...

Thanks Maggie. There must be lots of variations, not only in the US but in the UK too.

Yes, forehead is pronounced to rhyme with horrid - I'd forgotten about that one.

Time talk is interesting too. For example, 2:10 in Eng:Eng would be "ten past two", here it seems to be "ten after two". I use "fortnight" to describe two weeks - that usually is not understood by Americans (in the South at least).

I'm sure there's material enough for more posts on the subject.

lynneguist said...

Thank you for the link--glad you enjoyed the Madness post!

Maggie said...

Love the new blog design!