Which is the 'best' English?

Trash or Rubbish? - Sorting out our English

Colour or color? Socks or sox? Organisations or Organizations? Underground or subway? Gas or petrol? Fall or Autumn? Candy or sweets? Cookie or biscuit? Centre or Center, Trash or rubbish?

I've had a lot of furious emails from users about my terrible spelling. While I admit that the OEG may have had some glaring typos (fixed as soon as they were pointed out!) the emails are often concerned with spellings that are to do with regional differences in spoken and written English and not with my poor language skills. And they often come from readers who are convinced that there is only one 'good' English - theirs!

And we're living in a world where the frontiers between these 'regional differences' are becoming more and more blurred. Globalised mass communications, the Internet, an increasingly mobile workforce, and cheap international travel are all making us aware of an English language with many faces - a dynamic language, changing and moving with our times. Where the building blocks of the language - grammar, vocabulary, syntax - are plastic and dynamic and not rigid and static. Of course, if we still believe, as many of us were taught to believe at school, that there is only one English - ours! - then it may seem as if civilization as we'd like to keep knowing it is crumbling around our ears.

My family's experience is a good example of the way in which we are now exposed to a 'globalised' (should that be 'globalized'?) English and the cultural and geographic influences that contribute to our use of it: I was born in England, went to Australia when I was five, was entirely educated in Australia, spent several years in the USA and Canada, another eight in England and lived in France for over fifteen years. I married a Colombian, the common language at home is French, my wife speaks Spanish to our children, I speak English to them and they go to a French school. We live in a very small French village but have satellite TV with broadcasts from the USA and the UK, and ADSL Internet. My children's English is smattered with expressions and grammatical usage that comes from the USA and even from within fairly minority sub-sets of American English which they pick up from the music channels and YouTube, and they have kept traces of usage from our time in England. They use the Internet to chat with cousins and sisters in Australia where they use the truncated English that will surely develop one day into a recognised 'Internet English' (if it hasn't already!). Their English is a very different animal from mine and the shaping influences on it very different from those that shaped my own.

In my home, as in millions of others around the world, English is clearly a language that is moving and changing as fast as the times we live in. English speakers living in Bombay, Brighton or Boston are being exposed on an almost daily basis to the English used by their fellow English speakers around the globe.

Although we have a rich global mapping of English which makes it possible for English speakers to almost immediately fix a fellow English speaker to a geographical area, there is more that is similar among these English variations than is dissimilar. If there wasn't, English speakers from different parts of the world would have absolutely no hope of understanding each other! In most cases it is pronunciation and idiomatic expressions, not vocabulary or grammar that makes a fellow English speaker from another part of the world, or sometimes even another part of the country, difficult to understand.

In the Online English Grammar I am open to the international and evolving character of English and, try at least, to highlight the differences between British and American English where they appear. I am always happy to receive new examples of these differences from users of the OEG!

I point out grammatical rules that may vary slightly depending on where you are as well as differences in spelling and usage. And have listed some of the main spelling variations between British and American English in an appendix.

The important thing to remember is that while spelling 'remember' as 'rember' is definitely wrong, spelling 'socks' as 'sox' is not! That saying 'She speak English really well' is definitely wrong wherever you are (the verb 'speak' must be third person 'speaks' or used in another tense such as 'spoke'), saying 'She speaks English real well' may not be wrong (it is acceptable to use 'real' rather than 'really' in informal American English.)

This may also slow the flow of emails from angry users who think it is a disgrace that I consistently spell 'center' as 'centre' - am I dyslexic?

Anthony Hughes
Author of the Online English Grammar

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