BusinessDay

I’ve got it or I’ve gotten it: Discussing varieties of English

English is spoken in almost every part of the world and it has been domesticated in these different countries to reflect their sociocultural realities. These national varieties are mainly marked at the lexical level as words tend to take up different meanings in different countries of use.

For instance, while the word “severally” means separately or individually, the Nigerian meaning of the word as “several times” has now been featured in Online Oxford Dictionary. Despite the nativisation of the English language in many countries of the world, the British and American varieties have remained the leading dialects of the language for several reasons. This piece will, therefore, discuss the features of these two leading varieties at four linguistic levels.

At the structural level, the two varieties differ in their tense preference. British English often deploys the past participle form while American English uses the simple past tense as the sentences below show:

I’ve just done my task (British English).

I just did my task (American English).

I have already eaten (British English).

I already ate (American English).

Also, British English mainly uses the irregular verb forms while American English favours the regular forms:

He has not learnt anything new (British English).

He has not learned anything new (American English).

They have lighted the candles (British English).

They have lit the candles (American English).

In addition, British English gives the past tense and past participle of “get” as “got” while American English uses “gotten” as the past participle of the same word:

If he had got up early, he would not have missed his train (British English).

If he had gotten up early, he would not have missed his train (American English).

Somewhat contradictorily, Americans preferably to use “forgot” as the past participle of “forget”, especially in spoken language:

I’ve not forgotten all we discussed (British English).

I’ve not forgot all we discussed (American English).

Still at the structural level, the verbs, “has”, “have” and “had” are usually used in the company of another verb in British English while American English often uses them alone like a main verb:

The man has got a new plan (British English).

The man has a new plan (American English).

I have got a lot to thank God for (British English).

I have a lot to thank God for (American English).

Moving to the vocabulary (choice of words) of the two varieties, the differences in the aspect of prepositions are often more difficult to tell apart. In America, the word “through” is used to mean “up to and including” while British use “to” in the same context:

Monday through Friday (American English)

Monday to Friday (British English)

I should mention too that British athletes play in a team while American athletes play on a team but both play for a team. Americans use “out” as a preposition, making phrases such as “out the door” and “out the room” permissible while British will say “out of the door” and “out of the room”. The verb “enroll” is also preferred with “on” in British English while Americans would say “enrol in”. Beyond prepositions, “paraffin”, “flat” and “peace” are British expressions realised as “kerosene”, “apartment” and “shalom” respectively in American English.

Also, these varieties differ in their orthographical representation of words while British English uses “our” in words such as “favour”, and “labour”, American English uses “or”. While the British will also use -ise, -ll and -mme in words such as “realise”, “enroll” and “programme”, Americans use –ize, -l and m, respectively.

Read also: ‘Zero eight zero’ or ‘Oh eight Oh’: Demystifying the use of numbers in English

Finally, these varieties also differ in their forms of idiomatic expressions as the example idioms below show:

Sweep under the carpet (British English).

Sweep under the rug (American English).

See the wood for the trees (British English).

See the forest for the trees (American English).

Not touch something with a bargepole (British English).

Not touch something with a ten-foot pole (American English).

I will end this piece by saying that although the use of English as the official language and language of instruction in Nigeria still tilts towards British English, what is more important is consistency. One must stay faithful to any variety of language chosen for one’s writing. Using British grammatical constructions alongside American lexical items is what is frowned on in academic writing and not the choice of a particular variety. Nigerian linguists must also work harder to standardise the already existing Nigerian English so as to serve academic/official purposes.

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