1

I insist that someone do something.
(used more in American English, says Michael Swan's Practical English Use , for instance)

versus

I insist that someone should do somehting.
(used more in British English, says the same)

Why did the present subjunctive survive in American English better than it did in British English (outside fixed phrases such as "God save the Queen!") when, on the other hand, forms like 'burn t', 'leap t', 'travel l ed-travel l ing' did not, and were made regular?

Is American English more archaic or more modern than British English?

  • 2
    Which one is meant to be "American"? – Elliott Frisch Feb 5 '14 at 21:03
  • 1
    I read in grammar books that the first one is used more in American English than in British English. – user58319 Feb 5 '14 at 21:13
  • 7
    American English and British English are of exactly the same modernity, since it's currently 2014 in both America and in the UK. American English has preserved some things from pre-colonial times, and British English has preserved others. – Peter Shor Feb 5 '14 at 21:19
  • 2
    @PeterShor Each has been influenced differently by other languages. In the case of America, waves of non-English speaking immigrants clearly had a big influence on both the language and pronunciation. The New York accent owes a lot to Yiddish speakers as does the South, to African ways of speaking. Everywhere one sees the influence of Irish. The English spoken in England today has been greatly affected by three centuries of imperialism, followed by nearly a half-century of European integration. – WS2 Feb 5 '14 at 21:35
  • 3
    @Peter I can't agree with your 'American English and British English are of exactly the same modernity'. We're at least 4 hours ahead. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 6 '14 at 7:54
6

American English is a living language spoken and written by millions of people in the year 2014, that continues to evolve.

British English is a living language spoken and written by millions of people in the year 2014, that continues to evolve.

Both have features and vocabulary that the other once had and since lost (or at least which is now less commonly found in it).

Both have innovations that the other has not adopted as eagerly.

Describing either as archaic or modern compared to the other is meaningless (now Yola for example, is a form of English that is genuinely not modern).

It could certainly make sense to describe one as more innovative in a particular regard, but in actually examining the two we find that the two seem to keep apace for the most part.

There's perhaps more spellings that differ from how they were in 1801, due to Webster's reforms being more heavily adopted in the US than the UK, however:

  1. Many of these were a matter of him settling on one of two or more forms found in both the US and the UK, so in these cases neither is necessarily the more modern.
  2. Many were adopted in the UK too.
  3. Many were not adopted in the US.
  4. There were spelling innovations in Britain such as beginning to favour -isation over -ization.

We find verbs changing forms more strongly in one than the other, but it will sometimes be British English that is the innovator, sometimes American.

We find many neologisms in American English, but also some relics like teamster being used long after any teamster dealt with horses.

A great many differences relate to concepts or inventions that are themselves relatively recent, and hence the term for either is equally recent in both.

A lot of terms have come into one of these countries from its immigrant populations and its imperial adventures, but different terms have come into the other from its different immigrant populations and different imperial adventures; while US soldiers may have become "gung ho" later than than for UK soldiers missed "blighty", there isn't really much justification calling one more of an innovation than the other.

Really, while one could spend time producing a thorough score card and argue one way or the other on the basis of it, in any meaningful sense they're both about equally modern.

  • Are the terms American English and British English unequivocally and strictly defined? – Edwin Ashworth Feb 5 '14 at 22:18
  • @EdwinAshworth when I started the above I was thinking about saying something that AmE and BrE seem to often be taken as just a few metropolitan areas in each, when of course each is much wider, but I'd forgotten that point by the time I'd finished. – Jon Hanna Feb 5 '14 at 22:25
  • I find it difficult to 'blend' flavours. I'm stuck with saying say 'Old Faithful Gizer is probably the most famous geeser in the world.' And the differences are not just national: I think Arkansas is pronounced the way it looks like it ought to be by natives of Kansas, at least for the river. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 5 '14 at 22:32
  • @Edwin "our Kansas"? – Elliott Frisch Feb 6 '14 at 0:26
  • @Elliott I'm not getting involved – it's bad enough living near the Lancashire - Yorkshire border. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 6 '14 at 7:51

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