This might seem to be a dumb question; however, I think it's rather strange that the two dialects are so similar considering the huge geographical distance between Great Britain and America. In the old days it took over a month to sail from Britain to America.

Edit The following sentence is not mine(someone else added to my original post). I don't think current British English is more original or authentic than current American English, or vice versa.

Why or how did American English remain so faithful to the original?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Drew, tchrist, Chenmunka, user66974, FumbleFingers Oct 14 '15 at 16:57

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    Two things: The Mayflower and Television. With maybe a world war or two thrown in there between. – Hot Licks Oct 12 '15 at 1:42
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    Understand that the vast majority of settlers of the eastern coast of what became the US were English (with an occasional Scot or Irishman thrown in, I suppose). And the "reference" for speech, laws, behavior, etc was always England. The "Founding Fathers" were either educated in England or in schools staffed by teachers from England, and every effort was made to mimic the English example. As it was, there was poorer communication between the ends of the British Isles and or the ends of the US east coast than there was between the elite of the two countries. – Hot Licks Oct 12 '15 at 2:04
  • @HotLicks The Mayflower is 400 years old, almost the same age as Shakespeare. I guess nobody says Shakespere's English is almost identical to modern English. – ivanhoescott Oct 12 '15 at 2:16
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    @ivanhoescott: I guess it has more to do with the continued influx of immigrants from Britain far after the time of the Mayflower. – sumelic Oct 12 '15 at 2:19
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    Are you asking Why isn't American a language? – Hot Licks Oct 12 '15 at 2:22

Whereas one might say that American and British English are generally comprehensible to speakers of either version, this is a far cry from them being 'almost identical'. One might also add that the written versions of each vary in some small but significant ways, such as in the treatment of 're' and 'er' in words such as 'centre'.

If I frame your question in the sense which I believe you may have intended, however, the reason that American and British English have diverged so little in the time that the two Nations were 'sundered' is - as others have pointed out - the continuing influence on American English via immigration and the export of literature into the United States from Britain in the 18th and 19th Century, and the very considerable reverse flow of American English via cinema,television and musical performance into Britain (and the remainder of the English speaking world) in the 20th Century up until today.

One might also observe that the both American and British English have evolved significantly since the settlement of the New England colonies, if not in lock-step with each other, then in close parallel. Again the linkages via trade, immigration and the use of common literature have held the two languages largely together, where a more complete isolation would have seen greater divergence. In considering the effect of isolation one might consider the degree to which the English of the inhabitants of Pitcairn Island has diverged from both British and American English since that island was settled by the Mutineers from the British ship 'Bounty' in 1790. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitkern_language.

Your question also presupposes that there is a single version of American English and of British English. Inhabitants of the Ozarks, just as those of the North of England, or Devon speak with distinct dialects that are much further removed from 'standard' American and British English than those two 'standard' dialects are from each other. The multiplicity of American dialects is comprehensively illustrated here: http://aschmann.net/AmEng/. Again, an interesting point that your question raises is that archaic elements of British English are preserved in American English, particularly in isolated communities. 'Flap-jack' for instance was once a common British word, but fell out of use there while it continued strongly in the United States. A useful discussion on the preservation of archaic (British) English in the Americas is here: https://outofthiscentury.wordpress.com/2010/03/31/the-survival-of-archaic-english-in-the-american-dialect/.

So in summary, yes, American and British English have diverged less than we might have expected in two nations so far apart, but the process of continuing settlement and communication has kept them from drifting very far apart. But as one examines the detail, in small but numerous ways they have diverged, creating unique words, while preserving or modifying others to differing degrees. One might add that all of the above points also relate to Australian English in respect to British English.

  • I have learned a lot from your answer and links. Thank you. – user140086 Oct 12 '15 at 7:28

I think the answer could be explained by the fact that many of the original settlers were more motivated by economic gains(land,no taxation) besides the hackneyed religious motives. Even down the years , the mannerisms and culture of the English gentry were not entirely absolved in this act of splitting away. In many ways the early settlements wanted to be considered equals thus wanting to keep up with the only other English speaking nation culturally hasn't effected any surprising divergence in the language. And John's explanation covers the modern/post-industrial revolution era.

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    Good point, although it might not sit comfortably with those Americans who believe their inclination towards cultural independence was (historically speaking) as strong as their motivation towards political independence. Within the British Empire to be 'upper class' or 'well bred' often involved copying not just the manners of the British upper class, but also the language. It would be an interesting (but controversial) exercise to determine the extent to which the 'upper class' in the early United States followed this pattern. – John Mack Oct 12 '15 at 7:29
  • What do you mean by "hackneyed?" Did you mean to say "trite and irrelevant" or did you have something else in mind? – michael_timofeev Oct 12 '15 at 13:55

I would have thought the single main reason why American English differs so little (relatively speaking) from British English is because of the British colonization. Generally, when one country invades and conquers another, it is easier for immigrants to settle in a new territory where their mother tongue is spoken by (or imposed on) the local population. If the numbers of immigrants outnumber, and rule over the local population, they will impose their native language and customs on the newly acquired territory.

The OP could have easily asked why Australian, Canadian, Scottish, and Irish English is "almost identical" to British English.

The successful British colonization of North America began in 1607 with the Virginia company of London and lasted until 1769 with "St. John's Island"

British colonization of the Americas […] began in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia and reached its peak when colonies had been established throughout the Americas. The English, and later the British, [the Scots and the Irish] were among the most important colonizers of the Americas, and their American empire came to rival the Spanish American colonies in military and economic might.
In 1664, England took over the Dutch colony of New Netherland (including the New Amsterdam settlement) which England renamed the Province of New York. With New Netherland, the English also came to control the former New Sweden (in what is now Delaware), which the Dutch had conquered earlier. This later became part of Pennsylvania after that was established in 1680.
The Kingdom of Great Britain acquired the French colony of Acadia in 1713 and then Canada and the Spanish colony of Florida in 1763.
Great Britain also colonised the west coast of North America, indirectly via the Hudson's Bay Company licenses west of the Rocky Mountains: the Columbia District and New Caledonia fur district

In 1980 it was estimated that over 49 million (49,598,035) Americans were of English origin, around 26.34% of the total population and the largest reported group which, even today, would make them the largest ethnic group in the United States

Eight out of the ten most common surnames in the United States are of English origin or having possible mixed British Isles heritage, the other two being of Spanish origin. Scotch-Irish Americans are descendants of Lowland Scots and Northern English settlers who colonized Ireland during the Plantation of Ulster in the 17th century.

And the majority of American men who held the most important posts and positions of power in the USA were of English origin …

The overwhelming majority of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America were of English extraction, including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

And as little as 225 years ago, almost half the population of the US was English. By then the English language had firmly established itself as being the most prestigious and influential language in the USA. If we look back at 18th century writings, we must admit that it has remained, fundamentally, unchanged.

The 1790 United States Census was the first census conducted in the United States. It was conducted on August 2, 1790. The ancestry of the 3,929,214 population in 1790 has been estimated by various sources by sampling last names in the very first United States official census and assigning them a country of origin. The estimate results indicate that people of English ancestry made up about 47.5% of the total population

Source: Wikipedia English American

  • Is is answering the opposite of what the question asks. – curiousdannii Oct 12 '15 at 7:43
  • No, I don't think so. It shows that as a language, English didn't just arrive on the Mayflower and then it fended for itself. The English "tongue" invasion lasted well into the 18th century, and the British immigrants eventually outnumbered the Dutch, the Swede, the French, and even the Spanish immigrants in the different colonies. – Mari-Lou A Oct 12 '15 at 7:48

Is a month such a long time? In fact there was constant trading going on. For example fashions travelled across the Atlantic all the way from Paris. Conan Doyle placed his first Sherlock Holmes story partly in America and although this was during the age of steam, there were still sailing ships crossing the ocean and his tale continued a long interest in affairs of the New World.

The laying of undersea transatlantic cables for the telegraph wasn't a whim. It was a faster way of carrying a huge stream of necessary information back and forth.

  • Sherlock Holmes is about 100 years old, whereas American English is 400 years old. – ivanhoescott Oct 12 '15 at 2:11
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    Well I was picking random evidence to support the idea that goods, people and information have been flowing constantly across the Atlantic since the New World was discovered. There has never been a time of isolation -- not even immediately after the American Revolution. America and Britain have always talked and successive waves of immigration have renewed America's acquaintance with British English. Now of course the influence is more in the other direction - through science and the movies. – chasly from UK Oct 12 '15 at 2:27

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