British English is diverging from American English

The world may be getting smaller, but the distance between the Queen’s English and the American version is actually growing. A new study by the British library shows that “British English is diverging from American English,” library curator Jonnie Robinson told the Guardian.

As part of the study, researchers are having Brits and Americans pronounce a set of 6 different words, many of which, like “schedule,” are traditionally pronounced differently depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on.

For the most part, UK English speakers are not adopting pronunciations from across the pond. In fact, in many cases, they are going their own way.  As Robinson explained in the Daily Mail,

“British English and American English continue to be very distinct entities and the way both sets of speakers pronounce words continues to differ. But that doesn’t mean that British English speakers are sticking with traditional pronunciations while American English speakers come up with their own alternatives. In fact, in some cases it is the other way around. British English, for whatever reason, is innovating and changing while American English remains very conservative and traditional in its speech patterns.”

For example, when it comes to the word “controversy,” the pronunciation used by Americans actually matches the one in the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s the most common British pronunciation, with the accent on the second syllable, that has strayed.

The Daily Mail has a table that compares how different words are pronounced in England versus America. One notable variation from the table:  it appears that “nukilar,” former President George W. Bush’s preferred pronunciation of the word “nuclear,” has caught on among the American populace.  In the UK, it’s usually pronounced as “newclear.”

The project also involves recording people from around the world reading the Roger Hargreaves story “Mr. Tickle.” Anybody can participate. Head on over to the British Library’s website if you’d like to contribute your voice to posterity.

4 replies
  1. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    Is this really that surprising? Can you understand the average person speaking Frisian? And yet English and Frisian are both descended from the same parent tongue. Yes, languages diverge. They evolve and morph. There is nothing wrong with that. If anything it shows the language in all its incarnations is a living, healthy thing.

  2. Sarah Spencer
    Sarah Spencer says:

    You do have some great articles guys and I like the new-look blog page. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing all things language.


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