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The English language

By Rosangela Ferreira Ramos

Cultura Anglo Americana



UNIT 1: America ...................................................................................................... 03 American English ....................................................................................... 04


UNIT 2: Black English ................................................................................................ 06

Britain and the US ......................................................................................... 08


UNIT 3: Immigration ................................................................................................... 09

The Civil War ................................................................................................11


UNIT 4: The English Language ....................................................................................14

The History of US ........................................................................................16


UNIT 5 : Think about some Funny Culture Traits ......................................................18

World English .............................................................................................19



BIBLIOGRAPHY ........................................................................................................21


Review Exercises .........................................................................................................22

Text: America


The United States of America is called by several different names, both by the people who live there and by people in other countries. These names include the USA, the United States, the US, the States of America. The official name, the United States of America, first appears in the Declaration of Independence of 1776, when the country was called ‘the thirteen united States of America ‘. America is widely used as a name for the US, though this seems unfair on all the other nations in the Americas ( = the continents of North and South America). Songs like America and America the Beautiful are about the US Americans also use informal names like the US of A and Stateside, especially when they are out of the country. Other names, e.g. ‘the land of the free’, ‘the land of liberty’, ‘God’s country’, ‘the melting pot’ and ‘the greatest nation on earth’, show their pride in their country. British people sometimes refer humorously to America as ‘the other side of the pond’, i.e. the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

North America refers to a continent and region, and includes Canada and Mexico as well as the US. Between the US and South America is the region of Central America. Sometimes the countries of Central America. Sometimes the countries of Central and South America are together referred to as Latin America.

America and the Americas are said to have been named after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian explorer who sailed to South America in 1499, visiting the area that later became known as Brazil, and also the Bahamas. Vespucci believed that the land he had discovered was a new continent, not part of Asia as Columbus had thought. By 1538, the famous mapmaker Gerhardus Mercator was using the name ‘America’, the Latin form of Vespucci’s name, for the New World ( = North and South America, as opposed to Europe).

People from the US are called Americans, though British people may, rather rudely, call them ‘Yanks’. People from other countries in the Americas are called by national names derived from the name of their country, e.g. Canadians. The adjective used to describe things from the US is American. The US is always referred to in organizations such as the American Legion and in expressions like ‘the American dream’, US is also used as an adjective, as in the US Olympic team. Official names of government organizations may use the United States, e.g. the United States Military Academy.


1) What does “melting pot” refer to? What do you think are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each?


2) The United States of America is called by several different names. Name them:


3) Other names were given to show their pride in the country. Name them:


4) British people sometimes refer humorously to America as “the other side of the pond”. What does it means?


5) How do British people call Americans?


6) How do people from other countries in the America are called?


American English


There are about twice as many speakers of American English as of other varieties of English, and four times as many as speakers of British English. The leading position of the US in world affairs is partly responsible for this. Americanisms have also been spread through advertising, tourism, telecommunications and the cinema.

As a result, forms of English used in Britain , Australia, etc. have become less distinct. But there remain many differences in idiom and vocabulary, especially between British and American English. For most people, however, the most distinctive feature of American English is its accent.


The development of American English

British people who went to the US in the 17th century spoke a variety of dialects. After they reached the US their language developed independently of British English. New words were added for food, plants, animals, etc, not found in Britain. Many were taken from the Indian languages of Native Americans. The languages of Dutch and French settlers, and of the huge numbers of immigrants entering the US in the 19th and 20th centuries, also contributed to the development of American English. Inventions such as electric lighting, the typewriter, telephone and television added large numbers of words to the language and these, with the inventions, soon spread to Britain.


Spelling, grammar and pronunciation

In written English, spelling shows whether the writer is American or British. Americans use –or instead of –ourin words like color and flavor, and–erinstead of –rein words like center. Other variants include –x for –ct (connection) and –l for ll(traveler).British people consider such spellings to be wrong. American spellings which may be used in British English include using –z instead of –s in words like realize, and writing the past tense of some verbs with –ed instead of –t, e.g. learned, dreamed.

There are various differences in grammar and idiom. For instance, gotten, an old form of the past participle of get, is often used in American English in the sense of “received”, e.g. ‘I’ve gotten 16 Christmas cards so far.’ Americans say ‘He’s in the hospital’ while British people say ‘He’s in hospital’. The subjunctive is also common in American English, e.g. ‘They insisted that she remain behind.’

Several features of pronunciation contribute to the American accent. Any ‘r’ is usually pronounced, e.g. card /k rd/, dinner /’d /. A ‘t’ between vowels may be flapped ( = pronounced like a ‘d’), so that latter sounds like ladder. The vowel / / rather than / / is used in words like path, cot and caught are usually both pronounced /k /, and ‘o’ as in go (/ go /) is more rounded than in Britain.

Tune is pronounced / tu:n / not / tju:n/ . Stress patterns and syllable length are often also different, as in laboratory (/’l /, BrE /l /) and missile (/ /, BrE / /).

Americans tend to use very direct language, and polite forms which occur in British English, such as ‘Would you mind if I...’ or ‘I’m afraid that...’ sound formal and unnatural to them.


Regional differences


General American English (GAE) is the dialect that is closest to being a standart. It is especially common in the Midwest but is used in many parts of the US. The associated Midwestern accents is spoken across most of the northern states, and by many people elsewhere.

The main dialect groups are the Northern, the Coastal Southern, the Midland, from which GAE is derived, and the Western. The main differences between them are in accent, but some words are restricted to particular dialects because the item they refer to is not found elsewhere: grits, for example, is eaten mainly in the South and is considered to be a Southern word.

Northern dialects spread west from New York and Boston. New England has its own accent, though many people there have a Midwestern accent. The old, rich families of Boston speak with a distinctive Bostonian accent which is similar to Britain’s RP (received pronunciation).

Midland dialects developed after settlers moved west from Philadelphia. Both Midland and western dialects contain features from the Northern and Southern groups. There are increasing differences within the Western group, as southwestern dialects have been influenced by Mexican Spanish.

The Southern dialects are most distinctive. They contain old words no longer used in other American dialects, e.g. kinfolk for ‘relatives’ and hand for ‘farmworker’. French, Spanish and Native-American languages also contributed to Southern dialects. Since black slaves were taken mainly to the South and most African Americans still live there, Black English and Southern dialects have much in common. The accent is a southern drawl which even foreigners recognize. An ‘r” at the end of a word is often omitted, so that door is pronounced /do /, and diphthongs are replaced with simple vowels, so that hide is pronounced /h /. Some people use y’all as a plural form of ‘you’. This is more common in speech than in writing.

Southern dialects and accents are often thought by other Americans to be inferior. Black English and Cajun English may also be less acceptable. Both varieties are restricted to particular ethnic or social groups, and the attitude probably reflects more general feelings about those groups.


An official language?


For a long time English helped to unite immigrants who had come from many countries. Now, Hispanic immigrants, especially in south-western states, want to continue to use their

Own language, and many Americans are afraid that this will divide the country. The Hispanic population is growing and will reach 80 million by 2050.

This situation led to the founding of the English Only Movement, which wants to make English the official language of the US. Supporters believe that this will help keep states and people together, and that money spent on printing forms, etc. , in both English and Spanish would be better spent on teaching the immigrants English. Others think that na official language is unnecessary. They argue that children of immigrants, and their children will want to speak English anyway, and that a common language does not always lead to social harmony.


Black English


The forms of English spoken by black and White Americans have always been different. At one time, the speech of white Americans was believed to be correct, and that of African Americans to be wrong. More recently, the way African Americans speak has been treated with more respect. Black English is considered to be a dialect. It is called Black English Vernacular (BEV) or African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). The study of Black English has been called ebonics. Not all African Americans speak BEV, and some only speak it when talking to other African Americans. There are variations within Black English, and some forms overlap with regional dialects of American English.

Black English developed at the time when black people were brought as slaves to the US. They came from different parts of Africa and spoke different languages, so they used pidgin, a method of communication based on their own languages and English, in order to talk to each other. Over time, this developed into a Creole (= a language that has developed from a European and an African language). Black English developed further as a result of contact with other American English dialects, but since African Americans have traditionally led very separate lives from white Americans, differences in language have remained.

There are many differences between BEV and standard English in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. Black English contains many words from West Africa, e.g. yam for ‘sweet potato’ and tote for ‘carry’ There are a lot of slang expressions: for instance, the word bad may be used to mean its opposite, ‘good’, and cool and hot both mean ‘excellent’. Differences of grammar include sometimes leaving out the verb ‘to be’, and the use of several negatives in one sentence. Inflected endings for plural and possessive forms are often omitted. The ‘l’ is let out of words like help and self which are pronounced /hep/ and /sef/. Consonant groups may be reduced, e.g. desk is said as /des/ and test as /tes/. A final or middle ‘r’ is not pronounced. Words like this and that are pronounced with a /d/ instead of / /. Sound, as /dis/ and /d t/ . Words with two syllables usually have heavy stress on the first syllable.

BEV has influenced the language of white Americans, and has much in common with the way white people from the South speak. Homies, a word first used by African Americans to refer to people from their own village or in Africa., is now used as an informal word for ‘friends’ by some white Americans. Features of pronunciation are also shared by African Americans and southern white Americans.

Special features of Black English are the dozens (=verbal insults towards an opponent’s mother), sounding (=having verbal contests) , shucking and jiving (deceiving white people) and rapping (=language used for seduction and in the words of songs). These are based on traditions brought from Africa and influenced by the Bible. There has been much debate in the US about the use of BEV in schools. Some people believe that BEV is not as good as other forms of English, and should not be used in schools.


a) What speech is considered to be a dialect?

b) How is the study of Black English called?

c) When was Black English developed?

d) What’s the meaning of pidgin?

e) Explain the term creole:

f) What are the differences between BEV and standard English?

g) What’s the meaning of “homies”?





Britain and the US

The relationship between Britain and the US has always been a close one. Like all close relationships it has had difficult times. The US was first a British colony, but between 1775 and 1783 the US fought a war to become independent. The US fought the British again in the War of 1812.

In general, however, the two countries have felt closer to each other than to any other country, and their foreign policies have shown this. During World War I and World War II, and more recently in the Falklands War and the Gulf War, Britain and the US supported each other. When the US looks for foreign support, Britain is usually the first country to come forward and it is sometimes called ‘the 51st state of the union.

But the special relationship that developed after 1945 is not explained only by shared political interests. An important reason for the friendship is that the people of the two countries are very similar. They share the same language and enjoy each other’s literature, films and television. Many Americans have British ancestors, or relatives still living in Britain. The US government and political system is based on Britain’s, and there are many Anglo-American businesses operating on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain some people are worried about the extent of US influence, and there is some jealousy of its current power.

The special relationship was strongest in the early 1980s when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister in Britain and Ronald Reagan was President of the US. Now, Britain is part of the European Union and the US belongs to the trade association NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), and some people wonder if these new relationships will replace the old one.



1) Write about the relationship between Britain and the USA:







An immigrant is somebody who goes to settle permanently in a different country.

The US – a nation of immigrants

Apart from Native Americans who were living in North America when people first arrived there from Europe, all Americans have ancestors who were immigrants. In the US the word immigrant is often used that their ancestors were immigrants who came with very little and built a better life for themselves.

The English went to North America from the late 16th century; Spain sent people to the southern part of the region, and many Dutch and Germans also went over. When the US became independent, it was written into the Constitution that there could be no limits on immigration until 1808.

The main period of immigration was between 1800 and 1917. Early in this period, many more immigrants arrived from Britain and Germany, and many Chinese went to California to California. Later, the main groups were Italians, Irish, Eastern, Europeans and Scandinavians. Many Jews went from Germany and west Europe. Just before World War I, there were nearly a million immigrants a year.

Most Americans have a clear idea of what life was like for the immigrants: they left home because they were poor and thought they would have better opportunities in the US. Most traveled in steerage (= the cheapest, least comfortable part of a ship). Because it was crowded, diseases spread quickly, so many arrived weak or ill. Many came to New York and Boston, and Ellis Island near New York became famous as a receiving station. There they were asked question and examined by a doctor before being allowed to enter the US. Once in the US, life was not easy. Many had to work in sweatshops (= factories where conditions were hard and dangerous) for little money and lived in tenements, crowded buildings where an entire family in one room. But slowly they improved their lives and many wrote home to encourage others to come.

The immigrants Act of 1917, and other laws that followed it, limited the number of immigrants who could settle in the US and the countries that they could come from. Since then, immigration has been limited to a few people who are selected for an immigrant visa, commonly called a green card Hispanics and Asians now made up the largest groups of immigrants. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is responsible for issuing visas. It also tries to prevent people crossing the borders and entering the US illegally.

Americans are not very consistent in their attitudes towards immigration. They are proud of their own ancestors who were immigrants, but want to keep other people out. There is a fear that people from other cultures may change America in ways that Americans do not want. The US has been liked to a melting pot in which people from many cultures are melted (=mixed) together. But Americans continue to be proud of their ethnic backgrounds, and from the 1960s the melting pot image was partly replaced by pluralism, the idea that a variety of values, traditions and languages was good and a multicultural society made the US stronger.


1. What’s the meaning of immigrant?

2. When was the main period of immigration?

3. Why immigrants left home and went to the US?

4. What did the Immigration Act of 1917 do?

5. What’s the meaning of INS?

6. With what Americans had fear?






The Civil War

The American Civil War was fought between the northern and southern states from 1861 to 1865. There were two main causes of the war. The first was the issue of slavery: should Africans who had been brought by force to the US be used as slaves. The second was the issue of states’ rights: should the US federal government be more powerful than the governments of individual states.

The North and South were very different in character. The economy of the South was based on agriculture, especially cotton. Picking cotton was hard work, and the South depend on slaves for this. The North was more industrial, with a large population and greater wealth. Slavery, and opposition to it, had existed since before independence (1776) but, in the 19th century, the abolitionists, people who wanted to make slavery illegal, gradually increased in number. The South’s attitude was that each state had the right to make any law it wanted, and if southern states wanted slavery, the US government could not prevent it. Many southerners became secessionists, believing that southern states should secede from the Union (= become independent from the US).

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President. He and his party , the Republicans, were against slavery, but said that they would not end it. The southern states did not believe this, and began to leave the Union. In 1860 there were 34 states in the US. Eleven of them (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina)) left the Union and formed the Confederate States of America often called the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis became its President , and for most of the war Richmond, Virginia, was the capital.


Four years of fighting


The US government did not want a war but, on 12 April 1861, the Confederate Army attacked Fort Sumter, which was in the Confederate state of South Carolina but still occupied by the Union army. President Lincoln could not ignore the attack and so the Civil War began.

Over the next four years the Union army tried to take control of the South. The battles that followed, Shiloh, Antietam, Bull Run and Chicamauga, have become part of America’s national memory. After the battle of Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln said that the North was fighting the war to keep the Union together so that’... government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth’. In the same year he issued the ‘Emancipation Proclamation which made slavery illegal, but only in the Confederacy.

Slaves and former slaves played an important part in the war. Some gave information to Union soldiers, because they knew that their best chance of freedom was for the North to win the war. Many former slaves wanted to become Union soldiers, but this was not very popular among white northerners. In spite of this opposition about 185 000 former slaves served in the Union army.

Women on both sides worked as spies, taking information, and sometimes even people, across borders by hiding them under large skirts.

In the South especially, people suffered greatly and had little to eat.. On 9 April 1865, when the South could fight no more, General Robert E Le surrendered to General Ulysses S Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. A total of 620 000 people had been killed and many more wounded.

The war was over but feelings of hostility against the North remained strong. John Wilkes Booth, an actor who supported the South, decided to kill President Lincoln. On 14 April 1865 he approached the President in Ford’s Theatre in Washington and shot him. Lincoln

died the next morning.

The killing of President Lincoln showed how bitter many people felt. The South had been beaten, but its people had not changed their opinions about slavery or about states’ rights. During the war, the differences between North and South had become richer. In the South, cities had been destroyed and the economy ruined.




After the war the South became part of the United States again. This long, difficult period was called Reconstruction. The issues that had caused the war, slavery and states’ rights, still had to be dealt with. The issue of slavery was difficult, because many people even in the North had prejudices against Blacks. The new state governments in the South wanted to make laws limiting the rights of Blacks, and the US government tried to stop them. Between 1865 and 1870 the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were passed giving Blacks freedom, making them citizens of the US and the state were they lived , and giving them, in theory, the same rights as white Americans.

Many northern politicians went to the South where they thought they could get power easily. These northerners were called carpet-baggers. Both carpet-baggers and southern politicians were dishonest and stole money from the new governments, which hurt the South even more.

In 1870 the last three southern states were admitted to the Union again, and in 1877 the northern army finally left the South. The war lasted four years, but efforts to reunite the country took three time as long.


Effects of the Civil War


Differences between North and South are still strong in the South the Confederate flag is still often used, and the state flags of Georgia and Mississipi were made to look similar to it. The state motto is Audemus jura nostra defendere, which is Latin for ‘We dare to defend our rights’. The Civil War helped to end slavery, but long afterwards Blacks were still being treated badly, and race relations continue to be a problem. The South was so angry with the Republicans, the party of Lincoln and Reconstruction, that southerners voted Democratic for a century. The war showed strong differences between parts of the US, but many people believe that the most important thing it did was to prove that the US is one country.




a) What are the two main causes of the Civil War?

b) How is called the people who wanted to make slavery illegal?

c) Who was elected President in 1860? What was his party?

d) When did the first war begin?

e) What did the War show?





The English language


The roots of English


English began as a west Germanic language which was brought to England by the Saxons around 400AD. Old English was the spoken and written language of England between 400 and 1100 AD. Many words used today come from Old English, including man, woman, king, mother, give and wash, as do many slang expressions and swear words. But Old English was very different from modern English and only a few words can be easily recognized in the 9th and 10th centuries, when Vikings invaded England, Old Norse words e.g. sky, take and get and many place names, entered the language.

From the Norman Conquest (1066) until the late 12th century English was replaced as the official language by Norman French, though English was still used by the lower classes. English from about 1300 to 15oo is known as Middle English. It was influenced by French and also Latin in vocabulary and pronunciation. French brought many words connected with government, e.g. sovereign, royal, court, legal, and government itself. Latin was the language of religion and learning and gave to English words such as minister, angel, master, school and grammar. Literature began again to be written in English. One of the most famous Middle English works is Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.


The development of Modern English


Modern English developed from the Middle English dialect of the East Midlands and was influenced by the English used in London, where a printing press was set up by William Caxton in 1476. English changed a great deal from this time until the end of the 18th century. During the Renaissance, many words were introduced from Greek and Latin to express new ideas, especially in science, medicine and philosophy. They included physics, species, architecture, encyclopedia and hypothesis. In the 16th century several versions of the Bible helped bring written English to ordinary people. The Elizabethan period is also famous for its drama, and the plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare were seen by many people.

The development of printing helped establish standards of spelling and grammar, but there remained a lot of variation. Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), was the first authoritative treatment of English. It defined about 40 000 words and gave examples of their use. Soon afterwards, people tried to establish grammatical rules, like the use of me, not I, after a preposition, and that different should be followed by from, not to or than. The idea of having an English academy to protect agreed standards has been suggested several times, including most recently in the 1990s, but has never found enough support.

By the 18th century American English was well-established and developing independently from British English. After colonists arrived in the US new words began to be added from Native-American languages, and from French and Spanish. In 1783, soon after Johnson’s dictionary was published, Noah Webster’s The Elementary Spelling Book was published in the US. At first it used Johnson’s spellings, but later editions contained many of what have come to be known as American spellings, e.g. harbor and favorite . In 1806 Webster’s A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language contained more spelling changes and became the basis of an American standard.

Americans believed that having their own language was part of their national identity, and Webster’s dictionary reinforced the independent status of American English. In the 19th century , more words were added from the languages of the many immigrants to the US. Black English also greatly extended the language.

The development of standard forms of English in both Britain and the US led to suggestions that other dialects were inferior. In Britain especially, use of dialect forms was thought to indicate a lack of education and lower social status.


20th century English


During the 19th and early 20th centuries many dictionaries and books about language were published including , in Britain , the Oxford English Dictionary, which was begun in 1858. In 1926 Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage presented a traditional view of grammar but rejected the more extreme rules, and was held in great respect for a long time. The development of radio promoted standard English and Received Pronunciation (RP), which became known as *BBC English . Many older British people still consider this to be ‘correct’ English, and complain about falling standards in schools and the media.

At the end of the 20th century English tends to be much less formal. Few British people know much about grammar, since it is not usually taught in schools, but a person who cannot speak and write grammatically is likely to be at a disadvantage. An RP accent is now associated mainly with the upper classes, and many younger educated people have a modified regional accent.

In the US, General American English spoken with a Midwestern accent is the standard. In the past English helped to unite immigrants from many countries, but now some people are worried that recent Hispanic immigrants are continuing to use Spanish. There have been attempts to prevent this by making English the official language. In the 1980s the political correctness movement had a lasting influence on American English by trying to get rid of words with negative associations, e.g. those describing disabled people, and to replace them with positive-sounding expressions.

New words are still being added to English from others, including Italian (tiramisu), Chinese (feng shui) and Japanese (karaoke). Existing words gain new senses, and many slang terms become part of the standard language. New expressions spread quickly through television and the Internet .

English is now an international language and is used as a means of communication between people from many countries. As a result the influences on the English language are wider than ever and if it is possible that *World English will move away from using a British or American standard and establish its own international identity.


BBC English = a form of English pronunciation that was traditionally associated with that used by BBC news readers.


World English = English is the most widely spoken language in the world.


1) Make a paragraph talking about the importance of the English language:


Date: 2015-12-18; view: 881

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