If you are learning English, it is useful to know what kind of English to focus on. After all, we speak differently than people in the United Kingdom. This lesson focuses on Standard American English, the most popular English in the U.S.
What Is Standard American English?
More than 300 million people around the world speak Standard American English, but what is it exactly? Like many major languages, English is spoken in a number of different countries, each with its own distinct culture and dialect. In the United States, Standard American English is the dominant dialect, just as British English is the most popular in the United Kingdom. However, what is it exactly?
In short, Standard American English is a version of English that should be easily understood by just about anyone in the country. Turn on the TV, and unless they are focusing on a specific accent, chances are they are speaking in Standard American English. Want a better example? Find some clips from local news channels around the country - with a few exceptions, they all sound the same.
Still, despite being so standardized, Standard American English has changed greatly over the past decades, and it continues to change. In this lesson, we will look at how and why it changes, as well as gain an understanding for how learning Standard American English is a life-long process.
Almost 30 years ago, the way one could describe something particularly pleasing was 'radical.' 10 years ago, the appropriate term would have been 'tight.' Today, 'radical' describes political beliefs, and 'tight' refers to a lack of looseness. However, these were not particularly specific instances of slang, but instead they worked their way into the language. New words and expressions are constantly finding new homes in Standard American English.
Not all of these words have their origin in English. Today, to be 'gung ho' about something means that one is willing to work hard to get a result. A hundred years ago, no one had ever heard the word. That's because it comes from Cantonese and means 'let's work together.' American servicemen in the China Sea heard the expression and made it part of American English.
To that end, other languages have a massive influence on Standard American English. This is most obvious in food. 15 years ago, people would have never said the word 'schwarma.' Today it's a common sandwich choice in major cities, especially those with a strong connection to the Middle East. In fact, it's such a new word that we can't even agree on how to spell it in English!
How It Changes
Words that often describe specific concrete ideas, especially food, have the easiest time sneaking into the language. Of course, this is nothing new for English. The language itself is a result of French, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon, related to German, mixing together almost a thousand years ago. Still, we can read pretty formal texts from hundreds of years ago because the written language has changed relatively little.
The spoken language is a different story. Watch movies from the 1930s and 1940s. Then compare those films to more recent productions with similar plots. While the stories may be very similar, the language used changes greatly.
Constantly Evolving Language
If you were wondering when this madness of an ever-changing language ends, I'm sorry to say it doesn't. Languages tend to change over time, even if only a few people are using them. Latin, a language last spoken by large populations more than 1500 years ago, has undergone significant changes during that period. Sure, you don't have to stay up to date on the latest slang, but the words used to describe even the most basic aspects of life are still changing.
However, the great part is that by speaking Standard American English you are part of that change. Anything that you introduce to the conversation, from a new word for 'cool' to a better spelling for schwarma, has the potential to become part of a dialogue that has been going on for centuries.
In this lesson we look at the changing face of Standard American English. We learn that Standard American English is the standard version of English in the United States and that a great place to see it in action is on newscasts. Still, we see how Standard American English has changed over decades, from using words like 'radical' to today's latest celebrity slang, but also in more mainstream phrases like 'gung ho'. Finally, we see that this process is unending, and that by speaking Standard American English, we are ourselves part of the evolution of this language.