I'm mostly wondering about vocabulary (e.g. truck vs. lorry; apartment vs. flat) but I suppose I'd be interested to learn about pronunciation too. Intuitively I feel like this could go either way. On the one hand, all languages drift and given enough time, this drift should draw the two further apart simply by chance.

On the other hand, mass media and internet give us more opportunities to communicate with each other than ever before, and pick up pieces of each other's vocabulary. For instance, the Northern Californian "hella" appears in British English, despite having only arrisen in the past 20 years. The British "fish and chips" appear in American English despite having only arisen in the past 150 years.

So are these two dialects more or less alike than they were 10 years ago? What about 30 years ago? 100 years?

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I could find no studies looking at the closeness of British and American dialects of English. But I would say that the question is formulated too nebulously to make it possible to answer easily.

There are studies that show dialect leveling (or reduction in regional variation) within British and American English. But this is always illustrated on specific features and harder to specify in aggregate.

Also, while there seems to be less dialectal variety within broader 'English' regional varieties, this has been ascribed to geographic mobility and not necessarily to media influences. While there are fewer Northern or Southern Englishes, there are still huge differences between the varieties that remain.

I don't think this at all translates into leveling between British and American English. There is virtually no regional mobility (to have an impact) and the influence of global media is incredibly shallow - just observe the struggles of transplants in either direction. If media had the sort of influence everyone imagines, you would expect a lot more of merging. There are a lot of examples of mutual impact but none of them systemic.

I would propose that both American and British English have been and still are developing more or less independently and will continue to diverge over time. I would suggest that literacy and media provide more of an internal cohesion for each variety than a vehicle for mutual comprehension or a future merging.


I've read [in one of David Crystal's books, I think] that a politically-unbiased alien classifying human languages would call Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan dialects of one language, but would say that what's called Arabic would have to be split, so different is it from West to East. With that perspective, I'd say that the American and British English are very close. Grammar? Differences are really trivial. Spelling? Trivial again, although [amusingly] it seems to annoy some 'Little Englanders'. Pronunciation? More difference within the British Isles than between standard British and American. Vocabulary is interesting: even recent inventions often get different names, e.g. cell-phone v. mobile, GPS v. SatNav

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