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Varieties of English

English is a worldwide language. Between 1.5 billion and 2 billion people across the planet speak English. Between 375,000 and 400,000 people are native English speakers. In view of these statistics, many consider the English language to be a world language. Since the English language has become so widespread, it is no surprise that different varieties of English have arisen.


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There are many varieties of English spoken in the world. The oldest variety of English is British English, spoken in the United Kingdom. Approximately 60 million people are native British English speakers. The variety of English with the largest number of native speakers is American English, with 225 million native speakers. The other major varieties of English are Canadian English, Australian English, New Zealand English, South African English and Indian English. Some linguists also recognize another classification of a variety of English known as World English. All varieties of English share the same basic tenets of the language, but certain words, phrases or linguistic constructs may differ. For instance, in British English, one says I’m going to hospital. In American English one says I’m going to the hospital. In British English one may say he is going to the cinema, in American English one says he is going to the movies, and in South African English, the phrase is going to the bioscope.
Varieties of English may be further divided into dialects such as Anglo-Cornish or Welsh English in Great Britain, Gallah or Gulf Southern in the United States and Bengali English and Southern Indian English in India. Whatever the variety or dialect, English speakers the world over may communicate with each other, with only occasional gaps in understanding.

Comments

  1. Would love to see a “cheque vs. check” here. Thanks!

  2. Argument or arguement?

  3. I would like to see Mom vs. mum.

    Mom, being the American shortened version of “mother”. Mum is commonly used in Great Britain, however, Mom is sometimes used in the West Midlands region of England.

  4. Would love to see “Hospital”… the difference in usage between US and UK Englishes.
    Additionally, the above list can be grouped such as -our/-or, -re/-er (a dedicated page already exists for this), æ and œ simplification/reduction (-ae-/-e- and -oe-/-e-). In the hyphen/no-hyphen group, other than co-operate/cooperate, one can have to-day/today, to-morrow/tomorrow, etc.

    • Grammarist says:

      Great suggestions. We’re working on some new organizational schemes that we think people are going to find useful, and breaking up pages like this one will definitely be part of it.

  5. Ruth Sanchez says:

    These days I feel like I went through a lot of work trying to learn English correctly and now….it doesn’t matter how I write it, it’s accepted. Hahahaha. This is VERY interesting but confusing at the same time…English from other countries was not so noticeable in writing when I learrned it, but now that it is…I guess, I have a big challenge….to learn other ways of English hahaha.It all started when I saw the word defence on TV and argued that it had been mispelled and I could not believe it was on TV.:)

  6. Defense vs defence?

    • Gordon Barlow says:

      Of course we all feel more comfortable with the spellings we were brought up to use. The only time I – educated in Australia in the 1940s & ’50s – voluntarily write “defense” is in the context of American Football, where “defense” is actually a legitimate VERB. “The cornerback defensed that pass perfectly” makes more sense than “defended”, in the context. As the Americans say, go figure!

  7. Will Harmon says:

    How about all the variants of chili, chile, chilli….

  8. South Africa – Persue or Pursue ?

  9. leebossa says:

    summarise or summarize (BR)?

  10. Sue Sutherland says:

    One of my pet hates – Australians using the American ‘jail’ instead of ‘gaol’. Ruth, I feel exactly the same as you! I’m currently doing a masters in Linguistics, and I posted that my grandson’s teacher had used ‘your’ on a note to my daughter, instead of ‘you’re’. The lecturer’s comment was, well, the more people who use the incorrect spelling, the more it will become acceptable usage! To me, that’s just ignorance of basic grammar.
    In Australia, college and university are different entities – do the words mean the same thing in some places?

    • In America, college and university, among the general population, have been accepted to mean the same institutions. Among actual university graduates, however, a finer distinction is made.

      I’d guess that less than a quarter of the general American population understand that a college is typically a two-year-degree granting school, whereas a university is a four-year-degree school, often granting masters and doctorates, as well.

      When a person leaves home to go away to school, she or he is usually said to be “in college”, even if it’s a university. You could probably drill down and someone would say that most universities are composed of colleges, but I think it’s just an accepted convention.

      We’re Americans. We’re linguistically lazy. Eventually, we’ll just point and say “thing”. :)

      • Gregory Chandler says:

        Good thought. However, what about schools that do not use the terms “college” or “university.” Is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a university because it grants four-year degrees? What about a school that grants both two-year and four-year degrees? Gregory Chandler

  11. Arbutus vs. Madrona

  12. Grammar/grammer. Is the latter an actual accepted spelling outside of the U.S.?

    • Velvet Android says:

      I hope not — it certainly isn’t here in Britain. One easy way of checking is to try typing “grammer” into a Google search box, and you’ll find that all the search terms that auto-complete for you will say “grammar”.

      • Googling “grammer” is what brought me here. That spelling showed in the results and I clicked it. I was told that it is correct in Australia, but I have not found it anywhere.

  13. Here’s an old chestnut. If your readers are predominantly in America, is it better to use U.S. spelling? The default spell checker has discombobulated me. (I’m in Australia)

  14. Kate Peteet says:

    What about the different pronunciations of “soot” and where you’re most likely to hear each pronunciation?

  15. AssassinLV says:

    “neither” & “nor” are also a good idea, cause quite usually to enrich my English I am using the old “nor” word, instead of using only “neither” (e.g. “I can’t do it nor do you can” (I can’t do it neither do you.))

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