Have you ever gotten angry at someone for calling a ‘film’ a ‘movie’? Or a ‘biscuit’ a ‘cookie’? Many British people these days are quietly bemoaning the slow death of ‘proper’ English words at the hands of their crass American equivalents. In our day-to-day dealings with language and the provision of translation services, it is something we are particularly aware of.
But if you’re heralding the death of ‘The Queen’s English’, then I’m afraid you’re about to be disappointed – because far from destroying our ‘British’ words, American words are making our language more vibrant and dynamic than ever.
Would you like fries with that?
The thing with American words is, by and large, they’re not actually replacing English ones at all. After all, we still use words like ‘chips’, ‘biscuit’, and ‘film’ all the time. ‘Fries’, ‘cookies’ and ‘movies’ are used as well, but you’ll often find that they have slightly different semantics in modern British than their original equivalents.
As The Economist explains, a ‘movie’ is used to describe big American-style Hollywood films, whereas ‘film’ is more of a small-scale, maybe independent film. The ‘chips’ that you have in a good old British ‘fish and chips’ shop are very different from the ‘fries’ you get in an American-style fast food restaurant.
American words that have exact British equivalents, such as ‘sidewalk’ for ‘pavement’ or ‘fall’ for ‘autumn’ tend not to make their way over here, since we already have perfectly good words to describe these concepts.
English is not becoming erased by its American counterparts; it’s becoming embellished, by words with newer, more precise definitions. When you’re designing a slogan or writing a customer service document, you identify the right words to use naturally. All the new Americanisms are doing is offering you a wider choice of terms to use if – and only if – they help you get your point across.
Why do we get so worked up about it anyway?
The thing with the English language is it’s a complete hybrid; there’s no real, pure English language that could be destroyed by American words even if that was happening. English might have arrived on our shores as a fairly untempered Germanic tongue, but it’s since been influenced by the ancestors of languages as diverse as Welsh, Danish, French, Greek and Spanish, and a whole bunch of Latin vocabulary has been imported as well.
Was there ever such a thing as real English anyway? Take a look at the Old English text from Beowulf and you start to see the extent of the continuous linguistic evolution that has and is taking place.
Do you think anybody was getting precious about ‘linguistic heritage’, when 19th Century educated aristocrats and grammarians were liberally sprinkling the language with Latin and Greek words? The mock-outrage about Americanisms and the foretelling of a linguistic apocalypse could well have more to do with our snobbery about all things American than about the words themselves.
What does this have to do with language translation services?
Good point. If there’s any point to this particular example of outrageously pompous prescriptivism, it’s that the words we use on a daily basis are more complex than we give them credit for. The fact is, we know quite well when to refer to ‘fries’ and when to refer to ‘chips’, but we don’t stop to think about it. We just know.
As native English speakers we are constantly using our subconscious understanding of English to choose words that have the greatest impact – be it in conversation, a marketing brochure, advertising campaign or a page on a website. If you’re looking to expand your business overseas, you need to be able to do this in multiple languages that don’t come naturally to you and your marketing team.
Luckily, language translation services are on offer from Bubbles to help navigate these complex and unwieldy linguistic paths. Isn’t that just totally awesome?