Americanization (linguistics)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Americanization
One of four McDonald's restaurants in the Olympic Park in London, England. (At the conclusion of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, the restaurant was dismantled.). (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Definition

In linguistics, Americanization is the influence of the distinctive lexical and grammatical forms of American English on other varieties of the English language. Also called linguistic Americanization.

As Leech and Smith* observe below, "If the term 'Americanization' is taken to imply direct influence of AmE on BrE, it should be treated with caution" (2009).

See Examples and Observations below.

Also see:

 

Examples and Observations

  • "Globalization in the current era is associated, for better or for worse, with Americanization. This is particularly true of its cultural dimension. For it is the United States, as the world's 'hyper-power,' that has the economic, military, and political power to projects its culture and values globally. Yet, as many commentators have noted, Americans appear parochial and unworldly, hardly the cosmopolitan sophisticates needed to proffer a truly global vision.

    "The ambiguity of the United States representing globality is perhaps no more apparent than in the projection of its language globally. On the one hand, Americans are particularly notorious for their linguistic insularity, rarely exhibiting the foreign language proficiency so common elsewhere in the world. Yet, as well known, the American language, English, is a global import, inherited from an earlier global power, England. Hence American ownership of global English is more tenuous than its ownership of other global cultural icons, such as McDonald's or Disney."
    (Selma K. Sonntag, The Local Politics of Global English: Case Studies in Linguistic Globalization. Lexington Books, 2003)

     
  • Grammatical and Lexical Changes
    "The evidence provided by the Brown family of corpora--especially the comparison between the British corpora (1961, 1991) and the American corpora (1961, 1992)--often shows AmE to be in the lead or to show a more extreme tendency, and BrE to be following in its wake. Thus, must, in our data, has declined more in AmE than in BrE, and has become much rarer than have to and (have) got to in AmE conversational speech. Users of British English are familiar with lexical changes due to American influence, such as increasing use of movie(s) and guy(s), but grammatical changes from the same source are less noticeable. . . . [A] finding that AmE is ahead of BrE in a given frequency change does not necessarily imply direct transatlantic influence--it could simply be an ongoing change in both varieties where AmE is more advanced. If the term 'Americanization' is taken to imply direct influence of AmE on BrE, it should be treated with caution."
    (*Geoffrey Leech and Nicholas Smith, "Change and Constancy in Linguistic Change: How Grammatical Usage in Written English Evolved in the Period 1931-1991." Corpus Linguistics: Refinements and Reassessments, ed. by Antoinette Renouf and Andrew Kehoe. Rodopi, 2009)

     
  • Be going to
    "[B]e going to was more than twice as frequent in the American corpus as in the Australian or British corpora, suggesting that 'Americanization' may be a factor in its growing popularity. That 'colloquialization' may be another relevant factor is suggested by the finding that be going to is greatly preferred in speech over writing (by a ratio of 9.9:1), further confirmation for the applicability of this suggestion to AmE and BrE being provided by Leech's (2003) finding that between 1961 and 1991/2 be going to enjoyed a strong increase in popularity in American writing (51.6%) and in British writing (18.5%)."
    (Peter Collins, "The English Modals and Semi-Modals: Regional and Stylistic Variation." The Dynamics of Linguistic Variation: Corpus Evidence on English Past and Present, ed. by Terttu Nevalainen. John Benjamins, 2008)

     
  • The Americanization of Europe
    "Because of the advent of linguistic Americanization, . . . one can no longer claim that Europe's lingua franca is unequivocally a British commodity. English is emerging in Europe, not only as a universal language, but also as a potential norm-generating variety. . . .

    "Basically, what we have is a traditional basis for ELT [English Language Teaching], one centered in BrE, on the teacher as model, on British and American social studies, and on the goal of mimicking the idealized native speaker, evolving into a platform for ELT which constitutes a radical departure from such beliefs and practices. Instead, linguistic Americanization, the mixing of BrE and AmE which suggests a kind of mid-Atlantic accent and a rich blend of lexical usage, the idea of a variety of 'Euro-English,' the use of postcolonial texts in cultural studies modules, and the desire to develop cross-cultural communicative skills, is on the upswing, while BrE, prescriptivism, and traditionalist positioning are declining."
    (Marko Modiano, "EIL, Native-Speakerism and the Failure of European ELT." English as an International Language: Perspectives and Pedagogical Issues, ed. by Farzad Sharifian. Multilingual Matters, 2009)

     
  • Yiddish and American English: A Two-Way Process
    "Throughout Yekl [1896] and his early stories, [Abraham] Cahan translates the Yiddish of characters into 'correct' (albeit ornate) English while leaving incorporated English words in their misspelled, italicized forms: feller ('fellow'), for example, or preticly (perhaps 'particular'). Speech thus represents the cultural intermixture arising from contact between the immigrant and American society, an intermixture captured in remarkably hybrid sentences--'Don't you always say you like to dansh with me becush I am a good dansher?' (Yekl, 41)--and even in individual words like oyshgreen: 'A verb coined from the Yiddish oys, out, and the English green, and signifying to cease being green' (95n).

    "This narrative technique also represents a reversal of perspective, whereby English becomes the contaminating element within another language. The Americanization of Yiddish is given from a Yiddish perspective. English words are thrown back--rulesh ('rules'), deshepoitn ('disappoint'), saresfied ('satisfied')--transformed and defamiliarized by their inclusion in another linguistic system. Just as Yiddish becomes Americanized in Yekl, American English becomes Yiddishized: transformative linguistic contact is shown as a two-way process."
    (Gavin Roger Jones, Strange Talk: The Politics of Dialect Literature in Gilded Age America. University of California Press, 1999)

    Alternate Spellings: Americanisation