In the early part of the seventeenth century, English settlers began to bring their language to America, and a series of changes began to take place. The settlers borrowed words from Indian languages such as for strange trees like the hickory and persimmon, unfamiliar animals such as raccoons and woodchucks. Later on, they borrowed other words from settlers in other countries – for instance, chowder and prairie from the French, scow and sleigh from the Dutch. They made new combinations of English words, such as backwoods and bullfrog, or gave old English words entirely new meanings, such as lumber (which in British English means more or less junk) and corn (which in British means any grain, mainly wheat). These new terms were needed, because there were new discoveries for English people to talk about. Other terms can be explained only by the general theory that languages are always changing, and American English is no exception.
Aside from the new vocabulary, differences in pronunciation, in grammatical construction, and especially, in intonation also developed. If the colonization had taken place a few centuries earlier, American might have become as different from English as French is from Italian. But the settlement occurred after the invention of printing, and continued through a period when the idea of education was making rapid progress. For a long time most of the books read in America came from England, and a surprising number of Americans read those books, in or out of school. Moreover, most of the colonists seem to have felt strong ties with England. In this way they were unlike their Anglo-Saxon ancestors, who apparently made a clean break with their continental homes.
A good many Englishmen and some Americans used to condemn every difference that did develop, and as recently as a generation ago it was not unusual to hear all “Americanisms” condemned, even in America. It is now generally recognized in this country that we are not bound to the Queen’s English, but have a full right to work out our own habits. Even a good many of the English now concede this, though some of them object strongly to the fact that Americanisms are now having an influence on British usage.
There are thousands of differences in detail between British and American English, and occasionally they crowd together enough to cause confusion. If you read that a man, having trouble with his lorry, got out his spanner and lifted the bonnet to see what was the matter, you might not realize that the driver of the truck had taken out his wrench and lifted the hood. It is amusing to play with such differences, but the theory that the American language is now essentially different from English does not hold up. It is often very difficult to decide whether a book was written by an American or an English man. Even in speech it would be hard to prove that national differences are greater than some local differences in either country. On the whole, it now seems probable that the language habits of the two countries will grow more, rather than less, alike, although some differences will undoubtedly remain and others may develop.
It also seems probable that there will be narrow-minded and snobbish people in both countries for some time to come. But generally speaking, anybody who learns to speak and write the standard English of his own country, and to regard that of the other country as a legitimate variety with certain interesting differences, will have little trouble wherever he goes.