When we talk about the English language, we’re usually referring to one of two forms of English. Quite often, this is British English. After all, the English language evolved in England! However, at other times we may be referring to American English, quite simply because the United States has the largest population of native English speakers in the world. But we often hear ‘what about us?’; a call from English speaking countries, or countries where English is an official language, that are largely forgotten about when discussing the development, growth, or evolution of English. While overlooked, these countries have some pretty interesting stories to tell about their own versions of the language…
Australian English is perhaps one of the most varied versions of the language. Not only are there definite Aboriginal influences (‘dingo’, for example, taken from the aboriginal word ‘tingo’, meaning ‘camp dog’), but due to Australia’s history receiving convict ships from the United Kingdom, we can also see aspects of Irish, Scottish, and Welsh. When compared to other versions, spellings are typically very close to British English (‘colour’), and yet vocabulary more closely resembles American English (‘zucchini’).
It is perhaps not surprising to learn that New Zealand English is very similar to Australian English. The language was formed from the Australian version, so again is very heavily influenced by Irish, Scottish, and Welsh, but there’s also an unmistakable Maori aspect, too. Most notably, many natural and cultural terms have been borrowed from the Maori language, and it is reported that incorporation of Maori terms has been increasing thanks to recent revival efforts, particularly across the North Island.
Canadian English has two primary influences. The first, of course, is American English. Proximity has meant that the two countries have long shared a very close relationship. The second is British English. After all, Britain and Canada are both part of the British Commonwealth. Phonetically, Canadian English is very close to American English, although we do see differences in spelling, with words such as ‘colour’ and ‘theatre’. Vocabulary can also be a little on the British side, with ‘pop’ instead of ‘soda’ for example.
Officially known as Hiberno-English, Irish English is very, very closely related to British English, displacing Irish as the dominant language. One of the most fascinating distinctions between British English and Irish English, however, is that Hiberno-English incorporates many archaic terms, largely from Old or Middle English. It’s not unusual, for example, to hear ‘press’ instead of ‘cupboard’ in Ireland. Additionally, the accent, local dialects, and colloquialisms help to make this version quite unique.
As a former British colony, we can expect Jamaican English to be similar to British English, right? Well, it’s not quite as closely related as you may think. While there are, of course, very many British English influences, we can’t ignore Jamaica’s proximity to the United States, and, more importantly, how access to American culture (TV shows, movies, etc) has become easier in recent years. Jamaican English is a proper mashup. It’s a world where people pack the ‘trunks’ of their cars to head off on ‘holiday’.
Now this is where things get really interesting. English is an official language of Singapore, following the years spent under British rule, yet unlike Jamaica, Singapore is not in close proximity to other English speaking countries (the nearest place where English is a first and official language being Australia). So what we’ve got with Singapore is a primarily British English dialect, that’s often interspersed with aspects of Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil, producing one of the most diverse forms of the English Language.
The English Language is spoken as an official language in more places than we often think, and it can become very easy to separate the language into simple British English and American English. It’s a much more complex language than we realize, which is why it’s often essential to carefully consider your audience – and language variant – when writing or translating work for international clients.