From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
British English (BrE) is a term used to distinguish the form of the English language used in the British Isles from forms used elsewhere. It includes all the varieties of English used within the Isles, including those found in England, Scotland, Wales, and the island of Ireland. Though the term is considered standard by some, some find it inappropriate as logically Scottish English is included in British English, implying the existence of English as spoken in England as a category, but "English English" is cumbersome, and suggests that English refers to the language as spoken in England. The term British English is used especially by those outside the British Isles, as well as by linguists and lexicographers; British people themselves generally use the term "Standard English" or merely "English".
As with English around the world, the English language as used in the United Kingdom and Ireland is governed by convention rather than formal code: there is no equivalent body to the Académie française, and the authoritative dictionaries (e.g. Oxford English Dictionary, Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Chambers Dictionary, Collins Dictionary) record usage rather than prescribe it. As a result there is significant variation in grammar, usage, spelling, and vocabulary. In addition, vocabulary and usage change with time; words are freely borrowed from other languages and other strains of English, and neologisms are frequent.
While there is a meaningful degree of uniformity in formal written English in the UK and Ireland, the forms of spoken English used vary considerably more than in most other areas of the world where English is spoken, both geographically and socially, so the concept of "British English" is difficult to apply to the spoken language. Dialects and accents vary not only between the nations of the British Isles, for example in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, but also within these countries themselves. There are also differences in the English spoken by different socio-economic groups in any particular region. The written form of the language, as taught in schools, is the same as in the rest of the English-speaking world (except North America), with a slight emphasis on words whose usage varies amongst the different regions of the UK. For example, although the words "wee" and "little" are interchangeable in some contexts, one is more likely to see "wee" written by a Scottish or Northern Irish person than by an English person. In publishing, English English norms tend to be used.
For historical reasons dating back to the rise of London in the 9th century, the form of language spoken in London and the East Midlands became standard English within the Court, and ultimately became the basis for generally accepted use in the law, government, literature and education within the British Isles. To a great extent, modern British spelling was standardised in Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), although previous writers had also played a significant role in this and much has changed since 1755. Scotland, which only underwent parliamentary union in 1707, still has a few independent aspects of standardisation, especially within its autonomous legal system.
The widespread usage of English across the world is partly attributable to the former power of the British Empire, and this is reflected in the use of British written forms in many parts of the world. The most common form of English used by the British ruling class is that of south-east England (the area around the capital, London, and the ancient English university towns of Oxford and Cambridge). This form of the language is associated with Received Pronunciation (RP), which is still regarded, incorrectly, by many people outside the UK as "the British accent". However, only approximately 5 percent of Britons speak RP, and it has evolved quite markedly over the last 40 years. Moreover, there is much more tolerance of variation than there was in the past.
From the second half of the 20th century to the present day, the preeminence of the English language has been augmented by the economic, military, political and cultural dominance of the United States in world affairs. Nevertheless, the British Isles retains a major cultural influence in particular on the English used, as a first or additional language, in some Commonwealth countries and former British colonies (including influence to a greater degree in India, South Africa, New Zealand and Hong Kong, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, but to a lesser degree in Australia, and only to a limited extent in Canada).
- Languages in the United Kingdom
- Scots language
- Scottish English
- Ulster Scots language
- American and British English differences
- British Isles (terminology)
- Bragg, M. (2004) 'The Adventure of English', Sceptre. ISBN 0-340-82993-1