“Language Myth: America is Ruining the English Language” by John Algeo
Algeo’s central point in the essay is that American is only ruining the English language if you a prescriptivist who believes that language change is a bad thing as all that American English has done is evolve in a different way to British English, resulting in the differences that we see today. He argues against the idea that Americans are ruining our language and for the point that it is only people who are against British English changing who claim this about American.
He uses the examples of a complaint that Prince Charles once made saying that American English is “very corrupting”, and the speakers have invented “all sorts of nouns and verbs and make words that shouldn’t be”. This is a prescriptivist viewpoint, believing that all new words and conversions are negative, even though they can sometimes enhance the language. The journalist Edwin Newman is an American, but dislikes the language of his fellow Americans, describing it as “deadly”. In his book, he objected to the same things as Prince Charles, and in particular verbosity and euphemism, which he described as bad style.
Algeo could refer to the Substratum theory because this refers to foreign influence in language change and that is what is happening with the Americanisms that exist in British English.
“…self-confessed linguistic vandals”
This quotation is important as it can be used against Algeo because if the Americans have proclaimed themselves to be ruining British English, then who are we to say that they are not? However, what is still unclear is how exactly they are ruining British English, despite having said themselves that they are.
“It wasn’t until the American impertinence of 1776 that Americans seem to have been ruining English.”
This quotation is important because it suggests that during the time before the late 18th century, when the American declared independence in 1776, changes that were introduced because of them were considered acceptable. This implies that the British are fine with their language being changed by those who are considered the same nationality as them, but once they are constitutionally a different nation, even they are the same people, we can no longer see the changes as a good thing. This suggests that it is perhaps not the language changing that is the problem for some people, but the fact that it was the Americans changing it.
“The assumption is that anything new is American and thus objectionable on double grounds.”
This quotation is important because it explains that maybe the British opinion of Americans in general may have something to do with our dislike of the influence that American English has on our language. Also, it picks up on “new” things being what are objected to the most, suggesting that it is the prescriptivists who want to revert British English back to how it used to be. However, Algeo points out that although British English and American English have the same original root, sixteenth century British English, they have developed in different directions since then and it may not have any more influence on British English than any other foreign language.
“British speakers have also been extraordinarily fertile in expanding the rage of use for tag questions.”
This quotation is important because it highlights one of the changes for which the British are responsible. Some British people may blame the Americans for all of the changes that occur our language, but the truth is we can be held responsible as well.
“Both Americans and the British innovate in English pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. British people, however, tend to be more aware of American innovations than Americans are of British ones.”
This quotation is important because it demonstrates how the prejudice against American influence on British English in actually unfounded because we affect their language just as much as they affect ours. Therefore, what gives us the right to complain about Americanisms in British English when there are presumably signs of British English in American English?
I do agree with Algeo’s main point because I think that only prescriptivists would have a problem with the changes that have come about in our language because of the Americans. You could use Prince Charles’ complaints about American English being “very corrupting” as evidence against Algeo because, as a member of the Royal Family, he speaks RP which is considered the best form of English by some and are thought to know the “purest” form of the language and therefore are against change.