Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Americanisation/Americanization: A Rant

My dad likes to save articles from his newspapers for me to read. They’re always about something he knows I’d be interested in, like museums, classic rock or ‘the you tube’. This weekend he had a gem waiting for me, an article about how American words and phrases are creeping into our vocabulary. And, apparently, how this signals the demise of our national identity. This is an issue that never fails to get my goat, and this particular article was a pretty shoddy piece of writing, with weak arguments and poorly chosen examples. I won’t deny that we are seeing Americanisationisms (totally made this word up because I like how it looks) seep into our current culture, but I really don’t think the word ‘hospitalisation’ is anything to get riled up about. There’s far more interesting terms to choose from. Also, yes, it’s true; Americans do say ‘math’ rather than ‘maths’. But I myself have not witnessed people using the former, and I don’t see it becoming commonly used, so maybe that one we can leave alone.

I don’t doubt that I take this issue to heart because I sound more American every day. Living with a Yank will do that to you – when I had flatmates from Suffolk I started speaking like a country bumpkin. So yes, perhaps I feel people are having a dig at me, but I really think the issue has been blown out of proportion. Our language, the vocabulary, slang, acronyms etc we use every day are a reflection of current popular culture. People study how language has changed over time and how that mirrors what is happening in society. I don’t think we should bemoan it just because we are witnessing changes right now. Moreover, people are constantly influenced by the activities they are engaged in – look at ‘gamer speak’, or popular phrases that stem from sports terminology. The words we use reflect who we are, and in a society where the internet and social networking play such a big part, it is inevitable that we will pick up phrases from our internet-friends-across-the-pond. It’s not a bad thing.

The writer of the article seemed to think that our national identity is so tied up with the language we use, that if we started regularly using ‘from the get-go’ instead of ‘from the onset’, riots would break out across the country accompanied by hair rending and maniacal laughter, and our isle would eventually disappear into the ocean with a pitiful belch. It’s an overreaction and I think it’s petulant and pedantic. If that is all our national identity is about, if it has nothing to do with traditions, diversity, pastimes, regional quirks, well then, I guess we really are screwed.

To bring my rant back to knitting, I shall continue to use the word ‘yarn’ instead of ‘wool’. I hate having to catch and correct myself because my xenophobic mother will roll her eyes at me otherwise. Wool is wool. To me, yarn can be cotton, wool, acrylic, steel, linen, mohair, cashmere, alpaca, angora, silk. Hell, it can even be plastic bags and cassette tape. So I’m with the Yanks on this one. Sometimes, they just make more sense.

1 comment:

  1. Here, here! Well stated indeed.

    The Queen's English is packed full of words and phrases from all around the globe. Yet these foreigners have not been accused of threatening the purity British vocabulary. Languages and cultures of large and influential countries have, for years, cultivated the English language and indeed have spawned its most recent iteration. How ignorant and closed-minded would someone need to be to think that a large (and remarkably similar) country like the United States would any less influential. Americanisms leach into the Britain's stream of consciousness (unconsciousness?) through the willful consumption of US media...it has an enormous appetite and not a particularly refined palate. If Britain as a whole is worried poisoning its heritage with words of a traitorous land then all it has to do is change the channel.

    As for me...keep those Americanisms coming. I will continue to walk on the sidewalk (the pavement is for driving on after all) and cross the road at a crosswalk. I will store things in the trunk of my car and look under the hood to check the oil and I will fill it up with gas at the gas station. And I must completely agree...wool comes from sheep: "The term wool is usually restricted to describing the fibrous protein derived from the specialized skin cells called follicles in sheep." Yarn in turn is made from that wool (or any of the other fine products mentioned above). After all, I am that Yank Emma mentions in the second paragraph.