The world is becoming a smaller place in the sense that it is easy to physically travel to any part of the globe, but also the ability to communicate through the internet has had a huge impact. In separation, England, America and Australasia have developed along parallel but different parts in how each interprets the base language of English (which itself is a jumble of other languages) in its conventions of spelling, grammar and punctuation. Australasia and the UK would be closer in this interpretation, while America has moved away – adopting shorter forms that are more true to the phonics of how the word is pronounced. It is now just a matter of a few mouse clicks and key strokes to access thousands of books in electronic format from any part of the world. Social media also means that Americans, Aussies and British people are in close touch on the major platforms of Twitter, Facebook and more recently Google+, not to mention all the other platforms out there. Our forums betray each other’s origins as each one uses the English style adopted in their part of the globe.
I believe the case is getting stronger for the standardisation (standardization) of English, and I would have to admit that the American form would have the votes as far as a practical evolution of our language goes. Mind you, growing up in Australia, I still cling to our style that is closer to the root forms, but if you go back to the English used in the writing of Beowulf, for example, you would have a hard time reading it as it is so much more Germanic in form than what we have today.
In this blog post, I am going to display some of the common spelling convention comparisons between Australian/British English and American, with some assistance from Wikipedia.
Let’s start with the easiest first: our and or
This is said to be a convention to try to imitate the pronunciation of Old French words after the Norman conquest of England. Some examples include colour, flavour, honour, harbour, humour, labour, neighbour, rumour. America has simply dropped out the ‘u’ to produce color, flavor, honor, harbor, humor, labor, neighbor and rumor. There is a lot of discussion about exceptions to this rule, including words with ‘our’ that have a different origin than French, such as glamour (Scots).
Next comparison is -re and -er endings
Some words from French, Latin and Greek with -re endings but pronounced -er and thence converted in American to the phonetic form. These include (UK) calibre, centre, fibre, goitre, litre, lustre, manoeuvre, meagre, metre, mitre, nitre, ochre, reconnoitre, sabre, saltpetre, sepulchre, sombre, spectre, theatre, titre become (USA) caliber, center, fiber, goiter, liter, luster, manoeuver, meager, meter, miter, niter, ocher, reconnoiter, saber, saltpeter, sepulcher, somber, specter, theater and titer.
One of the examples here, metre/meter, assumes an ambiguous meaning in American English as it can also mean a device for measuring rather than a metric distance of 100cm. But in context it should be clear what meaning is applicable.
-ce and -se endings
This is an interesting one, and I will get to that in a moment. We are all on the same page when using the noun/verb forms of advice/advise and device/devise but differ in this rule for licence/license and practice/practise. In British English, the nouns in the four examples all end in -ce while the verb form is -se. However, in the latter two instances, the US uses license and practice as both noun and verb forms. This is probably one area where there would need to be some discussion as to what forms to adopt internationally. This would also apply with the use of defense and offense (US) to defence and offence (UK), and to add insult to injury, all of us say defensive and offensive as derivatives.
-ise and -ize (-isation and -ization) endings
Examples here include realise, recognise, organise (UK) to realize, recognize, organize (US) and their derivatives realisation, organisation (UK) and realization, organization (US). An interesting note is that while Canada usually defers to the UK spelling conventions, it prefers -ize endings along with the US.
-yse and -yze
UK — catalyse, hydrolyse, paralyse
US — catalyze, hydrolyze, paralyze
-ogue and -og
There has been some importation of American form -og in this comparison, especially in the electronics and technical area. Examples include analog(ue), catalog(ue), dialog(ue), demagog(ue), pedagog(ue), monolog(ue), homolog(ue), synagog(ue), etc. Analog is one word that has taken on worldwide usage in electronics but I believe further movement towards the short form of all these words will eventually take place.
ae and oe
The Australian regional newspaper network I work for has already adopted the American form here, with words containing this vowel combination leaving out the ‘a’ and ‘o’ to retain just the ‘e’. Examples include anaemia, anaesthesia, caesium, diarrhoea, encyclopaedia, faeces, foetal,
These are the main comparisons but there are many more spelling variations such as quay/key, mould/mold, grey/gray, plough/plow, kerb/curb, sceptic/skeptic, tyre/tire with second of each couplet being the US version.
For detailed notes from Wikipedia here is the link where I derived most of the examples used here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_and_British_English_spelling_differences