I am, of course, referring to American English (AmE) and British English (BrE), but you knew that - didn't you? I mean, let's not beat about the gooseberry bush here, we (and when I say we, I mean the British people because I was born in London. I'm not a Cockney though - to be one of those you must have been born within earshot (that's a great English word, isn't it? Invented around 1600 when people knew how to speak English) of the sound of St Mary-le-bow church bells - and I don't think I heard any jangling when I was taking my first breath in the dank rat-infested birthing hovel beneath Hammersmith Hospital on a stormy night in 19... A long time ago, anyway.)
So where was I? Oh yes... as much as it pains me to say it, I have the suspicious feeling that we were beaten by the Americans in the American War of Independence in 1793 and thrown out of the Americas - I mean, if that's true (and I have no reason to doubt my source) we should have taken our language back, forbidden them to use it, made them develop their own language - like Spanglish, Esperanto, or Pidgin. There are lots of languages out there they could have had, why did they have to use ours? Although, I did see an unnerving report about dying languages here! At least English isn't dying. In fact, if I'm not too much mistaken, isn't it the International language? But... I was surprised to learn that it is only the third spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese (that's because they've got a lot of people - I mean, nobody can actually speak those Chinese characters, can they?), and Spanish (I know! I blame Christopher Columbus for that, but people probably only speak holiday Spanish to the tune of: "We're off to sunny Spain... Viva Espanya", or something like that).
Anyway, I think we were more than generous in allowing them to use our language after they beat us up and threw us out. All we wanted was more land and taxes - where's the harm in that? In fact, they probably owe us some money in reparations now for letting them use our language, but... and here's the thing - is the language they're using now what we let them have in 1793?
Well look, if you were writing a dead-tree book - you'd have an English version and an American version. Yeah, I know! I can hear the cogs whirring around inside that walnut you call a brain. Anybody would think we spoke different languages. I mean, I can understand the Germans or the Inuit (they wear some great coats and boots) having their own versions, but Americans! Some authors - and I'm not one of them - advertise the fact that their magnus opus has been translated into N (N = a random number of your choosing) languages. But... is one of those languages American? Are there English to American translators? Is it a well-paid job? What qualifications are you required to have?
Let's look at this phenomenon more closely. I remember Bernard Cornwell ( I love his Sharpe series - and Sean Bean was the perfect Sharpe in the TV series - I've got all the books (and the short stories) and the DVDs - brilliant! Oh, and if we'd made the Spanish speak English when we were tramping about in Spain then we'd be second in the spoken language list now - just a thought!) So, Bernie (I'm sure he won't mind me calling him that seeing as we're both authors) hated the fact that for the American version of Harlequin they changed the name to The Archer's Tale. At the time, I recall wondering why there was an American version anyway.
So, why is there an American version of a book? That's a very good question from the pretty girl at the back with a penchant for obscure languages! Well, for one thing, they use different words for the same things (the Kindle has a translator, you know! I mean, we watch American films, read American books, and eat American food, but we know that a truck is a lorry, an elevator is a lift, two weeks is a fortnight, a drugstore is a chemist, and a freeway is a dual carriageway - we don't need a damned translator for goodness sake - why do they?) The second thing is, they spell some words differently like aeroplane becomes airplane, honour becomes honor, mum becomes mom, etcetera. Still don't need a translator! Finally, quotation marks - the Americans prefer "double" quotation marks, while the British use 'single' ones, but does it really matter? Do Americans and British need translators? You know, when they're all at these G8 or UN conferences having a knees-up (do I need to translate that into party?), and the British Foreign Secretary is speaking political gobbledegook is there a translator telling the American Secretary of State what William Hague (you thought I didn't know who it was, didn't you?) said?
Let me conclude by saying that the Americans shouldn't call their language 'American English' (AmE) anymore. They've made so many changes to the beautiful language we were so generous to let them keep in 1793 that it isn't even English anymore. So, from now on, they have my permission to call their language "American", and we'll call our language (and I mean by 'our' - single quotation marks - the British people) simply English. That's fair, isn't it? And if the Americans don't understand some of the words we use, or don't like the way we spell and punctuate - they can have their "American version" - see if I care!
Hi, I'm Tim Ellis - I write a lot and I hope you enjoy what I write.