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An Independent American Language


Today is Independence Day in the United States. This holiday celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence; a statement explaining the reasons that the Second Continental Congress had voted on the second of July to make what is now known as the United States legally independent from Great Britain. Across the pond, Independence Day will be celebrated with fireworks, parades, and no doubt a lot of family time, but here at Spellzone we thought we’d mark the occasion by having a look at American English.

You may remember our article Five Reasons Why English Spelling Is So Difficult, and how one of these reasons was because the English language has roots from all over the place! Another reason it can be difficult to learn English spelling, though, is because there are so many different types of English out there. There are many, many more English speakers living outside Great Britain than there are inside it, and countries such as America and India have their own specific language rules. Whilst British spelling is usually accepted in America, a few people in Britain get rather upset when they see American spellings being used. With the influence of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, however, it is likely that American spelling will become the norm worldwide – so it seems we’d better get used to it!

In 1828, Noah Webster’s ‘American Dictionary of the English Language’ was published. Though it was generally poorly received at the time - criticised as radical, and even as vulgar - the term ‘Webster’s Dictionary’ is now a generic trademark in the USA and used to refer to any comprehensive English dictionary. With his dictionary and other spelling books, Noah Webster wanted to emphasise that now America was no longer under the rule of Great Britain, its language should also be independent. Many of the changes involved shortening words and changing odd-looking spellings to make them more phonetically straightforward – for example changing words ending in ‘-our’ to end in ‘-or’ (‘flavour’ vs. ‘flavour’) or words ending in ‘-re’ to end in ‘-er’ (‘theatre’ vs. ‘theatre’). An overview of British vs. American spelling can be found here.

Webster’s dictionary was a huge factor in American spellings becoming widely used. This graph, for example, shows how the American spelling ‘jewelry’ (rather than British ‘jewellery’) became more and more widely used after the release of Webster’s first dictionary. Now, the spelling ‘jewelry’ is almost exclusively used in America.

The Spellzone course teaches both British and American English spellings, depending on what the student requires, and devotes an entire unit to the differences between the two. Why not have a go at some of our free units, or join us and access the whole course? And if different spellings aren’t tricky enough to keep track of, next week we’ll look at some words that mean different things depending on which country you’re in. Perhaps we’ll even explore how accents play into it all - remember Mary/marry/merry? Stay tuned!

Avani Shah


04 Jul 2013
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"Spellzone fits in beautifully with our Scope and Sequence of Phonological Awareness and Spelling. It also aligns perfectly with the four areas of spelling knowledge and uses the Brain, Ears, Eyes approach to learning spelling."
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Teacher, Australia