Language Has No Essential Meaning, American English Wins Out

Standard British English is one hundred percent a completely outdated dialect. It is stuffy, and posh, and nobody who speaks it ever sounds like he or she is saying anything remotely serious!

By Abigail Merelman

In British English, they still use silly amounts of letters in their words that confuse pronunciation and take a full extra millisecond to write. Why put “colour” when you can write “color”? Why do the British have to make life hard on themselves like this? American English, by contrast, has lovely efficient spellings and handy contractions. In British English, you’d have to say “all of you all would have”, for instance in the sentence, “all of you all would have had scones with your tea, but the corgis ate them all.” That takes a ridiculously long amount of time to say! In American English, one could reduce such a sentence by nearly a third: “All y’all’d’ve’d had scones with your tea, but the corgis ate them all.” Never mind that a situation like that would never occur in any self-respecting American household!

All y’all’d’ve’d had scones with your tea, but the corgis ate them all.

Without American English, where would music be? It’s impossible to imagine the great New Orleans 1960s funk classic Eddie Bo’s “Check Your Bucket” sung in the Queen’s English! We’ve got to admit, the British have no funk, bless their hearts. And literature? Without American English, we never would have As I Lay Dying, the wonderful masterpiece by Faulkner, nor would we have Walt Whitman, nor the deeply moving texts of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston! Not to mention our most wonderful literary transplant Vladimir Nabokov! Sure, the Brits have some authors, but they spend their time speaking in affected tones about highly contrived spiritual problems. Who even likes Charles Dickens, anyway?

Despite all of this (totally justified) mockery, is it really possible to judge a dialect or a language objectively? Can one way of speaking really be “better” than another? Well, it depends on what you mean by “better.” If you define “better” as more efficient, or with a larger number of native speakers, or a larger vocabulary, you can say that yes, some languages are better than others. These are objective questions that can be measured via empirical data. However, if, by “better,” you mean to discuss “good” and “bad” languages overall, the answer is no. This is a subjective question! My opinion could differ greatly from yours. All we can really say about good and bad is that a language is a good language if the speakers of said language can communicate all they need to express in it and be understood by other speakers. A language is a good language if it evolves over time to meet the needs of its speakers and adapts to the world in which they are living. By this measure, every language is a good language (if it wasn’t, it would have died out long ago). On top of all this, language, at its root, is completely arbitrary. It is a system of sound patterns to which we as a collective have assigned meaning. The words the Sciences Po library printer doesn’t have any more essential value than almost useless. So, it is also impossible to base the goodness of a language (or a dialect!) on its inherent meaningfulness.

Thus, there is no reason to call standard British English the “real” English (just as standard American English isn’t the “real” English). As we have established, neither one holds any inherent value above the other. However, going by the definition of a good language as one that evolves over time to meet the needs of its speakers, American English really takes the cake. British English may have come first, but as we all know, first doesn’t always mean best— and as American English’s contractions and fun funky tunes show, we’ve definitely made an improvement.

Abigail Merelman

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