TV has almost made it seem that different versions of English have merged into one, but there are still a number of ways in which even people speaking the same language can misunderstand one another and for confusion to occur.
Many people will point to the many words which are spelled differently between UK and US English, with the letter ‘u’ being one of the best examples. Words such as ‘color’ and ‘labor’ might now go unnoticed by those who are used to watching American TV shows, but they are sure-fire indicators of a language difference which dates back centuries. Many ‘Americanisms’ actually date back to a time before English spelling was standardised and it’s likely that they were used in the UK as well, but as dictionaries and printing became more widely available, the difference between UK and US English became more apparent.
The world of food often throws up examples of the differences between the various forms of English, perhaps because some foodstuffs were not commonly available before the two languages diverged. Many people are aware that an eggplant is an aubergine, that a zucchini is really a courgette or that there is a general differing of opinion in what constitutes a ‘chip’. However, there may be surprises in store for someone ordering rutabaga or arugula if they don’t realise that they are swede and rocket. For anyone working in catering recruitment with those who may not be familiar with British English, understanding the language differences could be the key to ensuring that there are no communication problems with the candidates they place.
There are a number of words which are peculiar to the various different countries which use English as one of their major languages. The US, once again, seems to have many which are familiar to most speakers of UK English and these include sidewalk for pavement, trunk for car boot and cookie for biscuit. For most people in the UK, these terms are interchangeable and although they may not use them in speech themselves, they have no trouble understanding their meaning.
It is worth remembering that the prevalence of UK English on American television is not yet such that this works the other way around. For most speakers and users of US English, there are terms which can cause confusion when used in normal conversation between speakers on each side of the Atlantic. These include the UK use of the word ‘dummy’ for a baby’s item, which could appear offensive to Americans who use the word ‘pacifier’. There is also a difference between the Australian definition of the word ‘thong’ which they use to describe footwear that we would call ‘flip flops’ in British English and this is certainly one which could potentially cause embarrassment depending on the context in which it was used!
Janice Ford is a language enthusiast who has travelled the world learning about the various difficulties faced by those in international catering recruitment.