British English – American English: Education (vocabulary)
Video credit: Macmillan Education ELT, “David Crystal – Which English?” December 24, 2009, via YouTube.
This video shows David Crystal, a world-known linguist who authored, co-authored or edited about 120 books, including the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, the Cambridge Encyclopedia, and the New Penguin Encyclopedia. Crystal is right in saying that it is important to tell English language learners that English has several varieties each of which is characterized by their own peculiarities. This, certainly, may help to avoid confusions when learners come across a word, a phrase or word use which differ from the norm they have been taught. I can only add to this that it is important to be aware of the existence of different varieties of English not only for English language learners, but also for native speakers of English, particularly if they are going to travel to a country where another variety is used, if their business partners speak another variety or if they read a book or watch a movie based on another English dialect (variety). It is important to be aware of the existence of different language varieties because this may help to avoid misunderstandings. For example, if somebody says, “Let’s table the matter”, does it mean that they want to discuss a question or, on the contrary, to close it? Well, it depends: if we are in the context where BrE is used, then, the phrase means that the people want to open up an item for discussion. However, if we are in a context where AmE is used, the phrase means that people want to remove an item from discussion. This is only one example out of a great number possible situations. Therefore, in my opinion, it is not only interesting, but also useful to know that different varieties of English may have their own peculiarities.
The previous posts have already focused on the key pronunciation and spelling differences between BrE and AmE. The present post focuses on differences in vocabulary (lexis) . Naturally such differences are most numerous because the lexis of any language is its most dynamic layer: new words are created daily while other words go out of usage and become obsolete. Because there are so many lexical differences between BrE and AmE, it is useful to divide them in order to address the question systematically. In my opinion, the most effective way to do so is to divide these differences semantically (i.e. based on their meaning). Therefore, I am going to examine major differences in vocabulary within the following topics, each topic corresponding to a separate post on the blog: (1) education, (2) transportation, (3) clothes, (4) food, (5) miscellaneous, (6) units of measurement, and (7) idioms.
This post examines the topic of education. However, before starting the discussion, one more point needs to be clarified. When we speak about differences in vocabulary between BrE and AmE, we should be aware of tree types of such differences:
a) when the same word has different meanings (e.g. “bill” in BrE is a purchases summary; the same word in AmE means “paper money”);
b) when the same meaning is expressed by different words (e.g. a device which helps people to move between building levels is called “a lift” in BrE and “an elevator” in AmE);
c) when a word and its meanings are the same, but the frequency, connotation or denotation of a word is different (e.g. in BrE one of four seasons of the year is usually called “autumn” [the word “fall” is obsolete in BrE]; in contrast, in AmE, the word “fall” is used more frequently).
Words with different meanings (a) have, probably, more potential to cause misunderstandings than other words in groups b or c. For example, if somebody from the American continent orders organic “chips” in Europe, s/he may be quite surprised when s\he is served with organic “French fries”. The thing is, in AmE, thin and crispy potato slices are called “crisps”, but the same word in BrE is used for deep-fried potato batons.
Now that we know what kind of differences in vocabulary to expect, let us get down to the first topic which is education.
In the American context the equivalent of a secondary school is often referred to as a high school*. Furthermore, a public school has the opposite meaning in BrE and AmE: it is a private educational institution in BrE and a government-owned institution in AmE. Also, a student in BrE is a person who studies at a college, university, academy or institute whereas in AmE, the term is also used to refer to people attending any kind of educational institution, including an elementary school. The word “pupil” is used in BrE to refer to somebody who goes to a primary/secondary school. Interestingly, the word “school” is used in BrE to speak about elementary or other secondary schools, while in AmE the same term is used to speak about any educational institution. For instance, parents may ask their child attending a university the following question: “So, how was the school today?”. Compare also the following examples:
Student: “I sat my Ukrainian exam yesterday.”
Professor: “I set a difficult exam for my students yesterday, but they did well.”
Student: “I took my exams at the University of Alberta.”
Professor: “I wrote a difficult exam on Thursday and gave it to my students on Friday.”
When students prepare for an exam, they have to revise (BrE)/review (AmE) what they have studied. In other words, students have to go through the material which they have covered in order to refresh it in their memory. When students’ answers are marked (BrE)/checked (AmE), they are awarded a mark (BrE)/a grade (AmE) or points (AmE).
If a university student has a certain specialization, s/he is said to study/read/do a subject in BrE and to major in/concentrate in a subject in AmE (e.g. to major in applied linguistics).
University students have modules in BrE and courses in AmE (e.g. This semester, Ann has taken five courses: Linguistics 101, Biology 101, Latin 101, French 101, and Ukrainian 101 [100 stands for the level (1st year) and 01 stands for the course code]).
In a BrE context, master’s students write a dissertation, while PhD students write a thesis. In an AmE context, in contrast, master’s students write a thesis and PhD students write a dissertation. The people who teach courses are collectively referred to as “[academic] staff” in BrE and “faculty” in AmE. Notably, “Professor” has different meanings in BrE and AmE. In BrE it is an academic rank which is followed by Reader, Senior Lecturer, and Lecturer. In AmE, the equivalent of BrE “Professor” is “Full Professor” followed by Associate Professor and Assistant Professor.
Interestingly, “tuition” has different meanings in BrE and AmE. In BrE, it means some educational content. In AmE, in turn, it means the money paid by university students for their education. Also in BrE, pupils finish primary/secondary school and graduate from a university/college/institute/academy, whereas in AmE, students graduate from any type of educational institution, including a high school. Consequently, even after receiving his/her education at a secondary school, an individual is called “graduate” in AmE.
Other differences in vocabulary include the following words and expressions:
holiday – vacation (BP, 2014; OD, 2014; CDO, 2014; MW, 2014; ABBY Lingvo, 2014)**
headmaster – principal
Maths – Math
open day/evening – open house
play/break time – recess
plimsolls – gym shoes
packed lunch – sack/bag lunch
rubber – eraser
school dinner – hot lunch
staff room – teacher’s lounge
In summary, this post has focused on the topic of education and pointed out a number of differences in vocabulary between BrE and AmE. The following post is going to focus on transportation.
See similar posts:
- British English – American English: Pronunciation
- British English – American English: Spelling
- British English – American English: Transportation (vocabulary)
- British English – American English: Clothes (vocabulary)
- British English – American English: Food (vocabulary)
- British English – American English: Miscellaneous (vocabulary)
- British English – American English: Units of measurement (vocabulary)
- British English – American English: Idioms (vocabulary)
- British English – American English: Verbs (grammar)
- British English – American English: Nouns (grammar)
- British English – American English: Prepositions (grammar)
ABBYY Lingvo (2014). Retrieved February 15, 2014 from, http://www.lingvo-online.ru/en
Cambridge Dictionaries Online (CDO) (2014). Retrieved February 15, 2014 from, http://dictionary.cambridge.org/
Merriam-Webster (MW) (2014). Retrieved February 15, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/
Oxford Dictionaries (OD) (2014). Retrieved February 15, 2014, from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/
Project Britain (BP) (2014). Retrieved February 15, 2014, from http://projectbritain.com/americanbritish.html
*Bold type is used for AmE words.
**These sources have been consulted here and further in this post.