Why isn't 'American' a language?

Why isn't 'American' a language?
PHOTO: AFP

Why does American English take such liberties with our common tongue?

On the other hand, why has it not taken more liberties? English speakers first started colonising America more than 400 years ago. Since then, American English has been evolving, influenced by other languages, culture and technology. As the linguist Max Weinreich said, a language is a dialect with an army and a navy; the US has been an independent country for more than two centuries - and boasts the world's most powerful examples of both. So why is American not a separate language? Or should we view it as one? How did it come to be so different, and how did it not come to be more different?

It starts with the identities of the first American English speakers. Four hundred years ago, the colonies were particularly attractive to people who were strongly opposed to the Church of England or couldn't make a living there - they were not the cream of society. Once tobacco caught on, America became more attractive for those with money, but it still needed servants more than owners - servants and eventually slaves. The earliest American linguistic landscape was strongly influenced by dialects of the sort that even today are not highly esteemed by those with money. But they were still British, at first.

Then British English started changing in ways American didn't. The 'proper' English of the early 1600s would sound to us like a cross between the English spoken in Cornwall and Dallas; the accent has changed more in British English than in much of American.

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