21 September, 2010

Welcome to the 1990's

In 2004 my mother sent me an email with the subject line, Welcome to the 1990's.  I read the email to discover that she was delighted to tell me that she had just gotten a webcam.  As a result of reading this email, whenever I make a slightly behind the times discovery, I like to preface it with the phrase, Welcome to the 1990's.  Until today my most recent use of the phrase had been this past April when I bought a television, something my flat had been lacking for the previous year and a half.  I use it today to express my joy at having discovered how to link other blogs to this one.  It has led to a work filled afternoon of blog stalking not only Fall 2010 ICLC students but also family members and my high school American Lit teacher's daughter who was 1 year old when her father was my teacher.

As a result, I feel like I have had real insight into the some of the cultural differences picked up on by our students, particularly linguistically.  This seems to have been a through line.  Almost all of the blogs that I looked at had a post outlining the difference between British English and American English.  I expect that this is because there is no shortage of people reminding us that we speak differently.  I love the assumption that because the USA and the UK are both English speaking countries we must be able to understand each other perfectly, but between accents and subtle word choice differences there's no denying that we are two nations divided by our common language.  My sister is married to a man from New Zealand and I once asked them how much they could really understand each other in conversation.  We were all a little shocked when he answered 100% and she answered 70%, but perhaps this is some little known secret to marital success.  Bill exerts much energy each term pushing for intercontinental relationships to develop, so perhaps he has been privy to this secret, too.

Anyway, this is all part of the immersion experience.  It is a real shock to the system to be told that you aren't speaking your native language correctly, and I have heard many an argument that American English is wrong, because if it were right the language would be called "American".  Americanisms have permeated British tongues and are hard to avoid, which adds to the confusion of not knowing which language you are speaking.  Even in Britain things come out of left field now and at McDonalds people order fries with their burgers.

Here is the moral of the story: Bill looked at the spelling of a word and said something looked wrong.  I said it must be the American spelling.  He said that wasn't it, so I suggested that it was the British spelling.  Sometimes I get confused about which is which.  Bill said that there is a solution to not knowing whether you are using the American or British version of a word.  Stuff them both and use the Canadian way.

-Claire (with a little help from Elsie)

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