Geoffrey Pullum–the distinguished grammarian and my fellow contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Lingua Franca” blog–has a post up there today asserting that the so-called differences between American English and British English are exaggerated. He writes:
… most trans-Atlantic differences either involve nothing more than pronunciation (most Americans pronounce the r of car and have the vowel of hat in words like glass, and the majority of British speakers don’t), or are merely differences in word choice, almost always choices among nouns (in Britain a truck is often called a lorry, though truck occurs as well).
He does acknowledge a couple of grammatical differences:
Americans like using the preterit rather than the perfect in clauses reporting past time with present relevance (I already did that), whereas British speakers clearly prefer the perfect (I’ve already done that). But speakers of both varieties can always understand both constructions. Closer to being absolute is the limitation to British English of the special use of the verb do in cases of omitted verb phrases, as in I don’t know if she understands French, but she may do. Americans would say she may, without that final do.
That’s admittedly not much, and he concludes, “the tiny differences between standard American and standard British English are trivial, barely even worth mentioning.”
Trivial, you say? Well, I’ve got 800,000 page views (as of today) that say NOOBs are very much worth mentioning. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Will Pullum apologize? I’m not sure, but he should do.