Monday, March 21, 2011

Not One-Off Britishisms

I don't usually review other websites here, and I don't really want to start now. But I'd be interested to read what you think of Ben Yagoda's site Not One-Off Britishisms.

Yagoda is a journalism professor at the University of Delaware and author of many things. I first became aware of his worries about BrEisms in AmE in an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education called "The Elements of Clunk." There he bemoaned "a whole new strain of bad student writing."* To quote from that:
Another manifestation [of clunky student writing] is a boom in Britishisms: not only the weirdly popular "amongst," but also "amidst," "whilst"—I actually have gotten that more than once in assignments—and "oftentimes." (In a parallel move, the stretched-out and unpleasant "off-ten" has become a vogue pronunciation among youth, as has "eye-ther.") In spelling, "grey" has taken over from the previously standard "gray." I haven't seen "labour" yet, but the day is young.
Not One-Off Britishisms is kind of a blog, but what it is really...well, I'll let Yagoda explain. From the sidebar at the site:
Over the last decade or so, an alarming number of traditionally British expressions have found their way into the American vocabulary. This page offers a growing list of Britishisms that have been widely adopted in the U.S.–that is, they are not “one-offs.”  Each entry offers a definition/American equivalent, followed by quotes representing the first and most recent American usages I’ve found.
Some entries include a link to a Google Ngram. This is a nifty tool that allows you to search for the frequency with which a word or phrase was used year to year. The link provided here compares the use of the Britishism and the traditional U.S. equivalent in the “American English” corpus between 1990 and 2008, with a “smoothing” level of 0. (Don’t ask.) In some cases–e.g., advert, bits–Ngram data is not applicable because the word or phrase can be used in two or more different ways.
For each entry, readers are ask to vote on their opinion of the Britishism in an American context. By “over the top,” I mean that the word or phrase (still) comes off as mannered or affected. In my humble opinion, the key factor in this is whether there’s an equally good American equivalent. [...]

Yagoda's project is a perfect (although not as loud) counterpoint to the oft-heard British complaint that Americanisms "permeate, pervade and pollute British English" (Hardeep Singh Kohli, Sunday Times, 7 Nov 08--and if you like that one, I can give you plenty more), and it gives me some comfort to know that not every American is a victim of American Verbal Inferiority Complex.


Now, the longer I live in the UK (it's been more than 11 years now), the more out-of-touch I am with what Americans (other than my nearest and dearest) are saying--but some of the BrEisms that Yagoda picks out as "widely adopted" strike me as not so. For one thing, some of them are things that Americans have sent me puzzled emails about. For another, the sources Yagoda cites are very often New Yorkers, if not The New Yorker, and most come from the NY-DC corridor. The Google Ngrams show general trends in publishing, but I would be willing to bet that a fair number of US-published books are written by New Yorkers, if not British expats. I'm having a hard time finding out how many of the 685,000 British expats in the US are in New York, but many commentators seem to agree with  A.A. Gill that "The British have colonized Manhattan". And an awful lot of them seem to be in publishing. So, it could be a trend in a certain milieu. But if you're watching FOX** instead of reading Vanity Fair, it might not affect you too much. I'm not saying that all the BrEisms are coming from UK expats; I have no trouble believing that Americans in their milieu are easily influenced by chic-sounding British words. And if that continues, those words may make their way into general American English. But my impression from non-NYCers is that these words are far from "widely adopted."

There's also much reason to be suspicious of the Ngram data. Looking at the first ten 2007-08 sources for chat show in the Ngram that Yagoda presents, one finds that four are about British television (I haven't bothered to look into their authors' backgrounds), two are from Cambridge University Press dictionaries (offering it as a synonym for AmE talk show), one is by an Oxford-educated professor in the US (possibly UK-born) , and two are by (orig. AmE in this sense) faculty at UK universities whose university webpages show no educational experience outside the UK. So that's 90% that seem to be appropriately British in the American English "corpus". The remaining one is by a Brooklyn-born journalist who lives in Washington, DC.

On the other hand, if you look at the relationship between chat show and talk show in British English using an Ngram, you'll see that AmE talk show has overtaken chat show in the UK (supposedly) in the same period. And looking at the data comparatively in the allegedly AmE books, chat show barely figures in comparison to talk show.

I also note that some of the things that Yagoda mentions in the Chronicle article have been in variation in AmE for a long time--for example, the pronunciation of either. And his description of often sounds like how I started pronouncing it as a child. Can we conclude that recent fashions from them are due to British influence? Are Americans even aware of these as being "more British"? (He goes in that article to try to tar the spelling advisor with the British brush--until he discovers that it's regarded as an AmEism. Click on the link for my discussion of it.)

So, in the end, I think it's the kind of site that would interest readers of this blog and so I point it out and hope you'll visit it (particularly if you're American). But I'd also like your feedback on whether you think that the "Britishisms" that Yagoda notices are indeed widespread in AmE.

As a final note--why Britishisms?  What's wrong with the good old word Briticism? I give you the Ngram for American English:



Britishism (red) has outnumbered Briticism (blue) only since 1990.  As long as we have a good old standard word for it, why use a new one?  (And no, it doesn't seem to be because of the British people in NY.)



* In hono(u)r of Yagoda, I'm using American punctuation, rather than my usual indecisive mishmash.
** Please, stop.

56 comments:

Andy JS said...

I've always used "amongst" as well as "among" but I'm not sure myself when one or the other should be used. Maybe it's just something one does automatically.

me said...

I'm not sure what the blog's author is trying to get at? Maybe it's because he doesn't seem to be providing the "Americanism" that is being overwhelmed by evil Briticisms, so his point is lost on me.

Plus, I'm from Australia - we don't speak English down here...only 'Strayan.

Johnny E said...

To me (BrE), a "talk show" is eg Trisha, Jerry Springer, Jeremy Kyle, Ricki Lake (discussions about "real people" and their problems), and a "chat show" is eg Graham Norton, Jonathan Ross, Parkinson, Oprah (interviews with celebrities).

Am I the only person to make that distinction?

Zhoen said...

I grew up in Detroit, listening to Canadian stations showing BBC shows, I have no idea how to say it like an American, despite being one. Sounds like the guy has a bug up his a*se.

I suspect those growing up on the East Coast have all kinds of linguistic variation. Or in the South, or on the Northern border, or the Mexican settled areas, or... . Yeah, well, so much for arguing the purity of the English language, of whatever variety.

nat said...

I make the same distinction as Johnny E between talk show and chat show, and I'm Australian.

Darla-Jean Weatherford said...

I've noticed the -st endings on words like "among" and "while" over the past few years at the university where I teach in Texas, and I haven't figured out why I seem to see it more now than I think I did a few years ago. Frankly, I'd sort of pegged it as an "east Texas country" thing, since it has seemed to show up mostly in the work of students from smaller towns. But I may just have become aware of something that has been around longer than I realized.

I can't think of a time in the past six decades when I've felt a need to use "Briticism/Britishism," but I'd probably have opted for the latter if I did; I sort of stumble around over the missing "h" sound in "Briticism," almost as if I were expected to say "Americism," which just doesn't work at all.

And I'm not sure I'd have the good sense to consult a dictionary on it, although doing so now tells me I might have learned something new....

vp said...

Over the last decade or so, an alarming number of traditionally British expressions have found their way into the American vocabulary.

Oh, how alarming!

This guy is just as ridiculous as the (admittedly rather larger) number of British authors who fret about encroaching Americanisms.

The transatlantic trade in words, expressions, and phonological features goes back as far as the Jamestown colony in Virginia. Get used to it!

Tony Finch said...

Regarding "oftentimes", I (a Brit) always thought it was a characteristically American word, so I am surprised to see an American complaining about it being too British!

nestorius said...

@Tony Finch: Regarding "oftentimes", I (a Brit) always thought it was a characteristically American word, so I am surprised to see an American complaining about it being too British!

I think you are correct. the "oftentimes" : "often" ratios in COCA (US) and BNC (UK) are 1060:146768 and 6:37128 respectively.

superdinosaurboy said...

I was surprised by 'oftentimes' too. I've only ever heard Americans and Canadians say it, and the OED says 'Now chiefly N. Amer.; otherwise arch. or literary.'

Roger Owen Green said...

(Upstate NY, US)-
Just looking at the items from Feb 22 to Mar 14, I've never heard an American say "tin"; my grandmother used to say "tin can" when it probably was.

But I've seen a definite uptick in the use of “gobsmacked”, though I never knew the origin.

The only time I've heard “fishmonger” involved those large dealers of fish, such as in lower Manhattan, not just a retail fish store, but rather a wholesaler.

Kevin said...

The OED is quite right about "oftentimes". I've often noticed how terms and expressions that strike the British ear as distinctly "arch. or literary" -- even quaint -- survive in commonly used American English.

Another example is "atop" (for "on top of"). I've only ever come across this in American writings. Looking it up just now, I see that the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary gives as a sample of usage "She sat atop a two-metre high wall". The spelling (not to mention the choice of units) suggests a non-US context, but that makes it sound all the more absurd. Metres had yet to be invented in the days when people still said "atop"!

Richard Howland-Bolton said...

Stopping this sort of influence seems as futile an effort in one direction as the other.

And British (maybe just English?---rather than, say, Scots) borrowings over here seem not just for reasons of pretension, I was amazed a few years ago to hear US teenagers using the term 'wanker'.

mollymooly said...

@Kevin: "atop" is one of the archaic-poetic words whose revival is credited to "Timese", Henry Luce's house style for "Time" magazine.

Eileen said...

Is it wrong to feel great satisfaction from going through and clicking "Perfectly fine" on all those entries?

vp said...

@Tony Finch: Regarding "oftentimes", I (a Brit) always thought it was a characteristically American word, so I am surprised to see an American complaining about it being too British!

I suppose it's comforting to learn that the "blame everything you don't like about language on country X" phenomenon isn't confined to Brits :)

Picky said...

It's fine, the chap's having a laugh, and it's amusing to see the infection working the other way across the Atlantic. And one can't take too seriously a bloke who thinks ("had got") that the trema marking a diaeresis is an umlaut.

Kel said...

If that professor has a problem with "oft-en" and "aye-ther," then he must not have traveled much in the US of A. Or heard the song "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJz7bIl0kRw

Boris Zakharin said...

Although I'm an atypical example, since I learned English later in life with some (mild) influence from British at the start, I oddly find amidst much more natural than any of the other st words sited. I was also unaware that oftentimes was marked as British (and it looks like it's not). I also use the two pronunciations of "either" interchangeably. I never remember how to spell "gray" until a spellchecker reminds me.

About Britishism (one of Chrome's suggestions is Anchoritism. Huh?), that was the word I always used, since it's obviously British+ism. I first heard "Briticism" either here or on Language Log. Where does that form come from?

Anonymous said...

Great post but the Fox reference was a bit gratuitous and off-topic (I assume that, being abroad, you don't watch it much, esp. compared to its peers MSNBC and CNN, but they're all very much tweedledum and tweedledee, trust me!)
-American in VA

Ben Trawick-Smith said...

This site looks interesting, but I think its creator needs to make a distinction between ACTUAL Britishisms and usages that merely skew toward the British. "Chat show," "nayther," and "amongst?" Meh. I've used those variations at times throughout my life. Nothing all that British about them.

What is more interesting to me are Britishisms that have ever-so-slightly made their way into American speech: "bloody," "taking the piss," "wanker." I've heard people use all three in a slightly facetious manner. Usually Dr. Who-obsessed types, but still ...

Ø said...

I'm with you, Eileen, though my preference is to keep my hands clean and check nothing. In my view, this guy is an irritatingly schoolparpish peddler of what Language Log calls "prescriptivist poppycock" and should not be encouraged.

marek said...

On the other hand, if you look at the relationship between chat show and talk show in British English using an Ngram, you'll see that AmE talk show has overtaken chat show in the UK (supposedly) in the same period.

That Ngram graph looks very odd to me, and I wonder whether it is an artefact of the corpus. In BrE speech, my sense is that the usage is overwhelmingly chat show rather than talk show. It is not, though, a phrase to be particularly significant in books (which if I have understood it right is the source of google's corpus).

lynneguist said...

@Marek--Indeed, the Google books "corpus" is highly suspect--but I have no access to a current-enough BrE corpus to check. In the British National Corpus (data from 1990), 'chat show' outnumbers 'talk show' by about 5:1. But, as several commenters have noted, they don't actually mean the same thing to many BrE speakers. So _if_ the Google data is accurate, it could be because of the rise of the likes of Jeremy Kyle in more recent years.

Barbara said...

Hmm.

The Briticisms that may be catching on among the younger set are probably Potterisms. In the huge online fandom, there are whole forums set up for "Brit-picking," so that young Americans will use the "correct" terms in the world. Hence, there are younger Americans convinced that the word "jumper" was changed to "sweater" in the books because Americans are stupid and can't learn the right word (rather than because, say, "jumper" means something else here). I remember once reading a post by a young woman from Texas asking how to properly pronounce things in BrE, because she wanted to use it instead of her native accent.

Whenever there's a big cultural crossover, you're going to see words crossing over, often without a lot of consideration of what they are. "Bloody" is picking up with Americans as a curse-replacement, like "darnit" or "danged", and the idea that it's a more severe word in Britain is surprising.

Geof Huth said...

Lynne, there certainly are Briticisms (my preferred term, but Britishisms will take over, since it's more natural) seeping into American English, primarily via movies, I'd say. So some people now say, "Brilliant!" to mean "Great!" But that is usually intentionally affected.

For decades, I've heard people use "amongst," and that I hate, merely because it is an archaism in AmE. I think it's used, though, only because it sounds poetic or more cultured, rather than British. "Whilst" I have never heard an American use. It's just too ridiculous to our ears.

Certainly, some folks say "offten" and "eyether" (for example, my children, because it's the preferred pronunciation where I live, and I'm not from here). But these have been alternative pronunciations I've here in AmE my entire life. I've never thought them as Briticisms at all.

I'd love to see other Briticisms seep into our language, just for the enrichment. But I mean the newer ones, not those terms that are archaic to AmE. I've no need to start using "fortnight," for instance, despite the obvious utility of the term.

Otherwise, it's hard to care that new terms come into the language. That keeps things fun.

Geof

Paul said...

George and Ira Gershwin wrote "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off" for a 1937 film, so "eye-ther" is hardly a vogue pronunciation of the youth, nor a Britishism, which leads me to suspect Yagoda blames Brit influence far to easily. Perhaps he needs to get out more.

I also question his research if he's trying to convince me he has sampling to convince me that "Yankees game" is a recent change and that "Yankee game" is the traditional version. I've never heard anyone refer to "a Yankee game", and indeed the phrase brings to mind a native of Atlanta describing ice hockey.

(Doesn't it seem suspicious that in 130 years the New York Times only referred to the home team's games 39 times? Does that include their multiple World Series wins? It smells like bad data to me.)

Andy JS said...

I'm interested to learn that the "eyether" pronunciation of "either" is used in some parts of the US. I'd assumed it was not used at all there. It seems to be a free choice in the UK as to how one pronounces this. For example I usually say "eyether" but I've noticed my brother normally says "eether".

Anonymous said...

"As long as we have a good old standard word for it, why use a new one?"

Simple. Because some of us don't have a "good old standard word" for it. So we create one. Britishism. Those people not already familiar with "briticism" aren't going to come up with it. We create the word "Britishism".

Furthermore, people who have heard the word "Briticism" but not seen it are likely to think the word is "Britishism".

I too, like Boris Zakharin am curious where the form "briticism" comes from. Someone with access to OED care to enlighten us?

dunce said...

The OED has Briticism and Britishism as (roughly) contemporary (mid 19c) although suggesting Britishism as the earlier of the two.

Americanism, Englishism, Scotticism/Scoticism all appear to predate them, but the earliest in the line seems to be Anglicism used in the same kind of sense ("A characteristically English word, phrase, or idiom", from mid 17c).

So Briticism comes straightforwardly from forms of Anglicism/Scot(t)icism while Britishism takes the other path like Englisism/Americanism.

dunce said...

I meant "Englishism". All those isms and icisms are hard to get straight.

Kevin said...

I would say that Briticism follows the analogy of Gallicism, Germanicism, Hispanicism, etc, -- although I would have expected the spelling "Britticism", or perhaps even full-blown "Britannicism".

Ø said...

I like 'Brittanicism'.

'Briticism' sounds like a witticism.

Ø said...

No one ever says "Cub game" or "Brave game" or "Giant game" or "Cardinal game" or ... You need the "s".

For some reason this does not apply to the Yankees. People really do say "Yankee game".

John Burgess said...

I certainly say 'Yankee game' and 'Sox game'. I wonder, though, if the fact that because so many team names are plural that the plural form simply carries over to the adjectival form, with no mental parsing going on at all.

Having started school in New England, a lot of so-called 'Britishisms' strike me as perfectly normal. I do find myself halting, though, when I come across certain British past tenses--dwelt, dreamt, etc.--that are distinctly different than the AmE use of the regular verb forms.

Grey/Gray... I don't know which is 'correct', but as I sincerely doubt anyone is getting all confused when I use one or the other, I don't worry about it.

Anonymous said...

(NYC) To be honest, the AmE spelling of past tense verbs with the "ed" ending has always confused me, especially because many of them I say with a final "t" sound. Examples are "burned" and "smelled," which to me are most naturally said with a "t" sound at the end. That said, I woundn't start using the BrE spelling of these verbs instead of the AmE spelling.

Generally, I don't think it's anyone's intention to sound British. Sometimes I mix up "gray" and "grey," but that's only because I can never remember which one is preferred in AmE. And it doesn't help that an Art teacher I once had in high school used both to distinguish between various shades of gray. Yeah, she had problems...

Ø said...

For me, 'leaped' and 'leapt' have different vowel sounds. 'Leaped' is perfectly good AmE. Note that the final consonant sounds like 't'.

Americans do write and say 'dealt'. I don't believe anyone uses 'dealed'.

I am familiar with the BrE 'smelt', but would not use it myself (except in the childish saying 'He who smelt it dealt it', where it is indispensible).

I believe that 'gray' and 'grey' are interchangeable on both sides of the Atlantic, except for a few people who wish they weren't.

biochemist said...

I need to respond to these last few comments about past tenses!
I don't believe that the 't' endings are 'the British version' - they are alternatives. Yes, 'I have dreamed a dream' was said, rather poetically, by an American, and 'I dreamt I dwelled in Marble Halls' was a British song in the 19th C, but we can use both (or either!) in speech, depending on euphony and position in the sentence.
Off-en and off-ten are similarly alternatives in BrE speech:'Do you come here off-en?' 'I off-ten drop in after work'. Being British, we also have a class element - not so widespread nowadays - where the first syllable is pronounced 'orf-' by toffs and royalty.

This thread was started by comments on written work by students, and I entirely agree that 'oftentimes' sounds American or perhaps poetic, archaic, jocular, and so on. I wonder if some of these odd words or phrases are not actually archaic BrE, but may have entered AmE from German or other European languages in the past 4-500 years? 'Lonesome' springs to mind. BrE exposure to all but the most obvious German words is lost in the mists of time...

Robbie said...

I'd agree that "written work by students" is a pretty poor corpus for judging general language use. (Or even usage.) Students often strive to seem wittier or more sophisticated than they are, or both, and often fail.

I'm startled to find (in the discussion on "cheerio") a Jeeves story quoted as evidence of "the word changing its part of speech". Wodehouse is hardly the author to invoke in a grammatical argument.

I'm hoping Mr Yagoda is indulging in a particularly long-drawn-out and elaborate joke.

John Cowan said...

Biochemist: Spot on for oftentimes, which the OED marks as "now chiefly North American; otherwise archaic or literary." But they have no such mark for lonesome, which is first recorded in 1647, comfortably before the AmE-BrE split, and its etymology is plain English: lone + -some.

Lois Thorpe said...

I wonder how he defends 'widely accepted'. I am from California, have said 'either' and 'often' with the less common pronunciation pattern and my friends all think that I am weird. And I have to remember when teaching to give the alternate/preferred pronunciation for Americans. Sigh.

Picky said...

Interestingly it is only in the 20th century that the British plumped wholesale for "grey". Before that "gray" was a very common BrE spelling.

Stephen said...

On Britishism/Briticism, see Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926). He prefers "Britishism", arguing that that "Briticism" is malformed, since there is no separate adjective "Britic" (whereas "Scotic" and "Anglic" do exist).

Kelli said...

@Andy JS: I was always taught that it was correct to say "eye-ther" before words that start with a vowel sound and "ee-ther" before words that start with a consonant sound. Same goes for "neither".

vp said...

@Picky:
Interestingly it is only in the 20th century that the British plumped wholesale for "grey". Before that "gray" was a very common BrE spelling.

That's true of a whole lot of BrE preferences, for instance "tire"/"tyre" (the things that go on your car) and "-ize"/"-ise" (in words like "organi{z|s}e".

Fnarf said...

I swing both ways in some categories, depending on the context. When talking about "my" soccer, er, football teams (soccer being of course a perfectly English word coined in England by an Englishman, but never mind), I'll use "match" or "game", "standings" or "table", "schedule" or "fixture" and so on depending on whether I'm talking about my Seattle Sounders or my first love Tottenham Hotspur. Some words, like the British "pitch", just seem plain better than the American "field", as does the UK (and everywhere else) tradition of giving results as Wins-Draws-Losses rather than Wins-Losses-Draws, which drives me crazy.

The only one that really gets my goat is "bloody" -- coming out of an American mouth it makes me want to literally bloody it.

Robert B said...

I'm an editor on a British trade publication and I'm sure the only times I've seen "oftentimes" have been in submissions from American writers.

Kitty O said...

"Either" and "neither" are pronounced both ways in the US, sometimes by the same person. For whatever reason, I've always pronounced them as "eether" when they're at the end of a sentence and as "eyether" when they're anywhere else in the sentence. "I didn't know that, eether. Nyether he nor she said . . ." I'm sure there's no rule about it--I certainly don't remember learning one--but that's how I've always done it, and no one has ever batted an eye. I can't even tell you how my family members pronounce those words; truly, either (eyether? eether?) pronunciation goes, at least where I live (US South).

schwal said...

None of his problems seemed particularly egregious to me, but the "amongst" thing does annoy me. Mostly I agreed with him in places where AmE had an identical meaning (e.g. tinning) and disagreed on everything else.

I've always spelled it gray, but that's how I pronounce it, so it's just personal preference. The one that always gets me is disc (preferred by everyone) vs. disk (the one I instinctively use). I know it's a Latin import, but it's a hard c, so a k works just as well.

Little Black Sambo said...

I only ever came across "atop" in the National Geographic Magazine which I read as a child, referring to somebody in a tartan lumberjacket against a background of mountain scenery.

Julie said...

I find the site more amusing than anything else. Doesn't seem to be especially scientific nor seriously peevish. Many of the usages he mentioned, I don't know at all. Can't be too widespread.

I grew up reading English and American literature, and I didn't always know which was which. (That was in the Sixties, and those books were mostly old then. I doubt that modern lit carries so well.) I love the old poetic phrases that abounded in the nineteenth century.

Anyway, I didn't know that 'amongst' was considered British till the last few years.

Oh,LBS: We (here in California's redwoods) call that a "plaid flannel shirt." Very popular in these parts.

enitharmon said...

Yagoda's very prescriptive approach to usage has prompted me to ask a question that's bothered me for thirty-odd* years.

If we'd spent enough time in upstate NY in the 1980s for my daughter to attend the local elementary school, and she had written 'colour' or 'grey' or 'centre' in her work, would she have been corrected? Or would those spellings have been treated as valid alternatives (as I think they ought to be)?

A BrE-speaking friend resident in Switzerland was alarmed that he small daughter's teacher corrected her "mummy" to "mommy", which admittedly wasn't about an American teacher but a Swiss teacher who had learned AmE. It seemed very harsh to me.


*Is this a usage in AmE?

lynneguist said...

She would have been corrected on 'colour' and 'centre' (unless in the name of something) as those are not AmE spellings. 'Grey' alternates. I have no problem with that. It is the teacher's job in an American school to teach American spelling standards, just as I correct my English students who write 'behavior' (but not before I look for a source that they might have plagiari{z/s}ed from!).

Elian said...

"Briticism" sounds just right to me. As Dunce previously pointed out, It was formed on the model of words such as "Wallicism," "Anglicism" and "Scotticism." In France, we call a characteristically English word, phrase or idiom "un anglicisme." "Britishism" sounds to my French ears as jocular as "Spanishism" for "Hispanism," Welshism" for "Wallicism" or Frenchism" for "Gallicism."

AnyBeth said...

I never would have imagined that "dreamt" or other past tense by adding "t" constructions were gained from anywhere in the UK at all recently (as opposed to when the area became populated by English-speakers). I grew up in East Tennessee where the dialect is a combination of Southern American English and Appalachian English. Both the vocabulary and the accent are different enough that some speakers of General American can't understand it. The area is fairly insular for the US, with fewer people moving in or out, and a stubborn pride against yankees (northerners) who think our talk marks us ignorant hillbillies. Maybe the dialect is more resistant to change, especially the stigmatized differences.

There are lots of things more common there than elsewhere in the US. Dreamt, leapt, spelt, spoilt and similar -t's. (Though "learnt" is very old-fashioned.) Have the -ed's, too. We "reckon so" as readily as we "figure that", informally. "Ought", "ought to", "ought not", and "oughtn't" are common. We have "wh" and we kept double modals.

I would be very surprised that if any of these weren't part of the area's English from the start. If not, surely the words in that dialect that are more common to British English is coincidence and no more Britishisms than much of American English is. Can't be creeping influence if we've had it since there was an us.

I'm not surprised that some think -t's are taken from BrE. Not long ago, someone (GenAmE) insisted to me that "dreamt" isn't a word, so I figured people who think it doesn't belong in the US probably invent some justification.

Maybe funny anecdote: While I say I grew up in East Tennessee, I haven't lived there since I was 12. Being young and in school, I quickly lost my Southern accent with only traces remaining. I didn't, however, lose the region's vocabularly or grammatical peculiarities. So I spoke (and speak) Southern/Appellachian English in a largely General American accent with a hint of Southern. Before I was 20, more than half a dozen people wanted to know if I was British and at least as many remarked on me sounding British. Of those who thought I was British, Canadian was their second guess. All but one were American themselves, ranging coast-to-coast. (The exception was Australian. He was sure I didn't sound American.) I confirmed it wasn't accent, so much, that got them thinking that. Talk about being seen as anything but one-off Britishisms, people have thought my words mark me as British!

David Crosbie said...

Michael Taft's Pre-War Blues Concordance samples an interesting body of sung speech, largely composed in a manner that produced similar texts, similarly performed, whether the singer was literate or not. How they sang was almost invariably how they spoke.

Dreamt is found in only three records by two singers, both from Mississippi (although one lived in Memphis) — as opposed to nineteen instances of dreamed. There are no instances of spoilt, learnt, spelt.

Not conclusive, or course. But It does suggest that dreamt might have been more common than the others in Southern Black speech — and just possibly in Souther White speech.

I found a 1904 cylinder recording online of a American singer performing I dreamt I dwelt in Marble Halls. But then I realised that any singer performing from a written text would do the same.