Saturday, 10 March 2007

I dont dislike Americans

I don’t dislike Americans. I really don’t. Not all of them anyway. I have to be honest and say that the majority of Americans I have met haven’t been my favourite people. I just think they're a bit…well simple, brash, loud, outspoken, boastful and a bit ignorant. They seem to have this urgent need to simplify everything and to try to avoid any possibility of any misunderstanding. Their finest hour to date I think is probably the mangling; I mean interpretation of the English language. They have simplified it in many ways; I mean why does colour have a ‘U’? Why do favourite and neighbourhood have ‘U’s? And why can’t I change my f’ing spell checker on word to respect my decision to leave the U’s in?

Okay, there is a lot to be said for doing away with some older, outdated, over complicated additions to words such as the ‘K’ in knife, we don’t need it, it doesn’t do anything and it can cause some confusion to people who learn English as a second language. But we like it, it’s ours and for Britain it signifies a time when English was very different to how it is now. We deal with it, you just have a silent ‘K’ at the start, remember it and there is no problem. Americans have decided the time is not right to do away with the K’s, they haven’t finished with the U’s I don’t think.

Maybe Americans have a disadvantage as they don’t have a history to speak of, maybe that’s why they want to make it their own. I can understand that I suppose.

Now if this new language, lets call it American, stayed in America I wouldn’t have a real problem with, but it’s when it comes steaming into your life and has a go at you for pronouncing it ALUMINIUM instead of ALUMINUM, that’s when it gets my goat! Apparently they seem to have a grudge against I’s too!

I work as an English teacher in South Korea and have done for the last six months and I have to say that the abundance of Americans (and Canadians) is overwhelming; I sometimes have to question where I am. This in itself can be bad enough but it's when you get criticised for saying it Arabic and not Erabic that I feel is taking the piss a little. They seem to forget that it’s called English, not American, although I am in favour (there’s another U that has escaped the spell checker) of American becoming an official language and then they can butcher away to their hearts content.
This dumbing down of the language isn’t so much a problem as it is frustrating and infuriating as they don’t seem to see or accept that it is indeed dumbing down. Some of the stupidest people I know are from Britain and when faced with the apparently tongue twisting film title of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone’ they too have to ask what a Philosopher is, but when JK Rowling wrote the book Im sure there wasn’t any doubt that’s what the book would be called all over the world and any film would be called that too, should it be made. In America however the film and book were called ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s stone’ as the studio and publishers were concerned that people wouldn’t know what a philosopher was.

The very thought that these two words are interchangeable is laughable and a generation of American Potter fans have now missed an opportunity to ask a grown up “what’s philosophy?”

For the record, the definition of philosophy is famously a difficult matter for even philosophers to define but a sorcerer is someone who practices sorcery, the belief in magical spells that harness occult forces or evil spirits to produce unnatural effects in the world. Quite different.

This changing of the title and even “translating” the book into American-English proved unpopular with the New York Times who ran an article titled "Harry Potter, Minus a Certain Flavour"

I don’t want this to sound like a rant against Americans, its not, more like a critique of the way some Americans have a knack of ignoring or not understanding where certain things come from. I am a big fan of many things American: film makers, writers, musicians and many other things but there is a line and some of the less intellectual Americans I have come across do not so much cross it as find it and do a little jig on it. I can't pin them down geographically or say they all have certain traits but if you've met one of these kind of Americans you know it.

The real reason for this rant (oops I said it wasn’t a rant) is because South Korea is in love with America. They have had a long standing relationship with them since the Korean War and many of the older generation feel they owe the US a debt of gratitude for saving them from the commie northerners and as a mark of respect they have decided to bend over and take it in the backside, I'm sure there are other reasons for this and I don’t profess to know them all but I call it as I see it.

Korea is overrun with Americanisms, the worst for me is the absolute mushrooming of English hagwons that, often openly admit to a preference for American or Canadian speakers, the books I use in class are also a source of their surrogate patriotism, the worst claim was that it was the US that saved the world in WW2, charming. TOEFL learners are also encouraged to practice their north American inflection, even though in an article on a English teachers forum a recruiter wrote that most English learners use it to communicate with other non native speakers, So having a distinct American inflection would be no advantage whatsoever and may even be a disadvantage.

Our diretor (that’s how she spells it on the door) lived in the US for a good few years and now feels she too owes a debt to the US and at every turn promotes America and Americanisms and im sure feels a sense of superiority over us because we are British, despite the fact she pronounces it finish-id and not finisht. We have an American and another Korean who lived in the US for 20 years to contend with too and sometimes I find myself getting annoyed at their pure ignorance. Only the other day one of them admitted that they wouldn’t claim bread as an American creation (nice of them) but they might claim hamburger buns, until I pointed out that they probably came from Hamburg (which indeed they did, a theory states that in Hamburg, Germany, meat scraps, similar to modern ground beef were served on a Brötchen, a round bun-shaped piece of bread.)

Anyway I end with a call to peace, just accept that your English is inferior and British English is the original and best and we should get along just fine. Other than that rename the language American and be done with it.

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