Spelling differences between British and American English

Växjö University School of Humanities English, ENC 163 7 June 2007 Supervisor: Ibolya Maricic Examiner: Hans Lindquist Spelling differences between B...
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Växjö University School of Humanities English, ENC 163 7 June 2007 Supervisor: Ibolya Maricic Examiner: Hans Lindquist

Spelling differences between British and American English Through – thru Night – nite Light – lite High – hi

Līga Līce

Table of contents


1. Introduction


1.1 Aim and Research questions


2. Theoretical background


3. Material and Method


3.1 Material


3.2 Method


4. Results and analysis


4.1 Thru


4.2 Nite


4.3 Lite


4.4 Hi


5. Conclusion




Abstract Although the British and the Americans use the same language, i.e. English, the differences in vocabulary, pronunciation, and spelling between these two varieties doubtlessly exist. However, this paper deals particularly with the spelling differences between British English and American English since spelling seems to cause confusion and problems to the learners of English the most. The American spelling is considered to be informal; therefore, the essay focuses on the standard British English spelling of words through, night, light, and high and their equivalents in American English, i.e. thru, nite, lite, and hi. This study investigates how extensively the British and the Americans use the standard and the informal spelling of these words in different written sources such as newspapers, magazines, leaflets and advertisements, and books. In addition, the collocations of these particular words are investigated. In order to do this quantitative research, the Collins Cobuild corpus material was searched and analyzed. The results of this study reveal that the informal American spelling of these four words appears in British texts more often than in American texts. However, the informal spelling tends to appear in non-American sources when speaking about America or American cultural phenomena. Keywords: Spelling differences, spelling reform, British spelling, standard spelling, American spelling, informal spelling, phonetic spelling

1. Introduction It is widely known that there are some linguistic differences between British and American English. Americans tried and still try to simplify English, and as Kövecses (2000:166) claims, spelling is where this phenomenon can be observed the most. The first American spelling reforms were introduced at the end of the 18th century by such famous persons as Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and Noah Webster. Nowadays in America, shortened and, as Egersten (1972:26) states, more ‘phonetic’ spelling of certain words occurs on billboards, signs and posters. One of them is the omission of the two-letter combination gh. To a learner of standard British English, words such as ‘drive-thru’, ‘nite club’, or ‘hilites’ might seem surprising. Tottie (2002:8) claims that: “Although most words are written in exactly the same way in the two varieties, there are a few eye-catching differences in spelling.” Therefore, this research deals with particular spelling differences between American and British English. There are several; nevertheless, the focus is on the one regarding the spelling of the words through, night, light, and high. In addition, the tendency regarding the spelling of these particular words in Australian English will also be discussed where relevant. 1.1 Aim and Research questions The aim of this study is to investigate to what extent the British and the Americans use the standard spelling and the informal spelling in such written sources as newspapers, magazines, leaflets and advertisements, and books. More specific research questions are: 

Is the American spelling of the words through, night, light, and high present only in American texts or can it also appear in British texts?

Which are the most frequent words that thru, nite, lite, and hi collocate with in American and British written sources?

Are there any differences in the frequency of the American spelling of through, night, light, and high when comparing formal and informal texts in both varieties of English?


The previous studies on these items are considered in Section 2. There have been several of them, as one might expect, due to the fact that more than 200 years have passed since Noah Webster introduced the spelling reform in America. In Section 3, the material as well as the method of this research is described in detail. The results of this particular investigation, however, are presented and analyzed extensively in Section 4. Several tables have been created in order to present the data visually. Lastly, in Section 5, the results of the investigation are summarized and several conclusions from the results are drawn.

2. Theoretical background As Crystal (1990:67) claims, the most frequent expressions used to describe English spelling are ‘chaotic’, ‘unpredictable’, ‘disorganized’, ‘a mess’. However, he further suggests that there is both regularity and irregularity in English spelling. When doing statistics on irregularity in spelling, it is necessary to distinguish between counting every single instance (token) and counting each word only once, regardless of how many times it is used (type) (ibid 68f). Each approach would give totally different results; the percentage of irregularity based on word tokens would be bigger than that of word types. He notes that due to the failure to appreciate this distinction, English spelling is often considered to be mad. According to Crystal (1990:69), “there are only about 400 everyday words in English whose spelling is wholly irregular.” He explains the difficulty of learning to spell correctly with the fact that instead of being taught how to spell, children are often told to learn spellings by heart. He does not approve of it and claims that there exist certain spelling rules; once a child discovers how to use them, guesswork is no longer needed (ibid 70). However, there are still exceptions as regards English spelling rules. Crystal (1990:74ff) relates these exceptions to the rich and colourful history of the formation and development of the English spelling system. According to him, the arrival of the Roman missionaries in AD 597 is considered to be the beginning of the literary age when alongside with large numbers of Latin manuscripts, also Old English texts began to be written. Due to the fact that 23 Latin alphabet letters were not enough to write down Old English, the missionaries used extra symbols to present the sounds that were different from Latin, e.g. sc for [sh]. Crystal explains that also the French introduced some new spellings in Middle English after the Norman Conquest, such as, qu instead of cw, gh instead of h in words night and enough, ou 2

instead of u in a word house. As a result, by the beginning of the 15th century, English spelling was a mixture of French and Old English. Further Crystal states the fact that with the introduction of printing in 1476, one standard system reflecting the speech of the London area was chosen by William Caxton as a standard to follow in his printing house. For the first time the notion of a ‘correct’ spelling appeared. According to Crystal, during the 15th century, six of the vowels of Middle English were altered completely, and these changes are now present in Modern English (e.g. a in name was pronounced as [a:], that is why we still write it with a). Another case that Crystal mentions is that of k in such words as knee or know that ceased to be pronounced during the 15th century; however, spelling continued to reflect it. He states that a new trend of showing the etymology of a word in its spelling was introduced in the 16th century. The one that is present also nowadays is the case of the silent b in debt. Crystal continues the discussion by explaining that with the arrival of loan words from French, Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese in the late 16th century, more new spellings appeared, such as, bizarre, cocoa, moustache, and gazette. It is obvious that the English spelling system is a result of different influences; therefore, it presents irregularities. These, as Crystal (1990:79) suggests, should be eliminated in order to decrease the effort of learning English spelling. As Crystal (1990:79) claims, although the first attempts to change English spelling date back to the 16th century, the main movements developed in the 19th century in Britain as well as in America. According to Crystal, Noah Webster (17581843) is considered to be the person who introduced the spelling reform in the United States of America. Webster’s famous work An American Dictionary of the English Language, nowadays known simply as Webster’s, was published in 1828 and is considered to be the foundation of American lexicography (ibid 230). In his Spelling Book (1789) Webster wrote: Our honour requires us to have a system of our own in languages as well as in government. Great Britain, whose children we are, should no longer be our standard; for the taste of her writers is already corrupted, and her language on the decline (Quoted in Crystal, 1990:230).


According to Quirk (1962:2), at the time when the United States separated from Britain, there were even proposals that Americans should adopt Hebrew or Greek in order to acknowledge their independence from Britain linguistically. However, Americans decided to adhere to English, but ‘slightly’ modified it. Webster introduced such spelling reforms as o instead of ou in color, er instead of re in center, s instead of c in defense, l instead of ll in traveller, and also the omission of gh that will be discussed in detail later in this paper. Kövecses (2000:167) points out: “In those cases where British English had alternative spellings, Webster always recommended the simpler form for American usage.” He regards the tendency towards simplification in American English as a ‘conscious and planned process’. The historical context was highly political (the American War of Independence (17751783)), thus, this process involved also such big political authorities as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. As regards the general properties of American English, Kövecses (2000:13) mentions: ‘economical’, ‘regular’, ‘direct’, ‘democratic’, ‘tolerant’, ‘informal’, ‘prudish’, ‘inflated’, ‘inventive’, ‘imaginative’, ‘success- and action-oriented’. The economical nature of American English, as he states, is primarily seen in the domain of spelling. Also Clark (1965:185) notes that “most British spellings differ from American […] in being longer.” According to Egersten (1972:26), the omission of gh is a case of ‘phonetic’ spelling when the letters are left out due to the fact that they are not pronounced. He claims that the spelling of thru (=through) is very common in announcements, on signs and posters while nite (=night) and hi (=high) are considered to appear in a little more informal contexts. Kövecses (2000:186) formulates the principle of phonetic spelling as follows: “to represent sound shape in writing, use only letters or letter combinations that are the most conventional written representations of sounds.” In this sense, he considers American English to be obviously simpler than British English. Similarly to Egersten, he regards such spellings as lite, hi, nite to appear mostly in informal texts, but also to be often disapproved of (ibid 187). Thru, according to him, is even accepted in standard usage, while Tottie (2002:10) denies its connection to standard language and regards it as one of the “abbreviations that are sometimes seen in print”. Kövecses (2002:242) points out another contrastive fact i.e., that these spellings may appear not only in informal, but also in formal contexts, e.g., in the words thruway and hi-fi. 4

The question is, how can we find out about the differences between American and British English? According to Tottie (2002:94f), asking a native speaker would be the best approach to solving this problem; however, neither British nor American speakers are sure of the specific features of their own variety. The other source she suggests is dictionaries. Nevertheless, it might be problematic as well since language changes, and in order to give correct information on the present use of a particular expression, data collection needs constant updating. As another disadvantage of dictionaries as reliable sources of both regional variants she mentions the fact that while British publishing houses tend to make dictionaries for a world market of foreign learners and speakers of English, American dictionaries are mostly written for the American local market. Tottie (2002:95) also discusses Briticisms and Americanisms. She points out that in the dictionaries produced in America, paying attention to regional variation is mostly ignored and a small number of Briticisms are included. As to the problem of defining Americanisms, Tottie indicates, however, that these days “they often don’t remain Americanisms for very long but quickly become adopted in British as well as other varieties, sometimes conveying an American flavour and sometimes not.” (ibid 94). Another question that is raised is what to teach, British or American English? Crystal in English as a Global Language (1997:138) speaks about the increasing influence of the American English variety. As Tottie (2002:245) states: “American English is conquering the world and is becoming a model for teaching in an increasing number of non-English-speaking countries”, and that “American dominance in the world of finance, science, computers, and movies has led to linguistic dominance as well.” Furthermore, she acknowledges the observable and undeniable fact that a new form of English, sometimes called World English or International English is emerging. According to her, World English will replace both national varieties, and the differences between them will no longer count. However, until then, these differences will remain. Algeo (2006:2) notes that grammatical differences have been studied mainly by individual scholars focusing on particular grammatical matters. Interestingly, he claims: “When a use is said to be British, that statement does not necessarily mean that it is the only or even the main British use or that the use does not occur in American also, but only that the use is attested in British sources and is more typical of British than of American English.”


In sum, studies have noted several viewpoints and explanations as to how significant these differences between the two varieties of English really are. A short history of the English spelling system has been presented in this section. In addition, the theories of famous linguists have been discussed. However, this paper will deal particularly with the claim introduced by Algeo (see above), and more specifically, with researching, comparing, and analysing particular spelling differences in British and American written sources. 3. Material and method 3.1 Material To study the spelling of the words thru, nite, lite, and hi, the reference tool for learners of English called the Collins Cobuild corpus1 material was used. According to the Cobuild website, throughout the 1980s, Collins Cobuild built up a large corpus of modern English, as well as the software tools to analyse the corpus data, and also a team of specialist linguists and lexicographers. The current corpus, known as The Bank of English, is a part of the Collins Word Web. “The Bank of English is a collection of modern English language held on computer for analysis of words, meanings, grammar and usage.” (Collins.Cobuild). The Collins Word Web, however, is a 2.5 billion-word database that grows by 35 million words every month. According to the information provided on this website, The Bank of English was launched in 1991 by Collins and the University of Birmingham. This extensive corpus contains 524 million words. However, since new material is added constantly, the Collins Cobuild corpus is expanding. It contains English language data taken from thousands of different sources. The collection of the Collins Cobuild corpus consists of written as well as spoken sources. As stated on the Cobuild website, the written texts have been collected from newspapers, magazines, fiction and non-fiction books, brochures, reports, and websites. The spoken data, however, come from television and radio broadcasts, meetings, interviews, discussions, and conversations. Thus, The Bank of English is the reflection of the English language that people write, speak, hear and read. It is rather easy for lexicographers, linguists, researchers as well as students to analyse the corpus since the sophisticated software was created. The corpus is


Corpus – a large number of articles, books, magazines, etc. that have been deliberately collected together for some purpose (Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary, 1987)


divided in several subcorpora, thus it is possible to select the subcorpus or several subcorpora the researcher is particularly interested in. The software is very cleverly designed since word frequencies can be checked, and also patterns of word combinations can be searched. Moreover, it is possible to see the examples of all the uses of particular words appearing in their original contexts. As regards lexicography, according to the Cobuild website, “the information derived from The Bank of English can improve almost every aspect of dictionary making.” (Collins.Cobuild). One of these is also the necessity to include in a dictionary the information on spelling differences among the varieties of English. Since this research is quantitative rather than qualitative, the fact that the Collins Cobuild corpus provides more general than specific information on the sources did not cause any problems for the investigation. For instance, the aim of this study is to show and compare the occurrences of thru, nite, lite, and hi in US books and UK books in general, but not in the specific books in each variety. However, there is also a disadvantage in using the Collins Cobuild corpus. The fact that the years of the collected data are not specified makes it impossible to do diachronic research. Without a doubt, it would be rather interesting to see how the use of thru, nite, lite, and hi has changed during the last ten years. Table 1 below shows the sources of texts in the Collins Cobuild corpus. Table 1. The Collins Cobuild corpus with all its subcorpora Abbreviation

Full name of the subcorpus

Country, country code


National Public Radio Broadcasts

United States of America (US)

Total no. of words 3129222


newspaper Today

United Kingdom (UK)



newspaper The Times

United Kingdom (UK)



books; fiction and non-fiction

United States of America (US)



Australian newspapers

Australia (AUS)



United Kingdom (UK)



BBC World Service Radio Broadcasts ephemera (leaflets, adverts etc.)

United States of America (US)




United Kingdom (UK)



newspaper The Sun

United Kingdom (UK)



books; fiction and non-fiction

United Kingdom (UK)



transcribed informal speech

United Kingdom (UK)



ephemera (leaflets, adverts etc.)

United Kingdom (UK)





3.2 Method Thanks to the sophisticated software, the Collins Cobuild corpus is easily searchable. To obtain the necessary data, a particular item, e.g. thru was typed as a query. Then all its occurrences were shown specifying the number of tokens in each subcorpus. However, the total number of words in each subcorpus was different, thus, in order to produce reliable statistics, the average number per one million words of a specific item was calculated, and presented in the tables alongside with its total number of occurrences. The particular subcorpora were retrieved, and the list of concordance lines appeared on the screen. The relevant examples were further analysed in detail. In order to investigate collocations2, the other word was added to thru or through and typed as a query, e.g. drive + through. The irrelevant examples were deleted manually. For instance, when investigating the occurrences of drive-through, only the lines where this item was hyphenated where counted. Such examples as (1) below where drive through appeared as two separate words were not analyzed: (1)

coach burst a tyre on the hour-long drive through suicidal traffic

Furthermore, the concordance lines where drive functioned as a verb, but through appeared as a preposition were not investigated. Example (2) below is such a case: (2)

To get to Northern Morizan you had to drive through the river.

This section has discussed the Collins Cobuild corpus that was used as source material in order to do this investigation. The advantages, as well as the disadvantages of using the Collins Cobuild corpus have been mentioned. In addition, the method of conducting this research has been discussed in detail. The data examined in this study will be presented in the next section with the help of several tables. However, the numbers will also be discussed in the text alongside with additional information on the topic.


collocation – a noticeable arrangement or conjoining of words or other linguistic elements (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 1986)


4. Results and analysis In several studies, American spelling is regarded as ‘phonetic’. (see Egersten, 1972, Kövecses, 2000). According to Kövecses (2000:187), American English “favors a letter that is thought to be most conventionally associated with a given sound.” This study investigates the case when the letters gh are left out or not pronounced. To be more precise, it will deal with the case of thru when the letter –u is chosen instead of –ough to represent the sound [u]. Another spelling phenomenon that this paper will analyze underwent the same change, i.e. the omission of gh. It is the case of lite, nite, and hi when the single vowel –i is chosen instead of the three-letter combination –igh as a written representation of the sound [aj].

4.1 Thru The analysis began by investigating the usage of thru in different subcorpora available in the Collins Cobuild corpus (see Section 3.1), and the findings are presented in Table 2 below. Table 2. The occurrences of thru in different subcorpora Subcorpora Total number of occurrences Average number per 1 million words usephem 34 27.8 sunnow 22 3.8 ukmags 5 1.0 ukephem 2 0.6 npr 2 0.6 oznews 2 0.4 today 1 0.2 ukbooks 1 0.2 times 1 0.2 usbooks 0 0.0 bbc 0 0.0 ukspok 0 0.0 70 Total: As can be expected, the rather informal word thru appears most frequently in the subcorpus of US leaflets and adverts. It is likely due to the fact that in advertisements, logos, or slogans, mostly informal language is used. As regards collocations, in four out of 34 examples from this subcorpus thru collocates with the adjective valid. Since 9

these lines were similar, they are not repeated four times, but are given only once: (3)

good For Everyone In Party Valid Thru Sunday 8/13/95

Nevertheless, the same does not apply to the other US source, i.e. books. Even though thru is considered to be rather informal, the fact that it does not appear in any of the US fiction or non-fiction books is interesting and unexpected. However, only one example (4) was found where the word thru appeared in a UK book: (4)

Stories the Feet Can Tell Thru Reflexology by Eunice D.

The small number of thru occurrences in this subcorpus in both varieties thus leads to the conclusion that even though thru is associated with American English, books mostly contain texts where more formal language is used. As Egersten (1972:26) points out: “In more formal style, the traditional spelling still prevails.” The data from the current research presented in Table 2 above support this. The high number of thru occurrences in the UK newspaper The Sun might seem surprising; nevertheless, this fact does not indicate British speakers’ approval of the American spelling of this particular item since in 19 out of 22 cases thru was used referring to the Robbie William’s CD as seen in (5)-(6): (5)

six months after release. Life Thru A Lens-Robbie Williams


CONGRATS to Robbie Williams. His Life Thru A Lens album has

In the subcorpus of UK magazines thru appears in connection with dates as in (7) below: (7)

11-28 March 1993, 8.30 PM, Thursday thru Sunday.

Thru appears among words connected with dates and days also in the subcorpus of US leaflets and adverts, as illustrated in (8)- (11) below: (8)

Available October thru December only





Open daily Memorial Day thru Labor Day


Toll free 8 00 am-midnight, Monday thru Saturday

When investigating the occurrences of the compound drive-thru, it is surprising that none of the five examples of this kind are present in any of the US corpora. On the contrary, all five examples (12)-(16) appear in British and Australian sources; in addition, all of them are hyphenated:


the sunroof of a limousine at a Drive-Thru mcdonalds


(today) (13)

He munched drive-thru cheeseburgers, slept on a bed.

(times) (14)

The 967sq m Bernie's Express Drive-Thru at 186 Lutwyche Rd

(oznews) (15)

sale of the Bernie's Express Drive-Thru property on Lutwyche Rd Brisbane.

(oznews) (16)

for eating in, plus a drive-thru service at some stores.

(sun) However, when looking at the context, it is obvious that except for the two examples from Australian newspapers in (14) and (15), all the rest are associated with America, especially food (McDonald's, cheeseburgers, stores). Thus, the conclusion is that drive-thru appears in non-American sources when speaking about America, or American cultural phenomena. Accordingly, the investigation of the standard spelling through in collocation with drive was conducted in the same corpus. The examples where drive through was used as a phrasal verb were not counted, only those where it appeared as a compound noun or adjective. The results reveal that the word combination drive through is used 37 times, but two different cases should be distinguished: firstly, 21 times when referring to a trip or a ride (17) where drive is a noun, but through functions as a preposition; secondly, 16 times in collocations with words connected with food and services, as seen in (18): (17)

Nogales is less than a 2-hour drive through scenic country.




she went to a mcdonald's drive-through restaurant on her pony.

(today) In the latter case, however, drive-through is hyphenated. That was also the case of more interest; therefore, the investigation of drive-through in different subcorpora was conducted. The data are presented in Table 3 below, mentioning only the subcorpora in which drive-through appears at least once. Table 3. The occurrences of drive-through in different subcorpora Subcorpora Total number of Average number per 1 million occurrences words oznews 5 0.9 today 4 0.8 usephem 1 0.8 sunnow 3 0.5 npr 1 0.3 ukmags 1 0.2 ukspok 1 0.1 16 Total: As can be seen in Table 3 above, drive-through appears in Australian newspapers five times; moreover, the average number of drive-through occurrences in this subcorpus is the highest. As to the formation of Australian English, according to Crystal (1997:35), at the end of 18th century the main source of settlers going to Australia was from the British Isles, which had a major impact on the language. However, the occurrences of drive-thru in Australian newspapers, presented in examples (14) and (15) above indicate American English influence on the variety. The surprising fact that there is one example of drive-through, illustrated in (19) below, appearing in US leaflets and adverts compared to zero cases of drive-thru, does not necessarily mean that Americans prefer the British spelling of drive-through in the language of advertising due to the small total number of tokens. In comparison, nine occurrences of drive-through versus three drive-thru in the UK sources seem to indicate British preference for their own spelling. (19)

ATM in a well-lighted area or use a drive-through ATM.

(usephem) The next word combination representing British spelling is valid through. All five


examples (20)-(24) appear in the subcorpus of US leaflets and advertisements. As could be expected, they are connected with dates: (20)

indicated in U.S. dollars and are valid through October 31.


25 rebate valid through 6/30/92.


The introductory APR offer (7.9 is valid through 12/31/95.


Coupon valid through september 9, 1995!


Offer valid through September 30, 1995

Considering the fact that there are five cases of valid through and four cases of valid thru in the subcorpus of US leaflets and advertisements, the conclusion can be drawn that Americans tend to use both forms. As to semantics, since neither valid through, nor valid thru appear in any of the UK sources, British speakers probably choose other words to express validity, e.g. expire or valid until, as presented in examples (25)-(30) below. Valid until occurs in each of the British subcorpora, except for books. Moreover, in the subcorpus of British leaflets and advertisments 30 occurrences of valid until were found.


maximum allowed-and it would expire before the play offs. [sic]

(today) (26)

station's current deal was due to expire next year

(sunnow) (27)

offer is subject to availability and valid until Saturday, March 18 1995.

(today) (28)

Both sets of fares valid until March 31.

(times) (29)

one voucher per household and is valid until April 30, 1993.

(ukmags) (30)


(ukephem) As Kövecses (2000:242) claims that thru can also appear in formal contexts in particular compounds, such as thruway, the occurrences of this compound were also investigated. According to this research, thruway appears in the Collins Cobuild corpus four times, and all the occurrences are presented in examples (31)-(34) below:



by competition with the new New York Thruway, which paralleled the Central's

(usbooks) (32)

FROM THE NORTH -- NY Thruway Exit 21 - East on Rt.

(usephem) (33)

Hunter. FROM THE SOUTH -- NY Thruway to Exit 20

(usephem) (34)

a second-century Latin military thruway, soars straight up from near the formerly Roman port of Neath in south Wales through the daunting contours of the Brecon Beacons.

(ukephem) Thruway appears in US sources more frequently. Moreover, in the US sources it collocates with the words connected to America, i.e. New York. However, in the only case where it appears in a UK source, no connection with America is present. On the contrary, as shown in example (34), thruway occurs in the subcorpus of UK leaflets and advertisements with the words connected to Britain (Neath, Wales). This can be related to Tottie’s claim about the short life of Americanisms (see Section 2).

4.2 Nite Another item whose spelling was investigated was nite. In the Collins Cobuild corpus it appeared 18 times in total. The results are presented in Table 4 below, mentioning only the subcorpora in which nite appeared at least once. Table 4.The occurrences of nite according to varieties of English Subcorpora ukmags usephem ukephem oznews bbc sunnow usbooks Total:

Total number of occurrences 8 1 2 3 1 2 1 18

Average number per 1 million words 1.6 0.8 0.6 0.6 0.4 0.3 0.2

Surprisingly, the American spelling nite appears in UK sources 16 times, and there are only two cases where it appears in US sources. As seen in Table 4 above, UK 14

magazines is the subcorpus where nite occurs most frequently. That might be because of the fact that there are a lot of advertisements in magazines where eye-catching words are used, as nite in this case. Furthermore, as presented in examples (35)-(36) below, nite appears in UK magazines in connection with America and American cultural phenomena:


what it's like to be black in America and the anti-gun, antirevolution sentiments of `Greener Pastures' hold any valuable insights beyond cruising for `A Nite On The Town'


They're a late nite bar-room band for sure, but one that's spent countless cold summers at Butlin's rather than at sleazy drinking clubs in Las Vegas.

Nite appears in the subcorpus of UK magazines also in different titles, as seen in examples (37) and (38) below: (37)

Boyz II Men's `In the Still of the Nite' is symptomatic-sure, they can sing, but the spirit is lost in slick overproduction.


JOLLY'S NITE SPOT 235 Aqueduct Street. Disco. Thursday-Sunday.

However, nite appears three times also in Australian newspapers. As Crystal (1997:37) claims, “the variety contains many expressions which have originated in Australia […] and in recent years the influence of American English has been noticeable, so that the country now has a very mixed linguistic character.” Out of these 18 examples nite collocates three times with club. Two examples from Australian newspapers are similar, therefore, they are counted as one. As illustrated in (39) and (40) below, nite club appears as a part of a proper noun written separately. Furthermore, both examples are from non-American sources. This fact is somewhat surprising because Ocean City, Maryland was the place the author first saw the American way of spelling night, particularly in the expression nite club. (39)

his incomparable voice to the Scream Nite Club

(oznews) (40)

saucy routine at the town's Atlantic Nite Club

(sunnow) 15

Nite also collocates twice with cream, as illustrated in (41) and (42) below. Moreover, both examples are interesting and unique in the sense that they present the case where both spellings, US nite and UK night are used in the same sentence: (41)

I used then were Ultima's CHR Nite Cream Concentrate at night

(usbooks) (42)

list of ingredients NIGHTY NITE CREAM - Most night creams are thick

(ukephem) Similarly to nite club, the more informal spelling nite seems to collocate with cream in brand product names. Also Tottie (2002:12) mentions the phenomena of the appearance of the American spelling in trademarks. It might be due to the advertising strategy that in logos and titles well-chosen words should be used in order to appeal to the potential customers. There are also two cases where nite appears in collocation with flight, as shown in (43) and (44) below: (43)

Nile Rodgers must also shoulder blame for the incongruous marriage of an epic vocal with weak dance rhythms on `The Wedding Song' and `Nite Flight'.

(ukmags) (44)

Henry's Nite-Flites. These are fairly fast, and lighter than average, smooth-spinning torches.

(ukephem) Interestingly, in the former example (43) flight is spelled in a standard way, even though the American spelling rule, i.e., the omission of gh, should be the same as for night (cf. night and flight). Another interesting fact is that in comparison to nite (see examples (35) and (36)), in example (43) the standard spelling flight and not the American flite is used when speaking about American cultural phenomena, i.e. the musician from New York Nile Rodgers. Moreover, flight appears in the title of the American song, and as it was proved with the examples (37) - (42), in titles usually eye-catching language is used. However, in the latter example (44) both words nite and flite are spelled the American way; in addition, they appear in the product name. Since both examples (43) and (44) are from UK sources, one can draw the conclusion that British people use both spellings. According to Aitchison (2001: 84ff), the same


sound change does not affect all words simultaneously. The change spreads step by step, firstly gaining a foothold in a few common words and then moving through the vocabulary. Aitchison imagines the progress of a change like an s-curve, and distinguishes four different stages: getting a foothold, catching on, taking off, and slackening (ibid 91f). Accordingly, the same process could be noticed also as regards spelling, i.e. the case of –igh.

4.3 Lite Another word that follows the same pattern, i.e. the omission of gh in spelling is lite. The results from the Collins Cobuild corpus are presented in Table 5 below. Table 5. The occurrences of lite in different subcorpora Subcorpora

ukephem usephem times sunnow ukmags usbooks npr oznews ukbooks bbc today ukspok Total:

Total number of occurrences

Average number per 1 million words

13 4 10 9 6 6 3 5 3 1 0 0 60

4.2 3.3 1.7 1.5 1.2 1.1 1.0 0.9 0.6 0.4 0.0 0.0

As regards newspapers, magazines and leaflets, the results show that the non-standard spelling of light is more frequent in British than in American sources. However, lite appears in American books almost twice as many times as in British books. This might be either because lite is becoming a feature of formal texts, or because books might not be so formal in style anymore. Although in the Collins Cobuild corpus the subcorpora of British and American books are not as specific to provide the information on the genres of the books, modern poetry might be the genre where nonstandard spellings as well as neologisms, and disregard of grammar rules appear the most often.


When analyzing the context, lite appears mostly in collocations with words connected with food and diets, as illustrated in (45)-(48) below. Similarly to nite, it also appears in product and brand names. The latter example again presents the case when both spellings are used in the same sentence: (45)

At the far end of the pasture a Pepsi Lite billboard

(usbooks) (46)

Phhhh! Blaaaaghhhhh! What is this Lite wine?

(usbooks) (47)

QUF for inclusion in its Danone Diet Lite Plus Fruit and Nut

(oznews) (48)

Lee once labeled a cheesecake as `lite" because they claimed it was light

(npr) However, as the opposite to darkness, and moreover, not being a part of any title, lite occurs only once:


Why did our bosses switch the Lite off?


4.4 Hi Kövecses (2000:242) also notes that high can be spelled as hi in the compound hi-fi. The Collins Cobuild corpus was searched for the occurrences of hi-fi, and the data are presented in Table 6 below. However, when searching for high-fi in the same corpus, no occurrences were found. When comparing the occurrences of hi-fi in leaflets, one may see that it appears almost twice as many times in the UK leaflets as it appears in the US ones (cf. 11.8 vs. 5.7). Furthermore, as Table 6 shows, hi-fi is frequently used also in the subcorpus of UK newspapers and magazines. However, its occurrence in books in both varieties is rather low. Although Kövecses (2000:242) considers hi-fi to appear also in formal contexts, its rare use in books does not confirm this.


Table 6. The occurrences of hi-fi in different subcorpora Subcorpus

ukephem ukmags usephem today npr bbc sunnow times ukspok ukbooks usbooks oznews Total:

Total number of occurrences

Average number per 1 million words

37 30 7 17 6 5 11 7 10 2 2 1 135

11.8 6.1 5.7 3.2 1.9 1.9 1.9 1.2 1.1 0.4 0.4 0.2

Another case when high appears as hi is the compound hi-tech. Researching the Collins Cobuild corpus, totally 175 cases of hi-tech were found. The results are presented in Table 7 below. Table 7. The occurrences of hi-tech in different subcorpora Subcorpora ukmags sunnow ukephem today oznews times usephem ukbooks ukspok bbc usbooks npr Total:

Total number of occurrences 44 43 19 24 14 11 2 5 8 2 3 0 175

Average number per 1 million words 9.0 7.4 6.1 4.6 2.6 1.9 1.6 0.9 0.9 0.8 0.5 0.0

Again British written sources are those where the non-standard spelling appears most frequently. Obviously, in the case of hi-tech, this fact refers to both formal as well as


informal texts. As can be expected, hi-tech appears in collocations with words connected with technologies, systems, and equipment as illustrated in (50)-(55) below: (50)

Much has been made of Lilleshall's hi-tech equipment.


that investment in improved hi-tech air traffic control

(52) (53)

tanks and track them with the hi-tech Milan infra-red anti-tank system. Olsen spends hours on a special hi-tech video system


to her ears; Charlotte Hibbitt; Hi-tech ear implant


the serve with the modern hi-tech rackets, bigger and lighter

However, the total number of occurrences of the standard spelling high-tech in the Collins Cobuild corpus was higher in comparison to the occurrences of hi-tech. Hightech appeared in the corpus 421 times in total, and the results are presented in Table 8 below. Table 8. The occurrences of high-tech in different subcorpora Subcorpora

usephem npr times oznews today ukephem ukmags usbooks sunnow ukbooks bbc ukspok Total:

Total number of occurrences

Average number per 1 million words

33 63 78 65 57 30 41 22 16 7 3 6 421

26.9 20.1 13.5 12.2 10.9 9.6 8.4 3.9 2.7 1.3 1.1 0.6

When comparing Table 7 and Table 8, one can see that in all the subcorpora except for ukmags, sunnow, ukspok and npr, the average number of high-tech is higher than that of hi-tech. This can be explained by the fact that ‘The Sun’ is a tabloid where rather informal language is used, similarly to the language used in magazines and on


the radio as well as the spoken language. Interestingly, not only the British, but also the Americans seem to prefer using the standard spelling high-tech in leaflets and advertisements (cf. 1.6 hi-tech vs. 26.9 high-tech). The same applies to the subcorpus of American books where the difference in the numbers is also very big (cf. 3 hi-tech vs. 22 high-tech). In British magazines, however, the occurrences of both forms are almost equally frequent (cf. 44 hi-tech vs. 41 high-tech), and the same can be said about the books (cf. 5 hi-tech vs. 7 high-tech). In this extensive section the results of the in-depth research have been presented and discussed. Considering all four items together, the results suggest that the American spelling thru, nite, lite, and hi is not present only in American texts. Moreover, in the overwhelming majority of cases the American spelling appears exactly in British sources. Some other conclusions have been drawn; these, however, will be presented in Section 5. 5. Conclusion This study provides insights into particular spelling differences between British and American English. To be more specific, it is a quantitative investigation of thru, nite, lite, and hi in the Collins Cobuild corpus material. To do this research, the literature dealing with spelling in both varieties has been reviewed. Thus, the results of this particular study are discussed and analyzed in relation to the opinions of such famous linguists as Quirk, Crystal, and Kövecses et al. Furthermore, the material and method of this research were described, mentioning both the advantages and disadvantages. The Collins Cobuild corpus online is perfectly suitable material for doing a quantitative investigation, as in this case. However, as a main disadvantage should be mentioned the fact that the years of the collected texts in different subcorpora in the Collins Cobuild corpus are not specified, thus making it impossible to compare the occurrences of particular items 10 years ago with their frequencies now. Nonetheless, reasonable and obvious conclusions can be drawn also from a synchronic study, such as this one. Summing up the results on the spelling differences of thru, nite, lite, and hi, we can draw the following conclusions:


Thru 

The American spelling thru appears most frequently in the corpus of American leaflets and advertisements.

Thru appears mostly in collocations with words connected with food, services, music, days and dates.

Thru tends to appear in non-American sources mostly when speaking about America, or American cultural phenomena.

In more formal texts Americans still prefer to use the standard (British) spelling through.

Americans use both spellings of thru in leaflets and advertisements.

Nite 

The American spelling nite is more frequent in British sources. As to formality, it appears mostly in informal texts in both varieties.

Nite collocates with club, cream, and flight. Moreover, it often appears in titles, logos and trademarks.

Lite 

The American spelling lite is more frequent in British than in American newspapers, magazines, and leaflets. However, it tends to appear in American books more frequently in comparison to its occurrences in British books.

Lite appears in collocations with words that are connected with food and diets as well as in brand and product names.

Hi 

The non-standard spelling hi appears in the compounds hi-fi (high fidelity) and hi-tech (high technology).

The non-standard spelling hi-fi as well as hi-tech is more frequent in British than in American sources. In addition, both items appear mostly in informal texts in both varieties.


Americans prefer to use the standard spelling high-tech in books as well as in leaflets and advertisements. The British, however, use both spellings interchangeably.

Thus, the aim of this study has been reached. The surprising results indicate that the American spelling thru, nite, lite, and hi, does not necessarily appear only in American texts. On the contrary, the occurrences of these items are more frequent particularly in British texts. As to the future, if the prediction about the new form of English (World English) that is emerging proves to be right, then spelling will not be of such great importance anymore. (Kövecses, 2000:11). Is it really necessary to remain loyal to the standard British spelling today? A rather strong opinion was introduced already in the previous century by Clark (1965:202), who claimed: “Spelling is in some ways much less important than [...] syntax or vocabulary or even punctuation, if the object of speaking and writing is the conveyance of meaning.” People manage to communicate successfully even when they do not spell correctly. This phenomenon can be primarily noticed in online communication where people use even signs and symbols instead of words to convey a message and to represent their emotions. However, the differences regarding syntax, vocabulary, and punctuation between British and American English were and still are a rather popular topic to investigate. Therefore, in the future, the grammar rules of this new World English ought to be established since it is widely known that a language is a system, thus, it needs to be standardized.


References Primary sources Collins Cobuild corpus material, (accessed 15 March 2007) Secondary sources Aitchison Jean. 2001. Language Change. Progress or Decay? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Algeo, John. 2006. British or American English? A handbook of word and grammar patterns. New York: Cambridge University Press. Clark, John W. American Spelling. In Vallins, G.H. 1965. Spelling. Revised by Scragg, D.G. London: Andre Deutsch Limited. Crystal, David. 1990. The English Language. London: Penguin Books. Crystal, David. 1997. English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Egersten, Erik. 1972. Understanding American English. Stockholm: Alb. Bonniers boktryckeri. Kövecses, Zoltan. 2000. American English. An Introduction. Peterborough: Broadview Press Ltd. Quirk, Randolph. 1962. The Use of English. London: Longmans, Green and Co Ltd. Tottie, Gunnel. 2002. An Introduction to American English. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary. 1987. London: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. Volume 1.1986. Springfield: A Merriam – Webster.


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