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How do Americans manage with the word 'alternate' when they mean 'alternative'?

Posted: Thu May 26, 2016 4:55 pm
by Karlos
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1 Answer
Elizabeth Ishmael, I live here

I saw this question in my Ask to Answer list and something about it bothered me. It's the "manage" and "when they mean" parts.

I'm assuming the asker is British, because of the reference to Americans, and I haven't yet seen an Australian or Canadian critique American English like this, but have seen many things like this on the Internet in general from Britons.

There are a few things going on here that I'd like to address.

First of all, are you familiar with Original Pronunciation of Early Modern English? I recently saw a video on this, with actors reading Shakespeare in OP. I was surprised because I thought the Great Vowel Shift was done and dusted by the time Shakespeare was writing. But it was actually still in full swing. It sounded much closer to Middle English, maybe more of a hybrid, and was a much rougher, less elite sound. It gave me a new perspective on Shakespeare. The actors even pointed out that this was the time period when the English were colonizing the New World, and that our English evolved out of this separately, creating a different evolutionary stream from British English.

Early Modern English, of course, evolved out of Late Middle English, which evolved out of Early Middle English with evolved out of Late Old English, which evolved out of Early Old English. Chaucer, who had a huge hand in cobbling together the English of the time with the French of the time, spelled the same word in different ways even in the same stanza, as nothing was "set in stone" then.

So, is English "set in stone" today? Or is it still organic, still growing and changing, so that 500 years from now, our descendants will need a glossary to understand our writings? I think it's clearly still evolving, and doing so differently in North America than it is in the UK. My question is: Why is that a problem?

I'm aware that the British have many issues with American pronunciation, spelling and grammar. I think I've been spending too much time on Quora lately because, frankly, I'm growing weary of it. I agree with the points many people make in the criticism of the US - like our lack of Universal Healthcare, and our labor laws (or lack thereof). The gun control issue is a conversation worth having if everyone keeps an open mind. But picking apart our grammar just to have yet another thing to criticize us for is just getting tiresome.

British English and American English aren't the same thing and haven't been for centuries. We don't need approval from the British to make alterations - our English is ours, your English is yours. Ours isn't yours to curate anymore, and hasn't been since the Revolution.

The fact that we can still comprehend each other may be a minor miracle. And that's another point: do you understand us when we say "alternate" rather than "alternative?" I can't believe you don't understand it, even if you don't like it - that's how we "manage." When we say "alternate" we "mean" the same thing you mean when you say "alternative."

Our grammar isn't bad, it's different. I wish I could remember where, but someone on a completely unrelated post said that we need to start treating America like a foreign country, rather than a European country that just does everything wrong. That applies here too. I know the argument from Britons is that "we invented the language." OK, but you need to accept that you don't own every regional variant. It's grown up and left the nest and needs to be able to do its own thing. The fact that it is so adaptable is a huge advantage in its survivability.
Written Dec 11 [2015?]