As a traveler, I am quite lucky to have been born into an English-speaking country. Though Chinese is the most spoken language in the world, English is still the global lingua franca.
According to some lazy googling, “It is estimated that there are 300 million native speakers and 300 million who use English as a second language and a further 100 million use it as a foreign language. It is the language of science, aviation, computing, diplomacy, and tourism. It is listed as the official or co-official language of over 45 countries….”
But it takes many different forms; American English, British English, Irish English, Kiwi English, Ozzy English, South African English (who are technically ESL’ers, but they learn English so early it doesn’t matter.) That speaks nothing of internal differences within those categories (there are 4 nations and probably hundreds of dialects in the United Kingdom alone). This adds a lot of richness and variety to the language, but also leads to a lot of disagreements between English speakers from different countries.
Before I go any further, I’d like to specify that I’m not sticking up for one side being “more correct.” Languages evolve, and even though I try to use correct spelling and grammar, I do realize that the rules are fairly arbitrarily derived. I don’t care if the back of a car is “boot” or a “trunk,” but it does bother me when those from the United Kingdom claim to have invented the language.
The English didn’t “invent” English. It didn’t spring, fully fledged into existence just in time for Marlow or Shakespeare to wax poetical.
English is of course a Germanic language. “English” the language and “England” the country take their names from the Angles, a tribe of Germanics that along with the Jutes, Saxons, Frisians, etc invaded. Over the centuries, English changed significantly as Normans brought Norse/French and the Danes/Norse added many Scandinavian influences (their languages an additional offshoot of German).
The influences of the Normans and Norse are demonstrated by the large amount of synonyms found in the English language.
anger / wrath
nay / no
fro / from
raise / rear
ill / sick
skill / craft
skin / hide
dike / ditch
close / shut
reply / answer
odour / smell
annual / yearly
demand / ask
chamber / room
That’s of course a very small sample. There are loads of sources on this, of course, but Bill Bryson has a great layman’s account called The Mother Tongue. Another place to look is this site, which has a great collection of related works.
And of course English wasn’t standardized until the 18th century or so. Old and Middle English were evolutionary steps on the way to modern English, but not the same language that is spoken today. I’m no religious man, but a look at the tenth century Bible illustrates this point:
Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum si þin nama gehalgod tobecume þin rice gewurþe þin willa on eorðan swa swa on heofonum
(Our father which art in heauen, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heauen.)
It may be apocryphal but I’ve repeatedly heard that the closest to Shakespearian English is found in Rhode Island. Indeed, some expressions thought to be American were original British expressions that were preserved in the colonies while lost for a time in Britain (for example trash for rubbish, loan as a verb instead of lend, and fall for autumn.) In other words, it’s not as simple as the premise that those in England speak correct English and the rest of world has bastardized it.
As a Germanic language, England isn’t even where English originated. Therefore, if someone claims their English is more correct because they are from “where it was invented,” you should ask if they are from the region of Germany known as Angeln, from which the original Angles came. Angeln lies in Schleswig-Holstein on the eastern side of the Jutland peninsula near the cities of Flensburg and Schleswig. Yes, Flensburgers and Schleswigs can play the English origination card, for what it’s worth, but the rest of us are out of luck.
People from the UK really mean that they were born in a country settled by Germans, conquered by Danes,further conquered by Normans, linguistically enhanced by the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and a far-flung Empire. As an American, I’m from a former colony of that island; I’m definitely not saying that Americans (or Ozzies, or Kiwis, or whoever) are right, but coming from England doesn’t mean that your English is automatically correct or proper by any means.
As I said above; the rules of language ultimately are arbitrary and destined to change. Anyone (from what I’ve seen, it’s usually Americans or English) arguing that their English is correct for whatever reason is probably wrong.