A recent Oxford University Press study suggests that the use of American English is becoming ever more prominent among young Britons.
These findings came from the study of 74,000 short stories written by pupils, aged 7 to 13, for the BBC’s Radio 2 ‘500 Words’ competition. Researchers also discovered the overuse of exclamation marks and frequent references to celebrities such as Simon Cowell and Lionel Messi.
A total of 35,171 uses of an exclamation mark were recorded and a number of children were writing five in a row.
The references throughout the short stories seem to indicate the increasingly dominant influence of celebrity culture, as well as Hollywood lingo. It is thought that popular US fiction and movie series, such as the Twilight saga, may go some way towards explaining the greater use of Americanisms.
The American words ‘tuxedo’ and ‘cupcake’ have already surpassed their English equivalents, ‘dinner suit’ and ‘fairy cake’, while ‘candy’ was referenced nearly as many times as ‘sweets’.
However, for the moment, ‘pavement’ is still used much more frequently than ‘sidewalk’ and ‘torch’ is much more common than ‘flashlight’.
Mentions of modern technology were also prevalent. There were nearly 150 references to the Blackberry mobile phone and characters in stories often used ‘apps’ and ‘googled’ information.
Samantha Armstrong, of the OUP children’s dictionary division, told the Daily Mail, “perhaps we are catching a glimpse of the language of the future.” The study will be compared with future research to examine how written language is evolving.
Despite a wealth of knowledge about contemporary celebrity culture, children had difficulty using the past tense correctly, often mistaking ‘thinked’ for ‘thought’. They also at times faltered at straightforward spellings, including ‘clothes’ and ‘does’.
Punctuation and grammar also proved to be stumbling blocks; semicolons were underused and some pupils were unable to use capital letters effectively.
A first-year student, speaking to Cherwell TV after a night at the Bridge, agreed that the semicolon was undervalued and said, “I literally cannot get enough of it. The semi-colon key on my computer is worn down, I love it so much.”