Open Menu

How Famous European English-Speaking Immigrants Shape the Way We Perceive the Language in America


When you think of American English, you probably think of modern-day celebrities or learning English at school. You'll find some surprising personalities behind the way you speak today if you look a little bit closer. These famous immigrants helped shape the language with their unique dialects and gave multiple contributions that filled day-to-day conversations. This post will discuss how some famous English-speaking immigrants shaped the languages you speak in the USA.


How Have Immigrants Shaped The Language?

There have always been and probably always will be immigrants from any country who come to the US to pursue better opportunities. Before the Industrial Revolution and the development of modern facilities and amenities, immigrants were needed solely for the purpose of manpower. As time went by, these European immigrants contributed immensely to the overall development of different sectors across America. The most outstanding achievement ever accomplished by these prominent European English-speaking immigrants was that they helped change how Americans perceive their own language.

When discussing European English-speaking immigrants, this ultimately means anyone coming from Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland, and each country has impacted the overall language. When it comes to the modern English language in the USA, it is arguable Irish Americans have had the most significant impact ever since arriving in considerable numbers between 1820 and 1930. This was when America was beginning to confidently set foot on the world stage. As such, the immigrants who arrived during this time had an outsized influence on the language.


How Does Immigration Change Language?

Languages are, by and large, a story of extinction and reinvention. According to some estimates, urbanization, globalization, and international media are all leading people to adopt fewer than a dozen major languages in a hundred years. Even as languages are disappearing, there are fascinating new dialects surfacing in cities worldwide, especially among the children of immigrants. This is what occurred in the USA as people from all over the world settled in the nation and bought their own languages, dialects, and mannerisms.

Regarding the English language, this can be seen in how American English has deviated in spelling over time from its mother tongue. For example, most original British words retain their connection to early French and contain additional letters that make more sense in a historical context. For example, in British English, you would write "colour," and in American English, it would be spelled "color." This can also be seen in how Americans spell words phonetically by using "z" instead of "s" for several terms. Although this might seem to be a gentle alteration in the grand scheme of things, it is a change nonetheless, and one brought about by the immigrants themselves.

In general, those emigrating from the British Isles were generally regarded as less well educated (not always, but mostly) and would have been unable to read and write in the formal way of the time. This meant that they would alter spellings to reflect better how they are pronounced, bringing forth the newer American English variant.


How Can Language Shape The Way You Perceive The World?

The way you perceive the world is inextricably linked to the language you speak. The words you use, the phrases you say, and the thoughts in your head are all influenced by your language. Language is a system of symbols that allows you to communicate. It's also a system of symbols that shapes how you think about reality, shaping how you perceive the world. This can be seen in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (SWH), also known as linguistic relativity, which is the idea that the language you speak influences how you think and perceive the world.

The SWH is based on the idea that people use language to describe reality. Because different languages make different distinctions, each language will make its speakers think about reality in a particular way. While this relates to other languages, you can argue that the form of speaking brought over by English-speaking immigrants came to shape the way Americans now view their place in the world.

Language represents a group identity meaning that of the disparate people to arrive in the US, it was and is the language that binds them all under one flag. This can further be seen in how African Americans have altered the language to create what is known as African-American Vernacular English or Ebonics to generate solidarity among one another. Nevertheless, this dialect is still based on English but adjusted to represent that particular group of people better.

As you have seen, languages are fundamental in how people perceive themselves and the world around them. When it comes to America, the language has been shaped over the centuries by the initial colonists and then the preceding immigrants that would arrive in the following years.

© Angel Castaño 2008 Salamanca / Poole - free videos to learn real English online || InfoPrivacyTerms of useContactAbout
This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read more