American English – A Contradiction in Terms, Why American Students Have Trouble With the SAT
Correct English language, as used in the United States is really not very different from that spoken elsewhere in the world. Aside from a few minor spelling variations and some words whose meaning differs somewhat, the language defined as correct on the American SAT and used in edited papers and publications differs little from country to country.
Americans, however, seem to stray further from the written standard in their speech than do English speakers of almost any other country. Though accents certainly vary and some unidiomatic usages are common in the speech of non-native English speakers, none of these seems to pose as severe a problem for English learners as do the slovenly and ill formed utterances of the American. And none seems to require more editing to conform to the language norms of college papers. It seems that most British, Swedish, German, French, Polish scholars speak flavors of English that are much closer to acceptable edited language. This language malpractice among American educators is a serious disservice to students.
A case in point: In a DVD accompanying an Astronomy text, a number of eminent astronomers (who shall remain anonymous) gave brief explanations of astronomical phenomena. Errors of the sorts commonly treated on the SAT occurred in profusion in the speech of the American scientists while the language of foreign astronomers, including those from non-English speaking countries conformed far better to SAT standards. That scholars in the US ignore these standards so consistently is obvious in these examples and this fact is very disturbing given that they serve as intellectual role models for students.
Everyone makes mistakes in speaking but it is not uncommon to hear good speakers of English correct themselves after (or in the middle of) an error. Americans seem to be oblivious of syntactic violations and the ill effects that these cause — both in the impression of their speech upon others and the damage caused to the language of English language learners.
Repetition: For example: Redundancy is not acceptable in polished English. Sometimes this repetition is referred to as a pleonasm. This is particularly grating:
“…[we are] producing an ever increasingly more sophisticated model of the universe.”
These are acceptable:
“An ever increasingly sophisticated model”
“An ever more sophisticated model”
This type of error is to be avoided in written English and is hunted down and eliminated by any good editor.
Here is a mismatched parallelism example from the same DVD (in this case gerund/infinitive mismatch):
“…[they were] less interested in answering the scientific questions than to support the emperor’s power.”
This problem can be best demonstrated by expanding the parallel constructs out:
They were interested in answering the scientific questions.
They were interested to support the emperor’s power.
This second sentence clearly does not conform to any collocation standard.
Or, the worst case of all, a statement that simply does not say what the speaker means:
“… This stellar body emits two streams of energy on either side.”
Of course, what is meant is:
“… This stellar body emits two streams of energy, one on either side.”
This demonstrates another critical aspect of good language. Well crafted language means what it is supposed to mean. Sloppy language is at best imprecise and frequently thoroughly misleading.
These are all classic SAT errors of the sort that are addressed on almost every exam. The butchery of language is even more common of course in spoken lectures in secondary school classrooms, but this kind of error seems to appear much less frequently in the speech of foreign academics and is rarely to be found in the language of British scholars. A more rigorous study would be interesting. chosing