Separated by a Common Language?

American Elizabeth Peterson and Brit Mark ShackletonBrits and Americans have been at each other’s throats for some time. Charles Dickens once remarked “I do not know the American gentleman, God forgive me for putting two such words together,” and Americans, judging from films like A Fish Called Wanda, regard most Brits as insufferable snobs. It was this supposed antagonism between the two nations that was addressed by Brit Mark Shackleton and American Elizabeth Peterson, both from the English section of the Department of Modern Languages, in a humorous lecture delivered on April 14 to a full house of around 150 students of English from around Finland to mark the twentieth anniversary of the National Meeting of English Students.

Was the divide the result of such classic linguistic misunderstandings as to knock up (to awake by knocking at a door [BrE]; to make pregnant [AmE])? Could the cultural divide be captured by a study of the metaphors associated with sport (the language of war associated with American football; or the baffling obscurity and effeteness of the Lewis Carroll world of cricket)? Why are American TV soaps obsessed with the pursuit of wealth, while British soaps are happy with working class failure?

American Elizabeth Peterson and Brit Mark ShackletonThese and other questions were raised but, wisely, in no way answered. The joint presentation ended with a test-yourself quiz for the student audience. The results, judging from this particular sample, suggested that Finnish students of English are more likely to have an American pronunciation (toon rather than tjoon), have American usages (a one-way rather than single ticket), yet spell words the British way (colour rather than color). In other words they’re just as mixed up as the rest of us.

The twentieth anniversary of the National Meeting of English Students gathered together students from Helsinki, Oulu, Joensuu, Vaasa, Turku/Åbo, Jyväsklyä and Tampere and involved a banquet at Tenalji von Fersen dining hall on Suomenlinna, lectures, and an Amazing Race around Helsinki. The organizing team for this two-day event was led by Saara Naukkarinen and ably assisted by Kristian Banfield, both from the English section of the Department of Modern Languages.

Mark Shackleton