In my story “The Glass Slipper,” Ashleigh Edwards packs her purchases into her boot, pulls out of the slot, and later heads off to her flat. Though this may sound confusing to most American ears, its meaning is unmistakable to the inhabitants of London, the setting for my story.
Since separate dialects within the same language are mutually intelligible, albeit confusing on occasion, I decided to write my story with authentic British dialect. By placing unfamiliar words/expressions in otherwise clear contexts, the American reader is able to quickly comprehend the story as it unfolds.
Though London is home to a large variety of dialects, I confine my characters—all well-heeled London natives—to the standard British dialect you would typically hear on BBC broadcasts. Let’s take a look at some basic differences between American and British English.
Although there are grammatical distinctions between these two dialects, let’s focus on the most striking differences: spelling, pronunciation, and vocabulary. For example, in my story, the word cozy is spelled cosy, which is the accepted spelling in British English. The word favorite is spelled favourite, as most words ending in –or in American English will find themselves with that ubiquitous u jumping in between the o and the r as they appear in British dialect. The Sondheim in London is a theatre, not a theater, as we would see it in American English. And Alice confides in Ashleigh, “…between you and me and the lamp post, he’s got some ridiculous notions.” Typically, British English speakers write lamp post as two words, as in my story, though Americans write it as one word, lamppost.
In reading “The Glass Slipper” silently, you won’t hear the pronunciation. However, you can certainly imagine it if you’ve ever heard it spoken in person or on the silver screen. And we can just imagine that slightly trilled r sound as we think of conversations in British upper-crust, stately manors.
However, the most striking illustration of the differences between the dialects, in my opinion, is in vocabulary. In my story, Ashleigh tells Alice that she’s on holiday, rather than on vacation. She speaks to her best friend on her mobile, not on her cell. And she takes off her trainers, rather than her sneakers, as she prepares to try on a new pair of shoes. If Alice were to offer her some goodies along with tea, we would see them enjoying biscuits, not cookies. And when Ashleigh returns to her Bloomsbury flat, she’ll get into the lift—not the elevator. Gabriel tells Ashleigh that he has just finished invigilating exams; an American professor would proctor them.
The flavor of a faraway place comes alive in the private musings and conversations of these compelling characters as we sip our tea, savor a biscuit, and steep ourselves in the atmosphere of this modern fairy tale.