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Facts and figures about British and American culture and language to impress my students, colleagues and friends!
New Year's Eve
In Britain and America many people have
parties on New Year's Eve (31st December). Traditionally people in Britain
hold hands and sing 'Auld Lang Syne' at midnight at parties and wish each
other 'Happy New Year'. Auld Lang Syne is an old Scottish song about
friendship and remembering good times in the past. The title means 'old
long since'. In large cities many people gather in public places such as
Trafalgar Square in London, Princes Street in Edinburgh, and George Square
in Glasgow. In Scotland the celebration of the New year is called Hogmanay.
New Year's Day (1st January) is a bank holiday in Britain.
Britainís most famous prehistoric monument is Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain in Southern England. It consists of two circles of large standing stones, one inside the other. The inner circle consisted of arches made by laying one stone across the tops of two others. Some of these have fallen, but some are still in position.
Taken from the Oxford Guide to British and American Culture.
Varieties of English are spoken in many parts of the world: British English, American English, Canadian English, Caribbean English, Indian English, etc. About 250 million people speak English as their first language and in over 70 countries English is used as a second language. Estimates for the number of English speakers in these areas range from 350 million to 2 billion. There are also millions of learners of English as a foreign language. English is now more often spoken as a foreign language or second language than as a first language.
(From the new edition of the Oxford Guide to British and American Culture)
The Department of Homeland Security
The head of the local government of London,
elected by the people of London every four years. The role of the Mayor of
London is more like that of a US mayor than a traditional British mayor
who has almost no political power, and the Mayor has the power to set
policies on transport, buildings and land use, culture and the
environment. The first Mayor of London was Ken Livingstone, who was
elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2004. The City of London, the financial
district, also has a mayor who is called the Lord Mayor of the City of
London. The first one was appointed in 1192.
British people who went to live in the US in the seventeenth century came from different parts of Britain and so spoke different dialects, with slightly different words and pronunciation. In the US their language changed in its own way and so is not like British English today. New words were added to the language for things that were only found in the US, like plants, animals and food. Many of these new words came from the native American Indian languages; Dutch and French people also went to live there and added their words, and in the 19th and 20th century immigrants from all over the world have influenced the language.
The Union Jack is the popular name for the flag of the United Kingdom. The word 'jack' is a word sailors use for a flag. It has been the British flag since 1603 when Scotland and England joined together. The design contains the red cross of England, and Scotland's white diagonal cross on a blue background. When Ireland joined the United Kingdom in 1801 its red diagonal cross was also added. The national flag of Wales is a red dragon, but it is not used on the Union Jack because Wales is a 'principality' of England, meaning that it is ruled by an English prince.
In the United Kingdom, Parliament is responsible for making laws, discussing important national issues, and raising taxes. The three parts of Parliament are the King or Queen, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. All three parts need to agree for a law to be passed, but today the King or Queen's agreement is given automatically. The British people elect the Members of Parliament (MPs) who make up the House of Commons. The people in the House of Lords, who are called peers, are not chosen by the people. The House of Commons has more power than the House of Lords.
America was named after an Italian businessman called Amerigo Vespucci, who sailed to South America between 1499 and 1502. Christopher Columbus called the Native Americans 'Indians' because he thought he had reached India. It was only in the 16th century that people from France, Spain and Britain started to live in North America. Today the population of the US is over 284 million.
New York City has 140 skyscrapers, more than any other city in the world. Chicago is second with 68. The Empire State Building in New York, which was the tallest building in the world for over 40 years, was built in 1931. It is 381 metres high and has 102 floors. On a clear day you can see five different states from the top of the Empire State Building, and it would take 11 Empire State Buildings to fill the Gulf of Mexico at its deepest point. The tallest buildings in the world today are the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, which are 452 metres tall.
The nearest dialect to a standard American English is General American English. This is spoken mostly in the Midwest, but also in other parts. The main dialect groups are the Northern, the Coastal Southern, the Midland, and the Western. The main differences between them are in accent, but there are some differences in words too. Some old and rich families in Boston speak in a way that is very similar to Britain's standard dialect, called RP, or 'Received Pronunciation'.
The American flag has two names, the Stars and Stripes or Old Glory. It has been the flag of the US since 1777, after America became independent from Britain. George Washington had the flag made to encourage his soldiers in their fight against the British. There were originally 13 states in the US, so the flag had 13 stripes, seven red and seven white, and 13 white stars. When new states joined the US, a new star was added. Today there are 50 stars on the flag.
There are approximately twice as many speakers of American English as other kinds of English, and four times as many as speakers of British English.