public school; language attitudes

Aaron E. Drews aaron at LING.ED.AC.UK
Thu Jan 27 16:20:55 UTC 2000

On Thu, 27 Jan 2000, Nancy Elliott wrote:

}1. If U.S. 'private school' is  U.K. 'public school,' then what do you call
}a public school in the U.K.?

>From what I understand, a "private school" in England is the equivlant to
a private school in the U.S.: where children spend their time between,
say, 8am and 4 pm, e.g. St. Mary's R.C. school (although a private school
is not neccessarily religious). A "public school" in England is a boarding
school, e.g. Eaton (where most of the royal family has been educated). So,
both are "private" - a.k.a. fee-paying schools (a catch-all phrase in
current use) - despite their modifiers.  In Scotland, the distinction
between the two terms is blurred, probably due to the lack of many
boarding schools.  The general term up here is "private school", with
"public school" generally referring to the aforementioned boarding schools
in English, and usually coupled with contempt.

A non-fee-paying school is a state school, as has been mentioned.  An
older term is a "comprehensive".  I use "local" schools, but that worked
against me with the American community in Aberdeen, where the local school
happened to be an American (er, 'International') school.  Native British
English speakers would understand "local" schools as being community,
state-funded institutions, but I don't think it would be used.

}2. What do British English speakers think when they hear someone use
}American syntax in "Do you have any....?" and "I don't have any..."?

I don't think this formation is specific to American.  "Have you any" or
"I haven't any" isn't all that common, although I'm not sure what is
prescribed at the public schools.  "I haven't any"  might have slightly
more currency, but still isn't widely used any more, at least in my
interaction.  WRT negatives, a common alternative is "he's not been able
to do it" as opposed to "he hasn't been able to do it", but I think that
might be Scots influence on Scottish Standard English.  But in the UK as a
whole, DO-support is alive and well with lexical "have" for negatives and

Now, if the phrase were "do you got any" or "I don't got any", then the
attitude is a slightly disdainful "oh, the horrors of colonial speech".
This is due more to the choice of "got" (and the subsequent flap) than the
actual syntactic construction.  The disdain ranges from very mild, noting
that it is an Americanism, to strong for those with prescriptivist
tendancies that have no clue about linguistics or language change, and
they probably have a disrespect for all things that aren't English (as in,
from England, rather than the language).

Sorry... this ambled on a bit.


Aaron E. Drews                               The University of Edinburgh
aaron at                  Departments of English Language and       Theoretical & Applied  Linguistics


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