''...we have lots of prestigious national science and math fairs for high school students (which are now dominated by Asians), but little of the same fame for the reading and writing set. Everybody who is anybody in America seems far more obsessed with cultivating Math and Science than with raising our verbal ability.''
This math-and-science emphasis has a definite origin. Back in the late 1950s, what with the Cold War and the Space Race with the Soviets, our government became obsessed with producing more scientists and math experts, the better to outdo the Russians. The fact that the USSR had put the first satellite into space in 1957 caused panic among some in government. I remember that my teachers in elementary school assured us that whichever nation reached the moon first would dominate the world. We had to be sure we got there first so as to assure our continued ascendancy.
Schools began to heavily emphasize math and science at the expense of not only language skills, but history, geography, and the arts. In recent years we've heard many people lament Americans' poor geographic knowledge.
My personal impression from having spent time on the other side of the Atlantic is that all the British Isles peoples over there surpass us in their facility with the English language. I would say that the Irish are far more glib than we Americans, while the English are more careful and precise in their use of words. The British Isles peoples in general have better and larger vocabularies than the average American speaker of English.
I used to correspond at length with a number of friends in England and some in Ireland, and they all write much better letters than Americans in general. But letter-writing is a dying art, and nobody will lament it when it is gone, except for a few eccentrics who love the written word, and such people are dwindling in an increasingly non-verbally oriented society.
Some of the comments on the thread are rather exasperating, like this one, quoting an earlier comment:
"Americans are not as good with words on average as the British."
this is possible but i will say this. a british person never met an r at the end of a word that they wanted to pronounce. they just pretend those r's don't exist.''
Does this person not realize that there are such things as regional dialects? That our American habit of pronouncing hard 'r's is just our habit? Some Americans also do not use the hard 'r' sound at the end of a word. Who is 'right'?
Americans are very chauvinistic in this respect; if we pronounce a word a certain way, that's the ''right'' way, and those English are weird for differing from us. As I've told a friend who ridicules English as spoken by English people, the English had the language first.
Other comments praise American plain-spokenness, and decry the English habit of using 'stilted' language:
"It's as if proper Britons must strive to sound intelligent at all times, even about really dumb things. So, the British comments about the London Riots sounded stilted and ridiculous, like gentlemen trying to control themselves while observing and trying to describe the actions of animals.''
And do our 'news anchors' with their fake 'Media English' non-accents do better? Americans are pretty good at pomposity of a different kind, such as using terms such as 'hopefully' instead of a simple ''I hope'' or ''let's hope.'' Or 'at this point in time' or 'at this juncture' instead of ''now''. American media personalities and academics as well as bureaucrats are prime offenders at that kind of nonsense.
Someone mentions Winston Churchill's eloquence, and someone else reminds us that Churchill was 'half-American' and so may have inherited his skill with words from his mother's side. Except, of course, that 'American' is not an ethnicity. It is strictly a civic identity, telling us nothing (these days) about someone's ancestry. When Churchill's mother's ancestors arrived, they came to an English colony. Actually Churchill's ancestry was mostly from the British Isles, though his mother is said to have been 'part Iroquois'; (Presumably, her ancestors settled in an area where there were no Cherokees). The story of Iroquois ancestry is said to be apocryphal.
It would be interesting to know, though, just how much genetics influence our language abilities, and how much of a role is played by environment and education.
Much as I'd like to be a linguistic partisan and claim that we Americans are better at writing and speaking English, I have to say that in my opinion, we aren't. And I include myself in that blanket statement.
As for style, that has been declared to be only a matter of taste for some time now, though there really should be agreed-upon standards of what is correct and what is good prose or poetry. We have made it too subjective, too much ''anything goes.''
There is plenty to love in American English; in better times, it could be a medium for expressing oneself very colorfully and distinctively. There was once more of a diversity of dialects and accents (not foreign ones, necessarily) in American English, but that is endangered now, thanks in part to the artificial diversity that has been deliberately introduced. I suspect that as our country becomes more and more heterogeneous ethnically, and as pidgin dialects like Spanglish become more common, our American English will drift farther from our English origins. That will further weaken the links between us and what is (for some of us, still) our mother country.