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Is English an International Language? – Part 2

UK vs US peepsEarlier this year, I was asked by the STC-PMC to write a two-part article about the differences and similarities between American and British English.  Part 1 was published in February.  Today, I happily saw that the second part was published in the STC-PMC bi-monthly newsletter.

To find the original article, see the March/April 2013 edition of the STC-PMC Newsletter here.

The article itself is below.


Is English an International Language?
Part 2

David Crystal, author of English as a Global Language, has said that in the pursuit of a World Standard Spoken English (WSSE), American English seems to be the most influential in its development, as American grammar is now starting to influence contemporary British usage.  He also discusses at length how different dialects will allow national and international intelligibility to start developing. He said, “If WSSE emerges as the neutral global variety in due course, it will be make redundant the British/American distinction. British and American English will still exist, of course, but as varieties expressing national identity in the UK and the USA.

Edmund H. Weiss, the author of The Elements of International English Style, also points out that there is clash when trying to come up with a standard version of English, namely between “…globalization, producing a one-size-fits-all solution for a diverse world of English speakers, versus localization, adapting and modifying this universal model for particular readers in particular locales.”  Where English is a second language, Weiss demonstrates, the idioms and figures of speech end up resembling the language structure of the native language. Because of there are about 400 million native English speakers, and about a billion people who speak it as a second language or as a foreign language (for business or a profession), the importance of clear, unambiguous communication is undeniable.

There are many great resources available about this conundrum that can help put everything in perspective, especially in a world in which the Internet is starting to spread the use of English more and more all the time. Some good ones include:

Recent Articles:
Internet + English= Netglish
Learning English online: How the Internet is changing language
Tongue and Tech: the Many Emotions from Which English Has No Words

Books:
·         Do’s and Taboos of Using English Around the World by Roger E. Axtell
·         Divided by a Common Language: A Guide to British and American English by Christopher Davies
·         The Elements of International English Style: A Guide to Writing Correspondence, Reports, Technical Documents, and Internet Pages for a Global Audience by Edmond H. Weiss
·         English as a Global Language by David Crystal
·         Brit-Think, Ameri-Think by Jane Walmsley

Podcast:
·         International English by Danielle M. Villegas at https://soundcloud.com/techcommgeekmom/international-english

So, what’s a technical writer supposed to do? The best thing to do is to be exceedingly careful of using slang or idioms that relate to one’s native English, and be aware of local usage used on a global scale. This isn’t an easy task at all, yet it’s an important consideration when translating English into another language, let alone trying to write for English speakers globally.

Posted in Uncategorized

Is English an International Language? – Part 1

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English: Hypothetical flag quartering the Brit...
English: Hypothetical flag quartering the British and American flags. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I mentioned a while ago that I had several writing projects that were coming up, and the first of them is now published! I was asked by the STC-PMC to write a two-part article about the differences and similarities between American and British English. Of course, I think there’s much more to that simple debate, and this is a favorite topic of mine, so I gladly accepted the challenge. The bigger challenge was to try not to write an entire book!

To find the original article, see the January/February 2013 edition of the STC-PMC Newsletter here.

The article itself is below:


Is English an International Language?
Part 1

Is English an international language? Yes…and no. There is no question that English is a predominant global language. Half the world’s technical and scientific periodicals are written in English, as is eighty percent of the information stored in the world’s computers. There is no question that English is the most prominent language on the Internet, which has contributed to its continued spread around the world.

However, among English speakers, there can be huge differences, as if English speakers from different countries actually spoke different languages. The argument is often made that those who speak English do speak the same base language with just a few different spellings or colloquial idioms now and then. This is only partially true. While most of the world thinks of English in terms of American or British English, there’s also Canadian, Indian, Australian, New Zealander and South African versions of English to consider among others. Each version of English has further nuances that distinguish itself from another version. For the most part, an Australian can understand a South African, an American can understand a New Zealander, and someone from India can understand someone from the UK. But there will be moments that any one of those speakers could elicit a bewildered “EH?” amongst themselves in understanding.

Since most countries that speak English as the dominant language or a second language are former British colonies or Commonwealth countries, British English is usually the standard taught in schools. The exception to this, of course, is American English, which is usually taught in the United States and much of Central and South America as a second language. Even so, between American and British English, one would think that with a few small exceptions, they are essentially the same language, right?

What many Americans don’t realize is that British English has enough nuances that in several cases, we can’t understand our British brethren, and vice versa. For example, if a person came up to you in London and mentioned that he had a mate who sold so many crisps from his lorry that the crisps were falling out the boot and bonnet, would you know what that person meant? If you’ve watched a lot of BBC America or read enough books from the UK (as I have), then you might. An American would have to translate what the Londoner said, which was that he had a buddy who sold potato chips out of his truck, and the chips were falling out of the trunk and hood. Another example would be that if an American said that he would lose his pants over a financial deal, a Brit would misunderstand it to mean that the American would be losing his underwear over the deal, as “pants” is used to refer to underwear instead of “trousers” in the UK. Those are just two of many examples of how Brits and Americans don’t necessarily understand each other.

This divide is an important consideration in technical communications. Single-sourcing and translation are a large and continually growing component of technical communications. While software is becoming more intuitive about translating written content into different languages, it’s not flawless. Using a standard commonality in the language would be desired as a result.


See the March/April issue for Part 2.