You or he/it? (take III)

Subject: You or he/it? (take III)
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Esthee Erasmus <Esthee -at- k2workflow -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 21 Jun 2006 13:55:13 -0400

Along with other good stuff, Esthee Erasmus observed: <<I had to completely change my style of writing. According to our Asian Director, the use of 'you' is HIGHLY inappropriate when writing documentation, it is so severe that they see it as an insult.>>

This is more true for Japan than for China; my Chinese colleagues, including one who runs a successful translation agency, report that Chinese readers are so used to English-style rhetoric that they simply ignore any discomfort they might feel at a direct Western style. It's not optimal, but they cope just fine. I suspect this follows the philosophy of "don't look for an intent to offend unless it's clear the author is deliberately trying to be offensive".

But Esthee's response does reveal an important general point: where possible, you must localize your documentation, not simply assume that your home country's approach will suit everyone. It's always suboptomal to choose a one-size-fits-all approach to English or any other language. What plays in Peoria won't work so well in Tokyo, and you shouldn't expect it to. Of course, there are exceptions:

<<In our line of work we have such a lot of documentation to deliver that there is no way we can rewrite every piece of documentation leaving our offices, one that caters for most western countries and another for countries who require a more formal text. We therefore had to measure to whom what would be more offensive, formal language in documentation sent to America would not be as offensive to the reader as casual documentation sent to Japan for example. We therefore stick to more formal writing.>>

That's an eminently sensible approach when you can't afford to fully localize your information.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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RE: you or he/it: From: Esthee Erasmus

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