Re: English for Asian readers

Subject: Re: English for Asian readers
From: Pam Tatge <pamt -at- STEINBECK -dot- SC -dot- TI -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 21 Dec 1993 11:14:52 CST

A few weeks ago, Margaret Gerard posted the following question:

> Subject: English for Asian readers

> Hi All,

> Recently I heard a passing comment that:

> "In some Asian countries, readers are offended by the
> use of the imperative mood and/or 'you' (for the user)
> in technical documentation."

> Does anyone know anything about this? Can anyone suggest any
> references?

> Thanks,
> Margaret Gerard email: margaret -at- toshiba -dot- tic -dot- oz -dot- au

At the time, I was planning a business trip to Asia-Pacific, so I
told Margaret that I'd ask some Asian readers about these issues.

During my trip, I spent a week each at our offices in Hong Kong and
Taiwan. The purpose of the trip was to teach employees to use our
internal Interleaf customizations, and to acquaint them with our
documentation standards. I talked to about 60+ people from HK, Taiwan,
Korea, and Singapore, and also to a vendor who has done work for
customers in mainland China and Japan. This was a good forum for discussing
the issues that Margaret brought up, but this certainly isn't hard
research. The information that I received will help me when I write
for our internal Asia-Pacific audience, but I can really only pass
it on as (perhaps) interesting information. Treat it as hearsay.

The general concensus was that using "you", the imperative mood, and a
friendly/conversational tone were, in general, okay in the countries I
mentioned, but would probably not be acceptable in Japan. For example,
I was told that my readers in Japan wouldn't address each other as "you".
I was also told that our practice of writing one document for several
audiences would not be acceptable, either; for example, U.S. managers use
our user's guides to evaluate the product before buying it, and engineers
later use the same document while designing boards. I was told that a
Japanese engineering manager wouldn't stoop to reading the user's guide
for evaluation purposes. I'm not sure if these things are true; I'm supposed
to go to Japan next Spring, so I hope I'll have a chance to learn more.

More hearsay--I have always heard that I shouldn't use contractions in any
kind of written communication with Asian people, because they wouldn't
understand them. The people I met used contractions as frequently as I do.
I've also been told lately (in the U.S.) that it's very rude to refer to
Asia-Pacific as the East or the Orient, because doing so is based on a
Eurocentric view of the world. But the people I worked with often referred
to Asia-Pacific as "the Far East" and to the U.S. and Canada as "Western".
Just to demonstrate how dependable hearsay is(n't).

BTW, in Taiwan, I had Mongolian barbecue.

Happy Holidays.
Pam Tatge, Member Group Technical Staff
Texas Instruments Semiconductor Group, Houston
pamt -at- steinbeck -dot- sc -dot- ti -dot- com

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