Re: Manuals Written in Non-American English (Long - in two versions)

Subject: Re: Manuals Written in Non-American English (Long - in two versions)
From: Sabahat Ashraf <sabahat -at- OPENIX -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 21 Aug 1996 10:47:06 -0400

(Long - in two versions)

Here's my original start to this post:

"I am a little miffed. Apparently Americans, when they start thinking
about abroad, only three groups come to their minds -- Japanese,
European and some times British. I resent people saying without
qualification that you should write short sentences with simple words. I
find that condescending. I -- and most other professional Third Worlders
-- would find something written that way very, very patronizing.

"On the one hand, Tech Communicators [or should it be Communicaters?]
never tire of the mantra [not a Japanese, European or British word, mind
you] of "Know Thy Reader...Know Thy Reader..." and on the other, come
with things like "short simple words in short, simple sentences". I was
born in one Third World country and have worked as a Tech Writer in
another, both with about 10% literacy and English [not American, mind
you] as the "official language" -- and let me tell you this: the one
audience I would use short simple words in short, simple sentences for
is the nationality with the shortest attention span of them all:
*American* [not screaming; just emphasizing]"

<ticked-off mode off>

<lecture mode on>

And now to the cool reply:

I would respectfully beg to state [yup! if you are writing in India or
Pakistan, that's how 99 out of a 100 formal letters start] that y'all
should take some time to understand that English [Angraizi, Turanci,
L'Anglais, ...] is not one monolith. As someone pointed out, what is a
curveball in America is a googly in cricket-speaking countries. If you
really care about your reader, try to find out his level of education
and **most importantly** [double emphasis] what the medium of education
was in the typical user's undergrad school [that would be university in
ex-British colonies]. For example, in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and
Sri Lanka [a total population equaling China, and thus a fifth of
humanity] the folks are purty good at reading English -- all their
education is in it. Just don't tell them to speak more than one sentence
at a time.

Also, try to run your documentation by techies, salesforce and any other
critturs from your target area. Some words that are used in particular
markets have not made it to others [always wondered why the lady in
Boston thought the Europeans found "out of box experience" amusing] and
others have gone out of use in one market but are common currency in
others: would any of you know what "Eve Teasing" is? The New Delhi
police have a squad to combat it.

But that is not to say you should lose all your American-ness: remember,
a lot of peoples [and I mean types of, in the geo-political sense of the
word] are lapping up and adopting everything American and using a slang
or two that is very obviously American yet universally understood will
add to the perception of quality/snob appeal/whatchamacallit [I would
recommend "kit and caboodle" or "thingamajig" for British-speaking
audiences] of your product. And generally, don't get too paranoid about
this whole thing: English [generic, not one variety or other] slang
around the world
is shifting; when I was growing up in Nigeria and then Pakistan [both
former British colonies] the expletive for "rear end of a human" was
spelt with an "r" and an "e", but now *every*one spells it with two

I want to agree with the person that said a good translator should be
able to convert properly. My take on that: aim for cultural adaptation
not just linguistic conversion. The sports thing is the best example:
baseball is a way of life only in America and a few other countries.
[The problem with that is that the closest thing to it -- cricket -- is
also taken seriously by only about half a dozen countries.] And a lot
more American phrases are taken from the ballpark when you stop and
think about it: ballpark figure, touch base, bases loaded, cover all
bases, throw a curve ball ... The first two could make it into business
communicaiton, if you don't watch it.

Lastly, I would suggest you keep a copy of the Oxford English
Dictionary, Webster's and try *really* hard to find Longman's Dictionary
for Contemporary English -- or some other dictionary written
specifically for non-mother tongue speakers, er, people with English as
a second language. This last one goes to great pains to separate
American usage from British from others.


PS I want to disagree with not using "gotten" -- where I come from
"ill-gotten gains" is one of the most oft-used newspaper buzzwords.

PPS And don't put commas afore the "and" at the end of a list. I have
lost a grade point on a paper doing the opposite in Graduate School
'this side of the pond'. What really surprised me was that my Writing
Feature Articles professor insisted that I shouldn't use the phrase
"Grass Widow" in an article I *told* her was targeted for the audience
back home. She said it was too, what was the expression, technical or
limited in who would understand it or something -- lost several grade
points in that class.

sabahat -at- openix -dot- com - ashrafs -at- rpi -dot- edu - (201) 301 4232
"If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument"
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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