Non-American English

Subject: Non-American English
From: Anthony Veeder <anthony -at- EMULTEK -dot- CO -dot- IL>
Date: Thu, 22 Aug 1996 17:42:57 EET

I am originally from Britain, living in Israel, and I work
in an environment that expects technical documentation to be
written in American English (at least the spelling). It took
me a while to get used to calling full stops "periods" (ugh!)
and brackets "parentheses."

The point is that the spelling ("o" in humour, etc.,) is the
least problem. Non-American readers just think "Oh, that must
be American" and continue without batting an eyelid. (Someone
should do an experiment to see just how many genuine spelling
mistakes American writers can get away with before the non-
American reader says "Is that *really* how Americans spell it?")

Although I have no statistics to prove this, I get the impression
that in most countries where English is taught as a second
language, British spelling is taught (unless the teacher is
American). Most people are taught "zed" for example, not "zee."
On the whole, non-Americans are more knowledgable about American
*spelling* and some slang (thanks to Hollywood) than Americans are
about British, Indian, South African, etc.

The real problem, of course is the cultural one. When I began
working in my current job, I reviewed all the existing documentation.
I came across one phrase - "ballpark figure" - that I simply
didn't understand, even from its context.

My fellow technical writer is American, and we often find that
phrases we use (in conversation) are so culturally and historically
tied to one country or the other, that one simply doesn't understand
what the other means.

Just this afternoon I warned her about being on a sticky wicket.
When she had to go, I threw out "well, chocks away!" (That last
one was intentional, I admit.) On the other hand she mentioned
a song she knows about "a bum in Trafalgar Square." Just ask any
Britisher what a "bum" is to understand my point.

To summarize/ise:

1. Never mind about spelling. Non-Americans will be quite forgiving
over what they see as minor eccentricities.

2. Avoid *any* culturally- or historically-based phrase. That is
equally true for Brits writing for Yanks and vice versa.

3. Be careful that you don't use words that have unfortunate meanings
in the other dialect (as in the "bum" example above). Sometimes it's
hard to know, maybe the URL mentioned earlier in this thread can help.

Anthony Veeder eMail: anthony -at- emultek -dot- co -dot- il
Technical Documentation Tel: +972-4-999-0044
Emultek Ltd. Fax: +972-4-999-0050

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