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

Subject: Re: Manuals Written in Non-American English (in two parts)
From: Sandra Charker <scharker -at- OZEMAIL -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Fri, 23 Aug 1996 01:02:54 +1000

Chris Hamilton wrote

>Soon I'm going to be trying to impose some changes in my company's
>documentation standards. Although it's not our dominant market, we do
>have Non-American users who use our manuals. My boss's boss is from
>Great Britian and has very specific language requirements so our manuals
>speak to an international (albeit English-speaking) clientelle <snip>

Part 1:

Interesting that several responses to this were about writing English for
translation to other languages, rather than writing in one English that
avoids distracting, offending, or misleading native speakers of other
Englishes. But since that's what happened...

>>First, don't use contractions. Usually we avoid those in tech writing
>>anyway, but just in case.... spell it out.

>I'd appreciate it very much. I can learn the entire spelling on the
>Net mostly, but some remain unknown, leaving me unable to come up with
> understandable Japanese equivalents.

I dutifully avoid contractions in my writing for translation, but this is
the first time I've seen a better reason than my editor's caustic reference
to the style guide. And I still don't understand why "I'd appreciate" is
intrinsically more difficult for a person to translate than "I would
appreciate". I *can* see that it might be a problem for machine translation
because the "would" carries information about tense and voice, but what
about "don't" versus "do not". Aren't they just synonyms? Why not? Mayum,
can you explain further?

And just exactly how much should human language be mutilated to suit machine
translation anyway?

Part 2:

An interesting exchange on the subject of short, simple sentences and
condescension.

> 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.
>>
>Why do you find short sentences with simple words in technical documentation
>condescending? The idea is that the writer takes a complex concept or
procedure
>and writes so that the average reader can understand it. In the world of
technical
>documentation for computer software, the average reader is no longer just the
>college educated individual. And as long as the American public school system
>continues to rate so low, we need to write in short sentences with simple
words.

>Simple sentences and short words. Get used to them.

But the point was that many average readers who are not products of the
American public school system find the simple sentences and short words
condescending. Irritating or offending readers is a teaching technique to be
used with even more caution than humour. Or humor.

I don't know what the answer to this is, but I really appreciated Sabahat's
comments and I'd love to hear more from different English-speaking parts of
the world. Differences in vocabulary are occasionally misleading, but mostly
they're fun. Differences in tone are much more difficult to identify and to
deal with.

Oh, and returning to simpler matters, watch out for prepositional phrases
like 'outside of' (U.S.; others drop the 'of'). Can't think of examples at
the moment, but in some cases the prepositions are different, and in other
cases "rest-of-the-world" English uses a preposition where U.S. doesn't
use any.

I sometimes think that English wants a certain number of prepositions and
doesn't particularly care which words they get attached to.


Sandra Charker
---------------------------------
scharker -at- ozemail -dot- com -dot- au

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