Re: US vs. UK pronoun/voice usage?

Subject: Re: US vs. UK pronoun/voice usage?
From: Sandy Harris <sharris -at- dkl -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 09 Nov 1999 09:55:36 -0500

I'm a Canadian who has worked as an English second language teacher for
the British Council and lived in Britain, studying English linguistics
at U of Brimingham.

I suspect there are several things going on here.

One is a simple grammatical difference. Both British and American English
allow several ways of expressing an impersonal description:

When someone is tired, he or she should go to bed.
When you are tired, you should go to bed.
When one is tired, one should go to bed.
When someone is tired, they should go to bed.

The last one is the most interesting. In some dialects, including mine,
it is the preferred form, the thing I'd be most likely to say. In others,
it is completely ungrammatical. Lets avoid that sidetrack.

The middle two have a transatlantic difference. Both are used on both
sides of the pond, but leftpondians tend to prefer impersonal "you"
and rightpondians "one".

I don't think this reflects cultural differences in quite the way you
mean. Brits don't use "one" because they're being more formal. They just
speak that way; "one" is the natural thing to use in most impersonal
constructions. The catch is that for leftpondian hearers, it isn't at
all natural so we label it as formal, which it would be if we used it.

Second, there's the contrast being being impersonal in "scientific"
writing -- passive voice, one or impersonal you, ... -- and more direct
style. SMEs often write the former, and tech writers convert it to
imperative, active voice, direct "you" addressing the reader.

That happens on either side of the pond. An Americam SME's impersonal
"you" can be just as bad as the British SME's "one". British tech writers
rewrite to eliminate passives, much as North American tech writers do.

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