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Off topic: Is UK English very different from US English?
Thread poster: AniseK

AniseK  Identity Verified
Malaysia
Local time: 06:30
Japanese to English
+ ...
Aug 14, 2008

Hello everyone!

Yesterday, my translation teacher gave me a text for me to translate into US English. It got me wondering if the UK English is very different from US English. To me, other than the spelling and some phrases, they are quite interchangable. So, how can I tell if I am using UK English or US English? Is it possible to read in UK English, then write what we think in US English? Or is this a very silly topic?:-)


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:30
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Still mutually comprehensible - just ... Aug 14, 2008

Hello AniseK,
As you say, the main differences concern spelling (centre/center, organise/organize, honour/honor, cheque/check, etc.) and punctuation rules (comma after "and" in lists, puncutation marks inside or outside inverted commas). There are vocabulary differences too, I've noticed, particularly for clothing, everything to do with cars and food.
I've lived in the USA and have a sister who still lives there who can help with really puzzling expressions, so I consider myself able to write in both sorts of English, but I think it's a hard assignment to be asked to write in US English if you've no experience of the USA.
By clicking on the tools button, you can set the language of your document to "US English" (and countless others) which might help you with the spelling differences.
All in all, though, the two "languages" remain mutually comprehensible - just about. It's our "British" accents that Americans find so amusing. The British are more accustomed to hearing American voices because we get so many of their films (movies) and TV programmes (programs).
Best of luck,
Jenny.


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Heather Chinchilla
United States
Local time: 18:30
Spanish to English
+ ...
Links Aug 14, 2008

I'm from the U.S. and understand U.K. English for the most part, but might need a little clarification on the meaning of certain words. Other British English words and phrases sound funny or even vulgar to native speakers of American English. No big deal for a casual conversation, a bigger deal for a written translation!

Hear are a few links I found on a Google search. I hope you find them helpful.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_and_British_English_differences

http://www.effingpot.com/

http://www.learnenglishfeelgood.com/usukenglish/


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Jussi Rosti  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 01:30
Member (2005)
English to Finnish
+ ...
What about style, choosing the way of saying things etc? Aug 14, 2008

Heather Chinchilla wrote:
I'm from the U.S. and understand U.K. English for the most part, but might need a little clarification on the meaning of certain words. Other British English words and phrases sound funny or even vulgar to native speakers of American English.


I'm not a native speaker, but for me most striking differences are not the different spellings nor different words for some things... the whole way of presenting things is different, people tend to use different lexicon (even when the literal meanings are the same in both variants).

Just small examples from basic conversation: if somebody asks "how are you?" and the other person responds with "I'm wonderful" or "I'm very well, indeed" there is no question where they live. But this is not limited to small talk phraseology.

This point of view is underemphasized when the differences are presented to students.

How do you natives see this?


[Edited at 2008-08-14 07:51]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:30
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
There are many, many differences Aug 14, 2008

I always used to think it was just a matter of spelling differences and a few different words, then I trained as a language teacher and later started to help French jobseekers in their hunt for jobs outside France. That's when I really began to see that I had to teach two different languages as far as I was able. In fact, I can only really teach British English but I have learned as many differences as possible to help my students who are applying for jobs in the USA.

I have a very useful book "Divided by a Common Language" that is basically lists of different vocabulary and expressions - it doesn't cover grammar and punctuation differences in great depth, and spelling differences such as summarise / summarize aren't listed individually. It's not a small book!

I have learned so much US English in the past 12 years (and I'm over 50 now) that I have come to realise that you would need to be a native speaker who has lived in both countries to really get to grips with most of the differences. I don't think it's realistic for students to 'translate' between the two unless they have that insight. Mind you, it would make an interesting project and would demonstrate clearly to the students the real extent of the problem.


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Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:30
Member (2002)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Many, mostly mnor differences Aug 14, 2008

This question has arisen several times in this forum. I do a certain amount of USE - UKE localisation, and here is my reply from last year:
http://www.proz.com/forum/linguistics/79126-distinctions_between_ame_and_bre_and_how_translators_should_relate_to_them.html#623747

Let me give you another small example of a cultural difference. In the UK, a normal greeting first thing in the morning would be "Good morning Peter" or simply "Hi Peter".

When I was working for an American company, our British manager was replaced by an American from Tennessee. He was very friendly, and always said "Hej, Peeder".

Now to English ears, "Hej" is very different from "Hi". It sounds a little aggressive. If you saw a bank robber running away from a bank, you might shout "Hey you!". Not "Hi you". "Hej" grates on English ears, not at all on Americans.

The same is true of other such differences such as word order, capitalisation, hyphenation, and date formats. Although English people generally have no problem understanding what is meant, an unlocalised text is irritating.

In a very few cases, the American format is acceptable because it is so well established. For example, everyone accepts the phrase "9/11", referring to the twin towers, even though in British English and should be "11/9".


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Jean-Pierre Bergez Saretzki  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:30
English to Spanish
British understatement Aug 14, 2008

American English: Awesome!
British English: Not too bad!


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:30
English to German
+ ...
It depends on the text / the linguistic level Aug 14, 2008

The better the English, the less differences you will notice. Simply compare the best daily papers, UK and US.

There a countless minor differences, indeed. Hollywood, however, left its mark. Bad movies and countless moronic TV crime and detective series obviously make the majority of the European population believe that most Americans actually speak like that - like crooks, criminals and other colorful characters. Or cowboys. You will not find this kind of language in the business world.

Here are some examples from former posts:

"Hej" is no English word in the US, even "hey" sounds too colloquial to most ears. I wouldn't greet my husband like that.
"Hi you" is no English term in the US
"Awesome" will trigger a blank stare when used in a conversation and you are older than 13.
"I'm wonderful" as a reply to "How are you doing?" / "How are you?" will most certainly raise an eyebrow and will leave the impression that somebody has a slight problem with narcissism.

Translating sophisticated text shouldn't pose a problem to an experienced ENS-translator. Translating colloquial text is a different story...



[Edited at 2008-08-14 11:05]


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:30
French to English
+ ...
Grammatical differences too! Aug 14, 2008

As well as spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary differences, there are some grammatical differences. Some of them relate to quite informal use (e.g. "it tastes real good" for "it tastes really good") so don't crop up in many types of translation. But differences that may well be important include:
- differences in some verb conjugations
- differences in tense usage ("did you ever smoke?" ~ "have you ever smoked?"); ("it just finished" ~ "it's just finished")
- differences in where adverbs tend to be placed with respect to a verb phrase ('they probably have...' ~ 'they've probably ...')
- differences in the frequencies of different constructions with modal/auxiliary verbs ('I haven't' ~ 'I haven't done'; 'I might' ~ 'I might do'; 'I hear it' ~ 'I can hear it')
- a few verbs have different constructions, or the meaning of a particular construction varies ('I met with Jane' ~ 'I met with disaster').


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 23:30
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
BE vs. AE Aug 14, 2008

Nicole Schnell wrote:
The better the English, the less differences you will notice...
Translating sophisticated text shouldn't pose a problem to an experienced ENS-translator.


Don't bet on it. In the years I spent traveling to the UK on business or to visit my partner at Oxford I often had no idea what road signs meant, and I frequently had to ask for clarification in conversations with persons who spoke very properly. When I went to take the written driver's test in Germany to get my license, I had to argue to take it in German, because I had very little idea what was meant in the English questions, which were very, very British. The German was perfectly understandable.

But it's not the differences of punctuation, spelling or vocabulary that I see as the really important ones. Too often there are very significant differences in style, which will often be encountered in marketing texts, for example. What sounds perfectly acceptable to me as an American may well be "over the top" for a British colleague. I have my own opinions about the texts I see from native English speakers from the UK and how suitable these texts usually are for the US market. So when a client asks for "mid-Atlantic" English I usually cringe. There are, of course, areas where the differences do not matter much, but there are so many "surprises" that I am very cautious in this regard and encourage clients to be cautious as well.


[Edited at 2008-08-14 19:25]


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Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:30
German to English
+ ...
it's like the difference between types of tea Aug 14, 2008

Consider Darjeeling and Lapsang, for example. Both are unquestionably tea, and if you simply order tea and get served one or the other, you can't claim that you haven't been served tea. However, if you want Darjeeling and you are served Lapsang, you will be disappointed or even annoyed, and if you order Darjeeling and are served Lapsang instead, you are fully justified in rejecting it.

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xxxJPW  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:30
Spanish to English
+ ...
Is there not a book on the subject? Aug 14, 2008

Someone, somewhere, must have a written a book on this - surely? Not Mother Tongue BTW, as it's so full of errors you could, er, something with it, even though it does outline some of the major differences between BrE. and AmE.

I couldn't find any specific references, but there is a somewhat lengthy article in WIKIPEDIA, whose link I have conveniently inserted here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_and_american_english

which may help the poster in the right direction. Can't vouch for it though, as I only had a cursory glance.

For me, American dates always make me stop and think, as someone else pointed out earlier:

In a very few cases, the American format is acceptable because it is so well established. For example, everyone accepts the phrase "9/11", referring to the twin towers, even though in British English and should be "11/9".


Even in Spain they always referred to it as "once ese", i.e. 11 S(ept), rather than 'nueve once'.

On a slightly different note, has anyone read the supposedly entertaining "Eats shoots and leaves" about the (general) decline in grammar and punctuation?


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AniseK  Identity Verified
Malaysia
Local time: 06:30
Japanese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Taking things for granted... Aug 15, 2008

Thank you everyone for your input. You made me aware of things that I've never even considered before.

After visiting the links provided by Heather (thank you very much), I realized that I have been taking it for granted that the English I am using now is UK English. That is the English I started with, but after years of American TV shows, college, internet, work and travels, I am now using a mixture of US English and UK English in my daily life. So this is a really great eye-opener. It got me starting to taking a really good look at the English language around me. And being very careful with which English I am suppose to use


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:30
Spanish to English
+ ...
Supposedly entertaining? I thought it was a hoot! Aug 18, 2008

John Paul Weir wrote:

... has anyone read the supposedly entertaining "Eats shoots and leaves" about the (general) decline in grammar and punctuation?


Yes, it's great and I encourage everyone to read it, for all the good it'll do. And Mother Tongue is "full of errrors"? I don't remember that many, but it's been a while since I had it...


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xxxJPW  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:30
Spanish to English
+ ...
quick reply Aug 18, 2008

Supposedly entertaining? I thought it was a hoot!


JPW:

... has anyone read the supposedly entertaining "Eats shoots and leaves" about the (general) decline in grammar and punctuation?


Yes, it's great and I encourage everyone to read it, for all the good it'll do. And Mother Tongue is "full of errrors"? I don't remember that many, but it's been a while since I had it...


I used 'supposedly' because I haven't actually read it yet, but I'll trust your judgement and see if it is in the local library.

Mother Tongue - see here for some of the criticisms: http://www.amazon.com/review/product/0380715430/ref=dp_db_cm_cr_acr_txt?_encoding=UTF8&showViewpoints=1


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