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Distinctions between AmE and BrE and how translators should relate to them
Thread poster: xxxappleM
xxxappleM
Local time: 00:36
English to Polish
+ ...
Jul 20, 2007

My concern is with what appears to be a distinct lack of appreciation for the fact that AmE and BrE are two separate distinct languages; adopting spelling, grammatical and semantic differences. I would be very surprised if a translation for the ECJ was interspersed with words, phrases and spelling of Creole, yet my experience suggests that in relation to English the same professionalism does not apply. For many a translator I have encountered, within my language pair, who feel free to select words phrases and spelling based on their own particular preference, and not always consistently within the same document. I find this of particular annoyance when the document in question is intended for the European or American market, and this fact is obvious. Why would a major European University, for example, wish to receive a text in an American style. Equally, I would not expect MIT to be impressed with BrE spelling and punctuation. I do appreciate that in this global world of mass communication exposure to English is broad, and this in part explains the evolving nature of BrE. However, part of the function of being a linguist professional should be to make such distinctions. Translators really do need to stop blindly relying on the number of hits their word or phrase receives in Google as a bench mark of appropriateness.

In their [translators] defence, part of the blame may fall, in my opinion, squarely on the shoulders of publishers. Whether such publications come in the form of books, glossaries or TM is of little importance. All would appear to provide little or no distinction, themselves, in this respect. Such a distinction is essential when English is the target language. Of course reverse translation doesn’t help - but I will not go down that path just now.


[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2007-07-20 08:05]


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Mervyn Henderson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:36
Member
Spanish to English
+ ...
British, American etc. Jul 20, 2007

Hello appleM,

A good one.

If I'm asked for US English, what I do is use color not colour, center not centre, traveling, not travelling, organize, not organise, and probably a couple of others I can't remember just now.

I have no problem with that, but I do feel a little strange with other non-orthographic aspects:

I may be wrong, but I have a feeling that whereas I would say "the issue WHICH was discussed", in the US they prefer to say "the issue THAT was discussed".

Is there anything else? What about nite, or night, tonite or tonight, lite or light? Surely we can't just all write what we think is right, sit tight, and assume it will be all rite on the nite?

Mervyn


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Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:36
Member (2002)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Many differences Jul 20, 2007

Because of my background (journalism, followed by IT, working for an American company) I do a certain amount of translation from US English (USE) to UK English (UKE). The more I do it, the more I realise the range of differences.

You could say that spelling is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other hidden hazards:

Word order: in USE you might say ": The result will likely be announced tomorrow". Not possible in UKE -- need something like " The result is likely to be announced tomorrow".

Capitalisation: whereas a headline in American newspaper might say "Overhaul Plan for Vote System Will Be Delayed " (today's New York Times), in UKE it would have less capitalisation, probably "Overhaul plan for vote system will be delayed" or perhaps "Overhaul plan for Vote System will be delayed".

Hyphenation: USE hyphenates words more by sound, UKE by morphology. So in USE " triumphant" would be hyphenated "trium-phant", UKE would be based on the structure of the word, therefore "triumph-ant".

Dates: USE uses mm/dd/yy, UKE uses dd/mm/yy. A dangerous source of confusion.

Telephone numbers may need to be changed. US texts often have just the US phone number without the international dialling code. Also, UKE numbers do not have hyphens, so they should be removed. Also US websites may give 800 numbers (no charge) but there may be a charge when dialling from outside the US, so that needs to be mentioned.

Addresses: USE often gives US states just as 2-letter abbreviations (MO for Missouri etc), and without mentioning the country. Should be expanded for the benefit of non-US postmen.

Punctuation: USE uses fullstops more, eg Mr. Smith, whereas in UKE just Mr Smith. USE might have 11:00 a.m., UKE nomally just 11 am or 11.00 am. But both use etc. with a period (I mean fullstop).

Quotation marks: If a whole sentence is in quotation marks, any punctuation stays inside in both USE and UKE, e.g. "Have a nice day," said the bus driver. But if only part of the sentence, then in USE it says inside, but in UKE goes outside.

You may feel that some of these points are minor. True, but they immediately give away whether a text has been properly localised or not. People can easily take offence if they feel they are not being addressed in their native language. So localisation matters.


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Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 01:36
English to Norwegian
+ ...
native Jul 20, 2007

This, in my opinion, is one of the valid reasons for sticking to translating into one's native language.
I know very well that my English is a mixture of influences from here and there. To be able to fully appreciate the differences between different varieties of English ( and not just the spelling, spellcheck will do that for you....) - the least you need is a long period of living in a place where you speak the language every day. Even then it may be difficult.


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Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:36
French to English
+ ...
Issuing disclaimers Jul 20, 2007

If the question comes up with my clients (all of whom know that I am British) then I say a variation on the following: 'my native language is British English, therefore it is likely that there are some features of my writing that are specifically British, and that I may not be aware of. If you require this text in US English, I will gladly run the US English spellcheck, but I cannot do more than that'.

I've had plenty of exposure to US English - enough to be aware of the differences Peter Linton points out - but I am not a fluent user of it.

I wouldn't say they were 'different languages' though, as US and UK English are largely mutually intelligible (or at least the prestige dialects are).

To Peter's list I'd also add - in US English it is perfectly fine to use the simple past with 'just', 'yet', or 'already' ('did you do that already?'; 'did you eat lunch yet?') but this is weird in UK English. I'd recognise it as an Americanism but would never say it - instead I'd opt for 'have you already done that?' and 'have you eaten lunch yet?'.


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 01:36
Italian to English
Agree the rules Jul 20, 2007

Hello appleM,

I do quite a lot of translations for US and UK clients. In fact, a book I translated for an American publisher last year has just come out in the UK after I had "localised" it.

Peter's examples are very pertinent and give you an idea of the details that have to be changed. They range from phraseology and idioms, which are the translator's job, to typographic and orthographic details that a competent copy editor will be looking out for anyway.

In practical terms, I write my idiolect of British English and try to make it digestible to the local palate, using a published style guide where there is no in-house guidance (I use the Oxford Style Guide and the Chicago Manual of Style as my defaults but there are plenty of other good guides on both sides of the Atlantic). My aim is for the reader not to be distracted by perceived non-standard (nonstandard) usages and to be able to concentrate on what the writer has to say.

To be honest, the same problem crops up with all clients, wherever they are based: it's not just a US/UK thing.

If the publisher doesn't suggest any style guide - the English-speaking ones nearly always do, though - it's a good idea for the translator to get the local ground rules agreed in writing before getting down to work.

FWIW

Giles


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Steven Sidore  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:36
Member (2003)
German to English
This has a very direct impact on my business politics Jul 20, 2007

I'm a Yank, but 90% of my jobs are for British English.

This has several effects on my business: 1) I read British newspapers online every day to keep 'Britishism' a bit fresher in my head; 2) When working with new clients, I always discuss that I am a native speaker of American English, and that I can essentially produce a quite nice international English with British spellings, but no more. That is in most cases sufficient for the marketing and technical work I do; 3) I turn down any jobs that call for colloquial British English to be consumed by an exclusively British market--for example, I was recently asked to do ads for a German car maker that were to appear on posters in airports around the UK. I had to decline, the potential for cultural faux pas with slogans and catchphrases is just too great.

I can't dictate how other people pursue their business, but strict adherence to these guidelines has steered me clear of trouble. And certainly the problems are not just USE>UKE. A very well known design firm had a fancy product in black that they wanted to call 'black tribute'. Fortunately they checked with some US native speakers about using the catch phrase there. Have you UKE speakers any idea why that's dicey for the US market? If not, tread carefully in offering US English...

In the end, not unlike non-natives translating into English, I find that once companies or agencies get burned once by the underqualified lot, they fall straight into the arms of a principled translator, and accept my prices as well.

My 2 cents, anyway.

Cheers,

Steven

[Edited at 2007-07-20 11:59]


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Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 01:36
English to Norwegian
+ ...
Stephen's 2 cents Jul 20, 2007

(is there a British equivalent to that...?)
are worth at least that, I think.
A "quite nice international English" with whatever (perhaps at least consequent) spellings would probably be enough for most non-natives
The pitfalls are there, and non-natives are likely to fall into them on both sides of the Atlantic


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Catherine Brix
Local time: 01:36
Swedish to English
+ ...
Consistency a must Jul 20, 2007

I'm also a Yank and apply the same policy as Steve. Vacations in the UK and subscriptions to UK editions of magazines help raise my awareness. And when asked to do financial reports in UK English, I have a British colleague proofread my translation. What amazes me however is how seldom agencies ask the customer which English to use. I'd like to see a significant improvement in this respect.
appleM, you write:
"who feel free to select words phrases and spelling based on their own particular preference, and not always consistently within the same document. I find this of particular annoyance when the document in question is intended for the European or American market, and this fact is obvious. Why would a major European University, for example, wish to receive a text in an American style. "

There's no excuse for not being consistent - other than ignorance. However, I don't believe that documentation need necessarily be altered to suit a specific market. For example, if a Swedish company decides that its corporate language is U.S. English, then all documentation coming out of that company must be in U.S. English. Obviously, this doesn't pertain to advertising which must be adapted for each separate market, but chances are slim that the company is creating its own ads. Financial reports, press releases, contracts, tenders, etc must follow a certain style in support of the brand name/company name. So what a major European University "wants" or doesn't "want" is actually of little consequence. A company can hardly be expected to localize all of its documentation and for the sake of consistency it must surely be best to pick a standard and stick to it.

Or?


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Robert Tucker
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:36
German to English
+ ...
It's hard to tell if US English and British English are moving together or apart Jul 20, 2007

The free computer office suite OpenOffice has merged its AmE and BrE thesauri into one. If you look up "color" you will find "colour" as a synonym, "theatre" as a synonym for "theater" and so on and vice versa.

[Spelling dictionaries have, however, remained separate.]


[Edited at 2007-07-20 15:20]


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 17:36
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Distinction lacking in job postings and Kudoz questions Jul 20, 2007

The annoying aspect of this is that job postings and Kudoz questions rarely if ever indicate whether UK or US English is required.

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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:36
Spanish to English
+ ...
Clients are often unclear about which they want Jul 20, 2007

Sometimes clients do very odd mixing and matching. I recently delivered a job that was specifically for the U.S. market. When I got suggestions back from the agency it was obvious that the proofreader was a native speaker of Commonwealth English who was trying to adopt an American writing style.

The proofreader gave himself or herself away by objecting to several perfectly standard American words (such as "someplace") and proposing alternate translations that used syntax no American would produce spontaneously. Fortunately, I was told the suggestions were just that - suggestions - so I could keep the text American.

The differences from one continent to the other are not just easy-to-memorize spelling and punctuation variants. There are subtleties such as "towards" versus "toward" (and related pairs such as afterwards/afterward), words that have opposite meanings in the US versus UK ("table the matter"), grammatical differences (singular versus plural verbs after collective nouns), etc.

So the best solution is either to use a native speaker of the desired variant, or use whoever is available and then hire an editor to localize the translation afterward... or afterwards.

[Edited at 2007-07-20 16:45]


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xxxappleM
Local time: 00:36
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
... continuation. Jul 20, 2007

Standardisation surely is the right approach. And, where a company, even a European, Asian, African, Australasia, for that matter, adopts AmE I have no problem with that.

The problem I describe does however appear more prominent in certain, global, specialisations, noteably commerce, where such professions themselves advocate a single global language. Some might say that there is InE [International English], but I have yet to find two people who agree on what that is exactly. For many, InE is nothing more than a house style. But, this is of course the client’s house style, not the translator’s (well, it shouldn’t be).

I also agree with the remarks by Tina. I have for some time had reservations with respect to Kudoz, though not necessarily just confined to postings indicating AmE / BrE. Surely it must follow that there should be two separate glossaries or a method of distinguishing AmE from BrE within a single one.

Now I have had my ‘two penn’orth worth’ I will go and write about other aspects of Kudoz with which I take issue. )


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:36
Italian to English
+ ...
To apple Jul 20, 2007

appleM wrote:

I have for some time had reservations with respect to Kudoz, though not necessarily just confined to postings indicating AmE / BrE. Surely it must follow that there should be two separate glossaries or a method of distinguishing AmE from BrE within a single one.

Now I have had my ‘two penn’orth worth’ I will go and write about other aspects of Kudoz with which I take issue. )



In cases I've seen where it made a difference, the answerers normally specified whether they were using UK or US English, so anyone referring back to the original question would be able to see for him/herself.

I don't agree with the idea of separate glossaries, unless you could search them together, because in the vast majority of cases there is no difference. The only effect would be to lengthen the search process.

Another point, of course, is that there are far more than two varieties of English - would there then be calls from other native but non US/UK speakers to create a glossary for South African, Canadian, Australian, Jamaican and Indian English, to name but a few?

[Edited at 2007-07-20 16:47]


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xxxappleM
Local time: 00:36
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I couldn't agree more. Jul 20, 2007

I couldn't agree more. There should be classification of all variations of the English language. The European Union is founded on the principle of ‘unity in diversity’. Article 22 of The charter of Fundamental Rights is intended to specifically protect linguistic diversity. The irony is that the one language which it would appear does not receive the protection it deserves is the language with the most speakers. As for the Glossaries, modern search engines are a v. clever beast. The technology is available to do this.

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