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American English is a dialect?
Thread poster: Catherine Bolton

Catherine Bolton  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:37
Member (2002)
Italian to English
+ ...
Aug 20, 2005

Hi folks, I posted a question this morning and was surprised (to put it mildly) to discover that I had to choose between the American "dialect" and British "dialect".
Though there are regional differences to be sure, I wouldn't classify these as dialects! And this is a site for linguists?
And while I'm on the subject, I doubt I'd be very happy if I were Canadian, Australian or any other native English speaker. Where are THEIR "dialects"?
Curioser and curioser, as it were.
Catherine


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xxxIanW
Local time: 00:37
German to English
+ ...
Good question Aug 20, 2005

Hi Catherine,

I've just looked in my Merriam Websters and seen that the definition of "dialect" is "a regional variety of language distinguished by features of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation from other regional varieties and constituting together with them a single language". Going on this, it would indeed seem that US English is a dialect ...

Seriously, though, "dialect" is a dangerous word to use and I think it would be better to have "dialect/variety" rather than "dialect".

Regarding your other point, as an Irishman, I do not feel that there is any need for a separate Irish dialect/variety, as there is precious little difference between educated written "Irish English" and UK English. I suspect that Australian and New Zealand colleagues may feel the same way as regards UK English and - perhaps I'm treading on thin ice here - Canadians as regards the US variety. Slang is one thing, but other than that, I really don't see the need.

All the best


Ian


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:37
German to English
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American English is a dialect? Aug 20, 2005

I think "dialect" is just a convenient label in this context for "English suitable for the [substitute country] market". I also think that linguistically, it is the correct term.

"Dialect" also carries political implications, but as professional linguists we are presumably capable of ignoring those. All dialects are by definition languages in their own right, from a linguistic perspective; whether a dialect warrents the label "language" or not is a political issue, not a linguistic one. From what you say (I've never posted a job on ProZ myself), ProZ treats these "dialects" equally - it is not suggested that Irish English is the "language", the other forms "dialects".

On the other hand, perhaps you feel that American and British English are both languages in their own right. I hope not. One gripe of mine is that German translations of American authors now invariably state in the preface that they are "aus dem Amerikanischen" (translated from the American).

Marc


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Catherine Bolton  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:37
Member (2002)
Italian to English
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TOPIC STARTER
The same language Aug 20, 2005

The point of my (quasi) tongue-in-cheek posting is that they are indeed the same language -- but with regional differences. Some of the most interesting and informative discussions have arisen when answerers have pointed out that certain terms and usages are American or British. It would certain be a shame to lose that by forcing askers to pigeonhole their questions in advance.
Catherine


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Michael Deliso  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:37
Italian to English
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It's all about money... Aug 20, 2005

Hi Catherine;
I have given up for sometime now worrying and arguing about the differences in the American/British English.
While I was lecturing in Senior High Schools/Colleges in Italy, I had many times been asked this question by both, teachers and students and, to answer them, I had always pulled out an article from an ESL site called "Which English" and clearly it gives a handfull of differences which are extremely insignificant. The whole reason lies on the fact that there is a Big Business behind the so called "English certifications". I am not going to mention any of them so not to offend any thin skins. But I have personally experienced the push behind the various certifications and books that go along with them. Sure, there are some small differences in vocabularies, but the basic grammar is the same everywhere. Even in the same Motherland of the English language they have various "local dialects" or "accents".


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Kurt Porter  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:37
Russian to English
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"American" vs "English" Aug 20, 2005

As stated earlier, I think it's the site's way of trying to ensure the askers are aware of the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle differences in the language.

I personally feel there are enough differences to try and have some way to reflect the differences.


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Jane Lamb-Ruiz  Identity Verified
French to English
+ ...
Dialect Aug 20, 2005

Most of the differences between American and British English are semantic not dialectical. There is more sameness rather than difference between the two.

Non-native speakers who post questions sometimes say: I want a BE answer, when the question they ask would be the same in British or American or Canadian English. THis is encouraging the myth of Great Difference rather than semantic difference. I am referring to Standard English, not regional accents/differences, as for example, Geordie in the UK.

So, there should be some other way of handling this.


The same goes for Spanish and Portuguese and French. The difference between Spanish from Spain and Spanish from Argentina is not a dialectal difference.

An operant rule of thumb also in this regard is: the more "intellectual" or "abstract" the text, the less difference there is. In general. The more popular the register, the more the difference. For example, a farmer from some region of Peru will speak differently from some farmer from a region of Spain. However, agronomists from those two countries writing about agriculture will use the same words in Spanish in the field of agronomy/agriculture. This is just an example.

As proz is a translation site, I suggest that it ask the opinion of those with degrees in linguistics and translation and create a working group as it were, to avoid these misnomers and propating them. This is especially important for those who are not knowledgeable about these matters and who then, seeing the word dialect applied to English, start going round and saying the American dialect.

This goes to the heart of understanding and propagating the basic knowledge about translation that exists in that academic/professional community. The naming of these things is very important and it is important to not mislabel them as they are not mislabed i.e., calling American and British English, dialects. They are actually, technically, varieties.

Cheers
Jane

[Edited at 2005-08-20 14:58]


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Sormane Fitzgerald Gomes  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:37
Member (2004)
Portuguese to English
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I agree. Aug 20, 2005

cbolton wrote:

Hi folks, I posted a question this morning and was surprised (to put it mildly) to discover that I had to choose between the American "dialect" and British "dialect".
Though there are regional differences to be sure, I wouldn't classify these as dialects! And this is a site for linguists?
And while I'm on the subject, I doubt I'd be very happy if I were Canadian, Australian or any other native English speaker. Where are THEIR "dialects"?
Curioser and curioser, as it were.
Catherine


Hi Catherine,

I was very surprised too when I saw "American dialect" and "Brazilian dialect" as options. In my opinion, that is a misuse of the term and does not reflect well on a site of linguists/professional translators.


Sormane Gomes


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Milica Bezdan
Local time: 00:37
English to Serbian
+ ...
Dialects?! Aug 20, 2005

If one can treat Serbian and Croatian as two different languages
(and just to make the things a little bit more complicated, add there Bosnian), how can one be surprised to see that AmE and BrE are dialects of the same language? Mind you, I can perfectly understand a Croat, just as well as she-he can understand me. How can that be a different language? A dialect? Sure. But language? Please! So, in my opinion, the politicians play the major role here, not linguists.


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Terry Gilman  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:37
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Agree with Marc Aug 20, 2005

Dear Catherine,

I agree that it would be a shame to cordon off BrE and AmE in the Kudoz. Where I work, both BrE and AmE are dialects. The crux of the problem lies in assigning language status to one, say, BrE or Portuguese in Portugal, and dialect status to the other.

I also agree wholeheartedly with Jane about not perpetuating the myth of the "Great Difference." Not having studied linguistics or completed an analysis, my conclusions about the bias against AmE I occasionally encounter in Germany are the same as Michael's. It's about money (protecting the brand) and "seasoned" to some extent with some variety of bias against stereotypes of the way of life in the US.

That said, the differences in everyday writing are numerous enough to create problems for non-ENS and irritations between BrE and AmE editors. Most businesses have to decide at some point in favor of one of the regional varieties as the default for their style guides. On a bad day, it can be trying if your native variety is not the default selected by your employer (trying precisely because the differences are maddeningly trivial but telling).

Out of curiosity, I did a define:dialect on google. It seems that many people do use "dialect" and "regional variety" interchangeably. (I have, too, so far, having grown up in the AmE world of Merriam-Webster.)

I also did a search for "dialect" and "linguist" to come up with some sort of scholarly entry. While there were some interesting entries, including a report on an American linguist society's deliberations on the "word of the year" and a discussion of the political/power use of "dialect" to cast aspersions on some languages, I didn't find anything obviously definitive. So, as Jane says, perhaps the scholars can weigh in here.

Thanks for an interesting post.
Terry

PS I also sent a query to Merriam-Webster.


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Textklick  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:37
German to English
+ ...
What do the punters want? Aug 20, 2005

Ian Winick wrote:



Seriously, though, "dialect" is a dangerous word to use and I think it would be better to have "dialect/variety" rather than "dialect".






They certainly don't want dialects, I fancy

Forgive my slight digression from the topic of US English. IMHE outsourcers - especially in localisation - are very exact in specifying source and target e.g. EN /US/UK or ES Eur/LA etc.

There are many words and phrases that vary: end of story.

I think it's a good idea to differentiate on Kudoz, but call it "regional variation". Or just "region", which should surely keep everyone happy?


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Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:37
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
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The use of the word dialect is a linguistic blooper on a site like this Aug 20, 2005

I suggest "targeted audience" or something similar. If a language has several variants it's sometimes useful to make a distinction, but to call any language with variants a dialect of the other variants is illogical, to say the least.

Regards,
Gerard


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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:37
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
They are all dialects Aug 20, 2005

This use of the term 'dialect' is in accordance with its use in Linguistics (the scientific study of language). All languages are composed of dialects, one of which usually has come to be accepted as the standard (although sometimes there is more than one standard). It is this standard dialect that is considered the language by the average person, who then calls all the other variants "dialects". But again, this is the usage of the man/woman in the street. The scientific concept of dialect is a very useful one in Linguistics, and as language professionals one with which we should be both familiar and comfortable.


Michele Fauble




[Edited at 2005-08-20 22:50]


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Jane Lamb-Ruiz  Identity Verified
French to English
+ ...
Absolutely right Aug 20, 2005

Gerard de Noord wrote:

I suggest "targeted audience" or something similar. If a language has several variants it's sometimes useful to make a distinction, but to call any language with variants a dialect of the other variants is illogical, to say the least.

Regards,
Gerard


Yes, agree.

Except I would not say variant..but variety like a fruit. Variant has the wrong ring to it...

cheers


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xxx@caduceus
United States
Local time: 16:37
English to German
+ ...
differentiation is a good option Aug 20, 2005

I am glad that this differentiation has been added to the KudoZ. IMO, it should also be added to the jobs section, although, as already pointed out, outsourcers usually are rather specific in their job description in regards to the target audience when posting jobs.

Since there are some very distinct linguistic varieties for many languages, in their written and spoken form, it should definitely be an option for the asker and answerer(s). Some American expressions for example may not be suitable, appropriate or even understood within a UK target audience and vice versa.

Maybe some think the differentiation shouldn’t necessarily be called “dialects” (BTW see http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=define:dialect&btnG=Google%20Search for definitions of the term dialect), and some language flavors do not seem to be represented, but I think the ProZ-team is doing a really good job implementing new features. So, proposing improvements would be a way to help them refine those concepts. We all know that Henry and his team are always listening and so far most changes have been based on member suggestions.

We all learn as we go, and I’m sure the ProZ-team will appreciate some positive comments on what could be done better.

[Edited at 2005-08-20 22:52]

[Edited at 2005-08-21 05:03]


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