1. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    British vs. American English

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Aprella, Jun 12, 2013.

    I was actually wondering if it matters if you write in British or American English if you want to get published? Most book I read (as in modern books) seem to be American. While my co-writer would prefer to write in American English, we have agreed to write in British since that is the type of English I am studying. But since English isn't my first language I do tend to use typical American words without knowing that they are actually American... can that be a problem?
    At least on of the characters will use American English... since he's an American though that will only be known by some typical words I suppose.
    While I know that there isn't a gigantic difference between British and America... it will still be quite a job to delete the 'u' in words like honour or change the 'ize' in 'ise' in some words... there for my questions.
     
  2. huntsman40
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    huntsman40 Active Member

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    I don't think it matters which you write in at all, but just don't mix it up. Last thing you want is to see "color" and then "colour" later on in the same book.

    Things like this can be fixed in editing of course, and it’s not that difficult a job to use "find and replace" in word to make sure there are no mistakes like this in your work. And obviously if you choose to write in one form that doesn't mean the characters speech is done differently just because they are English or American. So you wouldn't type "color" if the American is speaking and "colour" if an English character was speaking. Pick your format and stick to it.

    The same goes for some punctuation like en dash or em dash, which you might have to watch for if one of you is American, as Americans tend to use an em dash and English writers more often use an en dash.

    As I said though, a lot of this stuff is done in edit, and so unless you are self-publishing you may not have to worry too much if you miss some stuff, but of course you should try and avoid too many silly mistakes which could get missed.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you should be writing in the form of whichever country you intend to seek a publisher... in other words, write for the majority who will be reading your book...

    is the story set in the US or the UK?

    from what you said, i'd have to strongly suggest you do go to the slight trouble of changing the spellings, since it sounds like everything else is more american than british...

    and since you have a partner, be sure you have a good, signed collaboration agreement in place before you write another word...
     
  4. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I'm currently writing a novel that's set in post-apocalyptic America and includes some American slang such as "ya'll" and words for things not used over here (pants instead of trousers), yet my spelling is British and I plan to publish in the UK. What do you think regarding this? Thanks. :)
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, firstly, it's y'all, not ya'll :), and y'all is not slang. It belongs to a different linguistic phenomenon. It's a reaction to the loss of distinction between the second person singular and plural. Slang serves another purpose, to identify users with a particular group.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    And before you retort that I'm just being pedantically petty, there is a reason I point this out. True slang has an incredibly short shelf life. There are reasons built into its purpose that guaranty it. True current American slang would not survive on into post-apocalyptic times. But a term like y'all would survive because it came into being for a very different reason than slang. Slang is a terribly weak affecter of change on any language, though people tend to focus on it because it's flashy.
     
  7. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Knew I'd put the apostrophe in the wrong place - stupid keyboard. :( But I didn't know all about the slang stuff. Very interesting and informative. And I don't think you're being petty, because this is a writing forum and I am a grammar Nazi, and must be corrected whenever I am mistaken or incorrect! Thanks. :)
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Right. Y'all fills a grammatical niche in English, and that gives it staying power. I predict that a third person gender-neutral singular personal pronoun will appear before long to fill another grammatical vacuum.
     
  9. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    The biggest part of the story will take place in another dimension. In the end they will be in America but I'm not even sure if that will be mentioned.
    And of course... typing color instead of typing colour in the speech of a character is a bit stupid :/
    But the American character may say car hood instead of bonnet... and I was wondering if that was acceptable.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    American characters should use American word choice in dialogue, yes. If that's likely to cause major reader confusion, you might need to tweak things a bit, but it definitely wouldn't make sense for American characters to be using British word choices, or vice versa.
     
  11. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Some people forgive that 50 Shades author (E.L. James was it?) that she makes her American characters speak like Britons because she herself is a Brit, but to me it's just lazy even though the focus of the story is a creepy sex affair with a socio-- I mean, a sexy touching lovestory, whatever, anyhow, if I were you, I'd make the American characters speak like Americans (also depends on from which area s/he is. Southeners have a different slang than New Yorkers and so on. Even his/her heritage may affect the word choices and/or accent) regardless the dimension they adventure in. I remember you have non-English/American characters too, so they can mix it up. Usually, thanks to TV, they'd say hood instead of bonnet and truck instead of lorry. However, your spelling, punctuation, and grammar should be consistent. Pick one and stick to it. They teach that at the uni, don't they? Even if you write a paper on contemporary American literature, if you picked BrE, you stick to BrE.
     
  12. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    Yes, they teach that at Uni :D That's why I would loath to write in American since I always learn the British variant and I never pay much attention to the American :p But my co-writer is writing the American character.
     
  13. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    So basically s/he should use British spelling, punctuation, and grammar, but just write the character's thoughts and utterances like the character's American (vocabulary, idioms...).
     
  14. billywhizz100
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    billywhizz100 Member

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    I'd (very humbly) take slight issue with this. As a contraction, sure it's performing a linguistic purpose, but... I'm not sure that excludes its definition as a slang term. I'd recommend "Stone the Crows: Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang." Very interesting to see how hazy the definition of "slang" is. But if you have a quick leaf through the nearest dictionary, you'll see lots and lots of sl. or slang labels. Many such terms have been around for some time, while others will certainly make it to post-apocalyptic times :)
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    double post
     
  16. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Under the umbrella of applied linguistics, y'all would not be considered slang. The definition of slang is terminology purposefully created within a group to identify the users of said terms as belonging to that group. How the group defines itself can be along any line. Age, gender, socio-economic status, music interest, hobby, sports, anything at all. And yes, some slang does last, but in the grand scheme of things, and especially since the advent of mass media, very little. One of the best examples, at least in the U.S., is the affirmative term, cool, which has had remarkable staying power as slang. The vast majority of slang goes through four stages. Insular, Popular, Hackneyed, Historic.

    • Insular is when the term is used only ever amongst those who created it.
    • Popular is when the term is heard by others outside the group and, for sociological reasons, gets picked up by them though they themselves do not belong to the group.
    • Hackneyed (or played) is when the term is being picked up by individuals far afield from the group and also once other terms have replaced it because it no longer serves its purpose as group identifier.
    • Historic is when it survives only in recordings, books, other written media, but is no longer in actual day to day use.


    Since the advent of mass media, this cycle has become very quick indeed. The Historic phase is the one of interest as regards your mention of noting words in the dictionary. The fact that it survives on record is not the same as it surviving in the living language, even were there not to be an apocalypse. Let us take some other words that are surely in the dictionary as example. The word fro (not the truncation of afro) is in the dictionary but exists in the living language in only one single usage, to and fro. Hither, thither, and whither are also surely there, and well read individuals like ourselves are quite familiar with these terms, but to say they are in current use, part of the living language, is not correct. And these are not slang terms. These are (were) words that served mechanical roles within the syntax, words with stout histories and jobs to carry out in the broader syntactic sense. In a post-apocalyptic scenario, only the living language would matter. Within one or two generations, the struggle just to survive would make dictionaries into kindling. All of those terms that exist only as historic record would be erased from the language.

    Y'all and it's North-Eastern variants youz and yous come into being for purposes other than that defined for slang. The fact that they are non-standard does not make them slang though linguistic institutions such as Oxford and Webster (both sides of the pond), which adhere to prescriptive doctrine may attempt to categorize them there so as to trivialize their purpose and existence. These are biased sources as regards the classification of words. I would reciprocate your suggested reading by offering Pinker's The Language Instinct that looks at these topics, amongst many others, from outside the confines and agendas of any linguistic institution internal to the language.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    "y'all" is southern dialect for "you all" so if the character using it isn't from the american south, it wouldn't make much sense for him/her to use it... unless, of course, in your post-apoc era, 'the south will rise again' and turn the whole country 'suthren'... ;)
     
  18. Dagolas
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    Dagolas Banned

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    Honestly most brits use american words nowadays. I've yet to meet anyone but me who still says "trousers".
     
  19. E. C. Scrubb
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    E. C. Scrubb Active Member

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    Or, of course, you're father was from the south and your mother was from Canada, so you end up saying, "Ya'll are coming over tonight, eh?"

    Yeah, I've uttered that line before.
     
  20. redreversed
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    redreversed Active Member

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    Wait, what do you say instead of trousers? o_O
     
  21. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Pants. If you're a little older, slacks.
     
  22. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I'll be honest and say that I prefer using pants instead of trousers, and then underpants instead of pants. It just seems to work for me. A lot of people over here find me weird because I watch a lot of American television (and British too, of course, but American seems to sink into my brain more) and I end up saying or writing American phrases and terms, a la spelling things with a "z". :)

    I will visit you guys eventually. In fact, perhaps even in a year and a half, as there is a student exchange! :D
     
  23. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Just as a side-note, I have definitely heard people say underpants over here, and it may be simply a matter of regionalism in the U.S., but for me underwear feels more natural to say as a fellah'. Undergarments for gals are clearly different and they may have a completely other set of terms that feel more natural to them. Not being a gal myself, I will let them speak for themselves. ;)
     
  24. 7thMidget
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    This reminds me of Brazilian Portuguese vs European Portuguese vs the Portuguese hybrid spoken in African countries. Here, the norm seems to be for the dialogue to reflect the character's location or upbringing and for the narration to be written in the Portuguese variant that the author himself uses. We are all very exposed to all forms of Portuguese (including plain bad Portuguese), and the differences are small when written, anyway. So, yeah, as long as you are consistent, you are fine. For that, you do need to know very well when you are using AmE vocabulary or not. As for changing what you already wrote, Word's find and replace all tool is your best friend, if that's the software you're using.
     
  25. rachyroo
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    rachyroo New Member

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    It's a bit difficult to be totally objective about this I think. I've just put a similar query on a critique for a children's story.
    Personally it really galls me to read Americanisms in childrens books like "mommy" etc as it just doesn't sound right. I think the reason for this is that they sound like slang or colloquialisms to me and the whole point of writing for an early age is to establish a good vocabulary etc. Ultimately any piece of writing is successful if it is convincing and engaging and so it is entirely contextual. If you're an American trying to write like a Brit isn't this going to stop your writing flow as easily?

    Logically, it makes sense that your dialogue is fitted to the character but your narrative stays the same.
     

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