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  1. Daveyboyz
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    Daveyboyz Member

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    UK/US contrast in style.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Daveyboyz, Aug 20, 2010.

    I was going to write this in a review of someones piece, I instead thought I would throw the subject out for further examination. Am I correct to a greater or lesser extent or have I made a stereotype and then interpretted evidence to back it up?

    I find the most American thing about American stuff is not so much to do with the language and phrases as about the feel of it.

    I spent a fair amount of time in the states and words like vacation and sidewalk are like water off a ducks back to me. Also from the amount of movies I have watched and American TV shows the American phrases go unnoticed.

    What I have noticed is hard to pinpoint, but I will give an example.

    Tyson deGrasse American scientist

    Brian Cox British scientist

    I think I have seen them express themselves differently, particularly when lecturing. (I know Tyson is black but I don't think this is racial I think it is cultural and his being black is less important to it than him being American)

    The cultural influence of the church in America has perhaps led to delivery of material as being 'sermonized.' Tyson clearly knows his subject but often when he talks I feel like he is talking down to me like I am a child. He delivers similarly to a preacher.

    When Brian Cox lectures he explains things as deaply, he tells me just as much of his personal beliefs as Tyson yet it doesn't come across as condescending. He doesn't sound like a preacher, maybe he makes less direct statements and seems more human.

    Does anyone else find this in speach? Do you think that it can also come across in writing, blogs maybe?
     
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  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    My husband is American and I have also spent time in the US. I get myself into trouble for saying its like two different languages, but its true. I live in the North East of Scotland and have American friends that won't speak when they come to visit because they don't understand the language.

    American writing styles are different, I find its slanted more towards how whereas in the UK its more towards why. I notice it in literature as well.

    Although the thing I love the most about English (UK) is the flexibility you have to play with the language. We have so many rich dialects and colloquialisms and there are phrases I can get away with using an American writer wouldn't, simply because my work is Northern British. Yet a Brit would get away writing in an American colloquial style,

    There is also the option if you are really good and writing in a dialect to play around with punctuation. Lewis Grassic Gibbon is my favourite example. I doubt William McGonagall would have made it in the US the same. (on yonder hill there stood a coo, its not there noo it must have shifted:))

    Then there is traditions like Panto and Carry On that i think add a richness and ability to add layers etc

    I find UK style much more fun to write, its about analysis and flexibility about getting the job done in an innovative way, and will have a go at hanging convention as an experiment and has done since the 1700s.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I would say that there is simply a cultural difference in the mode in which each of us (from our respective cultures) has been trained to take in information.

    Strange that you mention Tyson deGrasse. For me, he's a bit goofy as far as the new breed of Discovery Channel superstar scientists go.

    But, back to the matter at hand. In the States we are accustomed to this kind self confident assurance when it comes to manner of delivery. But this is not something that is only an American trait, nor do I think it is a trait which I think can be pinned down to any given culture. I mean, have you heard Richard Dawkins lecture? The man leaves you wondering if you belong to an inferior species (his being the superior) when he speaks.

    I am a person from two cultures. Spanish and American. Differences in nuance abound and are simply part of the makeup of the paradigm of each culture. When there are noted differences, sometimes our more defensive instincts kick in and we feel negative vibes.

    Example: My boyfriend (yes, I'm gay, so that makes three cultures now) is often left scandalized when I drop the odd bit of American style sarcasm. It simply doesn't go over here in Puerto Rico. I myself am left confused as to just where the line is between acceptable tom-foolery and beyond the pale insult. The differences do not answer well to verbal description because one must be inculturated to understand where things have gone astray.

    Now, all of that being said, and remember this is all just my personal opinion, as soon as this thread turns into The Boston Tea Party it will be closed by yours truly with little fanfare.
     
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  4. Bad_Valentine
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    Bad_Valentine Member

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    As an American, I definitely don't see that in lectures and writing, and I definitely don't agree. I don't think church sermons have as much cultural influence in the United States as you seem to believe.

    Maybe Tyson deGrasse talks down to his audience and delivers his lectures like a preacher, but that doesn't mean all/most Americans do the same. My opinion, because you are unable to pinpoint exactly what the problem is with the language and are instead basing your opinion on your feelings, shows (to me) that its a personal bias.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I will make one, and only one more
    statement concerning the temperament of this thread.
    If it cannot stay on an even, academic, keel then it will be closed.​
     
  6. Daveyboyz
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    Daveyboyz Member

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    Yes I have heard Dawkins speak, indeed he is very intellectual but it doesn't sound like a sermon to me. In fact even though he has very strong views he seems to make them with openness to reason and willingness to re-examine, he kind of plays down how clever he is.

    Perhaps deGrasse is not typical amongst Americans and I am forming a connection that isn't there. But what is it about the way that he delivers which makes me think he has come from a pulpit? He does sound to me like he is showing off how clever he is, and though I find him interesting to listen to, just because of the topics he discusses, this turns me off.

    Is it the dramatic pauses? Is it the phrasing? What exactly is it that makes it sound like a sermon?

    BTW I see your warning. I wonder if it is necessary, I came to this forum because the last one I found unduely fascist. Everyone seems to be playing nicely. Surely we are all mature enough to except that everyone is different and different countries have different cultures? To recognise difference is not to make one better than the other, it is to learn more about ourselves. So I would appreciate if we can stay on topic, and if everyone could be respectful (mods included)

    I have noticed plenty of differences in culture, particularly humour. The British tend to have self depricating humour, with lots of anti-heros. Americans normally like smart-alec humour, the smooth character is flawless and has an answer to everything. (Thats not a critisism its an observation about what we find funny)

    I thought the subject I raised could be a generalisation like this one (which has exceptions but would generally be regarded as true) perhaps I just picked someone unrepresentative on whom to base my assumptions. But if you know other examples of Americans who sermonize non-religous subjects feel free.
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Tyson deGrasse is a bit twee and does not truly represent a culture as much as he represents his bid to outbid Mitchiu Kaku as the next superstar, mainstreamed American scientist. ;)

    His manner is his own.

    And I have to disagree without reservation on Dawkins. Dawkins is he most self impressed individual I have ever heard, seen, or read. Again, these are cultural differences. You see Dawkins from a UK POV that lends you a lens of focus to appreciate his manner and style. I see him as pompous and purposefully self marginalized so that he can play the victim card when his detractors have differing points of view. But again, this is because of my personal, cultural lens through which I see and cannot help but see because it is the lens that evolved with me.

    Neither of us is either correct nor incorrect; we are appropriate to who we are and how we experience the world.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is simply our education systems have different requirements. What is required for an essay in the US, is different to the UK. In the UK there is less convention, more originality of style and flow seems to be encouraged. The tone of the essay is more towards why than how. There advantages and disadvantages to both.

    The US doesn't have the same diversity of dialect spread over such a tiny area as we do in the UK, that in itself gives more flexibility in style.

    I am not allowed to post a link but I think the Catherine Tait, David Tennant Comic Relief Sketch shows what I am on about quite well.

    There is a difference between an American Lecturer and a British Lecturer in style, often a British lecturer will be less formal. British Lecturers do tend to be more self assured (pompous) and that is because they spent four years at university studying their subject here when you go to university to study, history, computing etc that is what you study nothing else is required. They are immersed in what they do.

    EDIT: No I agree about Dawkins he's a self important idiot with delusions of godhood lol I prefer David Starkey for style still arrogant but he doesn't talk down to people he is on a level.
     
  9. Daveyboyz
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    Hmm, is it the subject matter of Dawkins that leads you to that belief or actually his manner? I can partially see how you regard him as playing the victim card, I think that's part of the politics of him arguing a subject where he has clearly upset many people and will continue to do so.

    I will also concede that its true I look through a British POV and that could be part of the issue.

    Maybe deGrasse is just a one off.
     
  10. Daveyboyz
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    Daveyboyz Member

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    Carl Sagan however I love his delivery...and I didn't even realise he was American, I thought he was Canadian. His accent doesn't sound standard American to me, and his delivery is kind of odd but very interesting.
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I personally don't like academics that talk down to people. In my mind the very best academics are those that can present their material in such a manner everyone can understand it. A Phd student will be enlightened but so will the kid at high school.

    Those that talk above others and don't make a real effort to be understood, I don't like. For me Richard Dawkins is the most famous example of everything I dislike in an academic.
     
  12. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    That's because Mr. Sagan was from Brooklyn, NY. The accent there is famously distinct and Sagan polished his voice away from the Brooklynese standard. ;)
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm a Canadian who has been living in the US for fourteen years. The biggest thing I've noticed about the way Americans talk is their wordiness. For example, say you ask "Where did Fred go?"

    Canadian: Fred went to the bank.

    American: I'll tell you where Fred went. The bank. That's where he went. Fred went to the bank, and that's where he went.

    Americans seem to be unaware that they do this. They don't do it in movies or TV shows or other scripted speech. But it happens very often in casual conversation. I've asked some of them why they do this and they have no idea what I'm talking about.

    This isn't a criticism; I'm just pointing out a curiosity of the way Americans talk. (Or at least the ones I've met in Southern California.)
     
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  14. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know he is not an academic but I love John Barrowman when he is delivering something. He has a mix of the two styles and I think he has taken the very best of both cultures and created a unique style.

    There are people that can work between the two and I admire that. Personally i can't, I am about as British as any one person can be. Everything about me screams it.

    LOL my husband spent good portion of his life in Southern California and we've spent time in the Mid-West I do agree. Especially as a blunt Northern Brit who believes why use 10 words where 2 will do:) American's often use the more words to say the same thing. However i think the same in Southern England.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    generalizations about different cultures cannot rationally be made on the basis of only one example of each!

    that's like saying all vegetables are either green or yellow, because that's what spinach and corn are...
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You can't beet that logic!
     
  17. Phlogiston
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    A partial defence of Dawkins:

    Read his books. They are wonderful. We are all writers on here and if you want to read a science writer par excellence, you cannot beat Dawkins (except maybe with Stephen J. Gould). When I say, 'read his books', of course I mean AVOID THE GOD DELUSION. Dawkins has many many many brilliantly written works, it just so happens that his most famous is when he went a bit head-mad.

    My personal view of Dawkins is this: A brilliant science writer who articulately argues why philosophers and theologians should not speculate on scientific matters. He is also a massive twat who ably demonstrates why untrained scientists should not try and write philosophy or theology.

    On topic: I think Dawkins v Gould is a good comparison actually. It deomnstrates how nationality has little or no bearing on their writing style. Of course, this itself is a generalisation...
     
  18. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, I missed this question.

    It is his manner.

    I agree completely with him when it comes to his basic concept that epistemologies exist for a reason and that they should remain separate. You will find more than one post from me here in the forum where I wax on to the tune of, "God won't help you with your trigonometry. You cannot measure God with a ruler. Neither explains the beauty of a Van Gogh.." or some other such. In this, I agree with the man and would pull sword by his side to defend the idea that different knowledges have different ways of acquisition and that when we forget this, we get into all kind of trouble, and worse, we waste our time.

    It's just his general demeanor which rubs me wrong.
     
  19. Aconite
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    Aconite Senior Member

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    I'm an American who has lived and studied in Ireland at the collegiate level (granted, they're not the UK, and they would probably dislike being used for a comparison in this manner, but for cultural differences I don't feel it's entirely inappropriate to use).

    As that, I do agree that American academic and professional papers have a lot more rigidity. I teach at the college level, and we teach specific five-paragraph essay formulas--whether or not they are appropriate for the subject. In law school, we were taught to IRAC (Issue, Rules, Application, Conclusion) in everything we did, and that rule is pretty prevalent outside of school as well.

    To me, it is a product of the urge to streamline everything. American education took a hit with the infamous No Child Left Behind, which mandated tests and rote memorization at the expense of what I view as real education--but there has always been a pressure to test and prove competency (not mastery!) that does not exist in the same way across the pond: GCSEs are demanded but there is a very different feel to them, to me: They allow for mastery, whereas the Regents exams in NYS (for example) do not.

    (Note: I left high school in the US after tenth grade [out of twelve] and never took Regents exams or SAT IIs, so I am speaking out of a position of ignorance to some extent.)

    As far as writing style, American academia largely seems to follow the mantra Explain everything to the lowest common denominator, whereas the other mold, where it's your responsibility to keep up, is more prevalent elsewhere. I think it's only natural this follows through in other literary disciplines as well.
     
  20. Daveyboyz
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    Daveyboyz Member

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    Ok fair do's. Dawkins might rub you up the wrong way but do you feel he preaches like a vicar would?

    I found some other examples in the field of stand up comedy. They were actually American black comedians. I don't differenciate between black and white Americans, they would be American first. male or female second and their race would be a detail a long way down the list if I were describing them.

    I am not convinced it is entirely my imagination about their use of language being influenced by evangelical style church services. Language is pretty complicated though and I haven't had formal education about liguistics or anything of that nature. Therefore I am having a hard time pinpointing exactly what it is that reminds me of pulpit style delivery.

    I will have to think on it and watch out for this in future maybe it will come to me what exactly it is I am talking of.

    Aconite you may be onto something, perhaps its the construction and the flow that is part of it.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It appears this discussion cannot take place without some members choosing to stoop to nation-bashing.
     
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