1. aeros88
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    aeros88 New Member

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    Using UK English vs US English in England-based novel?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by aeros88, Jan 29, 2014.

    Hello! I'm working on my first serious writing project and I keep running into the same question, "What system should I use, UK or US?" I'm from the US and I know a little bit about UK English and the metric system from school and through current research and I'm trying to decide which method would be best.

    My book is based in 1889 on a merchant ship (sail) that leaves port in England and follows an Englishman on his journey (first person POV). I envision this book would be geared to an American audience and I would also like to keep the authenticity of the story without getting confusing (or insulting anyone from the UK). I feel that if I were to substitute "45 metres" (when describing the boat's length) for "150 feet" I would come off as ignorant or worse, ruin the story.

    What is your opinion on something like this?
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In 1889, weren't both the US and the UK using feet? I'd think that that would solve that problem.

    I would say that the fact that you're using a first-person narrator simplifies matters--you would use his word choice and turns of phrase, so word choice and turns of phrase will be that of an Englishman of 1889. Though that also complicates matters--you'll have to research a mode of speech that depends on nationality, region, social class, and historic era.

    I say "word choice and turns of phrase" because punctuation and spelling should reflect whatever market you hope to sell the book in--US or UK.

    There will, of course, be confusing bits for any reader, and I think that they'll have to be solved one by one, as gracefully as you can manage. For example, in a modern book, I'd avoid the ambiguous term "jumper", replacing it with, perhaps, either "cardigan" or "dress", depending on which meaning was intended. (I'm not saying that a jumper is identical to a dress, I'm saying that I would change the character's costume slightly to avoid the ambiguous word.)
     
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  3. aeros88
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    aeros88 New Member

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    Thanks for pointing that out. That's one thing I overlooked when doing my research since I just assumed it had always been that way. It looks like the metric system didn't come into full swing until about 1965 for the UK. I'll keep note of your other suggestions as they too answer other questions I've had. Thanks!
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Your book is a period piece. You may need to do some further research as regards not only the language of the place, but also of the time. English as spoken in the U.K. is much more diverse than it is in the U.S., which is only natural since it is the birthplace of the language. Time breeds diversity. Someone from 1889 wouldn't speak the same as someone from today speaking in your typical Estuary or even RP.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i'm not sure that's true, wrey... i'd guess there would be significant differences in speech patterns and certainly in idioms, over the past hundred years plus...

    aero...
    i suggest you check google and amazon and your neighborhood library for books that were actually written in that era and were set in the british seagoing world... that's the best way to get both the dialog and narrative down right...
     
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  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Oop! Sorry. :oops: That was a typo. It was meant to say wouldn't. You know me better than that, Maia. ;)
     
  7. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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  8. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    I am English and travel to America quite frequently for work. As far as I can tell, American English, as its spoken in the Midwest anyway (which is where I go), often displays it's original British English origins more than modern British English does.

    One example is many of the spellings that Americans use -'color' instead of colour for example are original English spellings.

    Gotten was also an English word, that Brits now think of as an Americanism.*

    Polite American English tends to be more formal than current British English too, and reminds me of British classics I have read. The use of 'ma'am' for example (although it's pronounced 'marm' in British English).

    As far as the motivation for your character goes thats anyone's guess anyway, as we can only imagine what it was like living in an early industrial society, so you may have an easier time pulling off your piece than you think.

    *Edit - also 'apartment' instead of 'flat', take a bath instead of 'have a bath', townhouse instead of terraced house. Its interesting as many British people complain about Americans changing 'their' language, but in fact it's often Americans who are using the purer form!
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2014

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