Blogging: what English are we writing in now?

The most famous Cockney pub in the world!

The most famous Cockney pub in the world,
and star of the incredibly successful
British TV Soap about London, “East Enders.”
Cockney culture is delightful – but its misuse
of English in blogging and other online text
confuses readers from other UK regions
and English language speakers worldwide.

It’s been a year or three now since militant British bloggers waved their willies, karate belts, ZZ-cup bras and other implements appropriate to their status and gender in defence of blogging as an entirely new phenomenon.

Blogging – according to what we were told by some bellicose bloggers, anyway – was the new way to use words in a joyous internet world where grammar, spelling, punctuation and other nonsenses didn’t matter a bit. All that counted was getting a message over no matter how wrong punctuated it were and what grammer and speling stuff was used, like, because all that mattered was getting your message over easy.

Today’s bloggers are moving on

I find it entertaining to see how the bloggers of yesteryear who thumbed their noses at “proper” writing are now all buckling down and are writing, or at least are trying to write, in a reasonably literate and grammatically comprehensible way.

And for this, I suspect we have more to thank than the mere, humble spellchecker. Whether these formerly rebellious bloggers are employing writing coaches, editors, ghostwriters or are simply learning how to use English properly themselves, doesn’t matter.

What does matter is a better use of English, and acknowledgment – if rather grudging – that properly written text gets read and acted upon whether it’s a blog post or the Declaration of Independence. Badly written text gets dismissed as unprofessional. Simple.

American, British – or others?

Another fascinating change I’m seeing among some British bloggers is that they have finally realized … the USA is a key marketplace for the blogwares they’re trying to sell.

I have really had some good laughs watching these Brit-bloggers attempt to change their spellings and idioms to their perceptions of the American equivalents. Some of it is truly cringe-worthy. (Shameless plug: if you want some real help in working out what different things mean in various English language cultures, have a look at this little book of mine.)

However, there is a more serious side to this, and here’s where I stop laughing.

Before the internet provided us with the opportunity to explore and expand beyond our own English-language back yards, we could afford to stick to our own spellings, our own grammatical foibles, our own syntax rules, our own parochial punctuation and a lot more besides.

But now, are we really expected to conform to the US-based “majority?” I know, this opens up another, very large can of worms. But open it up, we must.

Given that English is the most widely used language in the world, I wonder just what lies ahead of us in terms of how English develops internationally.

Much as I love you, Americans, (even though I’m Canadian living in the UK!) … I have to remind you that there are many other derivatives of the English language in use around the world, and used by millions of people, too.

How English is used in India, for example

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Indian English is a distinct language in its own right

All you need to do is check out the English used in countries like India, for example, to see how the language is not only peculiar to their culture, but also is evolving as a branch of English in its own right

I work with a large group of Indian bloggers and am fascinated to see how their English differs from what’s used in Britain and North America. This is due to the use of English cascading down through their cultures with strong input from several Indian languages.

And this input is not so much about words and phrases from Indian languages like Hindi and Punjabi:  the strongest influences come from their grammar and syntax. This makes the English they use look stilted and ungrammatical to a western English reader. They use the same words, with a different structure.

India is only one country where this is happening; others are following suit.

What do you think about the international development of English? Do you think it’s right that countries like India should use the English language and in effect, develop it further as a language of their own?

Or do you feel that there should, at least, be some common denominators within the usage of the English language everywhere, to enable other cultures to share it with equal ease?

Please share your views here!

While you’re here, don’t forget to stop by my Bookshop…books and eBooks to help you write better – and to give to friends and family – from just $2.50

photo credit: Kejoxen via photopin cc
photo credit: lylevincent via photopin cc

Comments

comments

Thoughts

  1. The beauty of blogging was it opened up writing (like youtube did for video stars) to a much larger % of the pop. And I always find when the content is fabulous you can ignore grammar, badly constructed sentences, even typos etc. It is still about the content and then if you get that write the next phase is wanting to stand out with much better writing – which is a muscle. I am not sure where you stand Suze, however in helping people find their voice I think to tell them their syntax or grammar is wrong is saying your voice is only good enough with an edit and that I fear would stifle a lot of people who have evolved through their own journey into incredibly engaging writers… so I do disagree that badly written text gets dismissed by me as it is about the content – if the content is woolly, comes across muddled in how it is shared rather than the grammar etc. then you, well i can find fault in everything.

    • I’m all for people finding their voices, Sarupa, but only as long as those voices speak in a way that everyone else can understand. People who try to impose their voices on their readership misusing English and filling their text with mistakes are showing disrespect to those readers, as well as risking being misunderstood and – in a business context – viewed as unprofessional.

      If you hire a gardener to come and trim your hedge and weed your flower beds … and s/he trims the hedge unevenly and pulls up your plants leaving the weeds behind, would you think they are professional? In business, it’s the same with writing. Your written content is a shop window for your business and if it is shoddy it makes your whole business look shoddy.

      It’s amusing you bring up the point about “your voice is only good enough with an edit” … the mark of a good editor is to correct overt mistakes while absolutely retaining the original writer’s character and personality. One day I’ll show you how that works, if you like.

  2. Last weekend I got together with a group of friends who have spent most of their working lives as editorial professionals. We all still believe that correct grammar, accurate spelling and punctuation, and the clear presentation of ideas are vitally important. Much of society no longer agrees with us. And we think that’s a pity.

    • I think many of the people in society who no longer agree with your very valid points, Mary, are the people who don’t know how to write “properly” and rather than learn, they bellow out aggressive defence of their own and others’ errors.

      There is nothing old-fashioned about correct use of any language; it’s all about using the language properly to communicate in a way that people can understand.

      And those who say people should be able freely and ungrammatically to “find their voice,” as Sarupa mentions, will find that with a little bit of effort they can express themselves in very much their own voices WITHOUT making garbled and confusing mistakes.

  3. The ultimate purpose of language is to communicate, and to that end, there must be a basic foundational system that is shared. That said, I’ve always delighted in the flexibility of the English structure built on that foundation. I’m from the U.S., and I have no problem with looking up vocabulary that I am unfamiliar with or deciphering syntax that I’m unaccustomed to, wherever it comes from. It would be distracting if the entire piece were written in dialect but I’ve never experienced that because, I believe, in order for something to be considered “English” it must share a majority of linguistic characteristics with British English. To toss grammar/spelling/punctuation completely is to weaken the ability to communicate; to accept legitimate modification is to expand it. So when I come across a blog written in something other than AmEng, I will read a little more slowly, pause to look up new words, and revel in the power of a language that opens up to me the beauty of India and Africa, England and Australia, and anywhere else that uses English as part of their method of communication.

    • Thanks for your comment Keli, and welcome to HTWB. I agree with you in terms of English text written for creative or recreational purposes, but where a line must – in my view – be drawn is in business communication.

      Sadly, prospective customers don’t have inclination and are unlikely to devote the time to “read a little more slowly, pause to look up new words, and revel in the power of a language that opens up to me the beauty of India and Africa, England and Australia, and anywhere else that uses English as part of their method of communication.”

      But if business is not the objective of a piece of writing, then by all means let us celebrate local, regional and national cultures and the way they affect the use of English in literature.

  4. Here is an interesting comment from Allwin Joy, a writer based in Mumbai, which he left on my Google+ page after seeing this article via there. To read more about Allwin, go https://plus.google.com/u/0/118104025411764424403/posts?cfem=1

    “The picture of the Taj and a discussion on English writing, brought my attention on this post. Interesting read. Worth a discussion. Its true our languages do influence our pronunciations, but I personally feel that the words and phrases of Indian languages do not really influence our writing, because we follow the same traditional rules of English grammar that is followed worldwide. A blogger who is really serious about what he or she is writing, would check twice before posting, irrespective of whether he or she is an Indian, an American or a Canadian.”

    • Language, like the rest of the planet, is evolving and will continue to develop over time. That said, it is my belief that published writing should be done correctly with regards to grammar and spelling, whatever language it is in. With regards to English – American English is not something I would take time to study or attempt to replicate. If we write in English, we write in the way we learn it in the country that we are from, and I think that’s fine. If I am reading an article in American English I don’t judge them as wrong if the spellings are different!

  5. Hmm, I agree and I don’t agree.
    Although a lot of Americans read my blog, it would not occur to me to write American English. My English is British and that’s how I write, just as I would expect an American to write American English or an Indian to write Indian English.
    What I do expect, though, is proper grammar and spelling , as I can’t be bothered reading somebody’s blog if they can’t be bothered spending some time on ensuring it’s readable.

Thoughts

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