Do you write in English, or in ENGLISH?

No matter how small and localised an organization you run or work in, the moment you go online and launch a website or blog, in theory at least, you are operating internationally.

One of the great joys of the internet is that it has opened up a global marketplace for even the smallest of niche businesses tucked away down a winding English country lane or inside the Arctic Circle in Canada or pretty well anywhere.

What such businesses may not find so joyful is that they must make the transition from local (or at most national) communication, to communication with the entire world. A whole new ballgame, as they say, even in our enlightened times.

Whether anyone likes it or not, English is the key language of the WWW. And offline as well as online, English is one of the world’s most widely-spoken languages. From a cultural point of view this raises all kinds of arguments about the ways in which internationalism dilutes the language and dumbs it down. But while the academics are musing leisurely over the linguistic dilemma, we in the business world need to get on and use English in a way that all English speakers (and those with English as a second language) can understand.

That means keeping it simple. To do this efficiently it helps to understand the main influences the English language is experiencing, and how countries like the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all play their part in its evolution – not just through films, TV programmes and tourism, but much more widely via the internet.

I feel that one of the greatest gifts given to the English language by the United States is simplicity, although there are some who would argue that simplified English is not a purely North American invention.

Okay, I do appreciate that some popular ways of saying things in American English are actually the ways those things were said a few hundred years ago in England (a good example is “I guess,” so I’m told) so maybe they haven’t introduced anything new after all.  But whatever conclusion you draw from all this, the bottom line is that the US culture – particularly the culture of American-style advertising, if you can call that a culture – has helped make it okay to speak and write in more simple, more active words across all the English-speaking nations.

Well, the old British diehards – wherever they are – may waggle their knarled fingers at the incursion of McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut and Burger King and the Internet and cellphones and everything else they see as this awful American throwaway culture.   But with a crack of the cowhand’s whip and a loud “yee-hah,” the Yanks have driven the old British formality and pomp straight out of town.

If you’re interested in delving deeper into this whole issue of simplified English, “Plain English Campaign” started back in 1979 by Chrissie Maher in the UK is still very much in action and offers some very useful advice (a lot of it’s free) and even training in how to write simply and clearly. Although UK-based the principles apply equally to English anywhere. Plain English Campaign does not teach you how to write more persuasively, but in showing you how to write clearly without unnecessary jargon and other junk it’s likely to have some effect in that direction.

And if you’re still perplexed by the differences in slang, jargon and terminology between the different incarnations of the English language, buy my gorgeous book “English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations.” It will have you in stitches laughing at the differences between British-originated and American speech, but it will also help you make sure that your English is word-perfect … whichever English language market you’re writing for.

Comments

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Thoughts

  1. Question for you Suze, is it better to use the ‘z’ or the ‘s’ in words like organization or analyse..?

    Good post.

    • Thanks Lynn. Your question – it depends whether the majority of your market is in the USA (use “Z”) or the UK and former Commonwealth countries (use “S”) – either is correct, really.

  2. Marnie Byod says:

    I agree with you English is our international language and we must know the correct usage to speak or even to write.

    • Hi Marnie – how are you doing? Yes, we must speak and write English correctly, but it’s sad in a way that local and regional slang, accents, etc. are having to be sacrificed for the sake of clarity. They’re part of a disappearing culture.

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