A few days ago, we met some colleagues from our SimulTrans California office here in Dublin for an annual sales review. Dublin and US teams were communicating without a hitch until it came to lunch – and ordering a sandwich. The term ‘granary bread’ caused some confusion until our waitress kindly bridged the divide with the explanation ‘a sort of wholegrain bread with seeds in it’.
Sometimes in daily conversations between our English-speaking colleagues, we forget that our two cultures are separated by a common language, to paraphrase one Irish wit (Shaw or Wilde – depending on your source!). However, our customers regularly ask us for advice on whether to translate into American (US) English or British (UK) English. The right approach is always determined by the target market, type of text and availability of translators – in that order. At SimulTrans, the current ratio of requests for translations into US English or UK English is roughly 60:40.
But outside the world of bread making, are the differences between the language variants really that noticeable? Here are just some of the key linguistic differences that UK and US editors of English need to observe:
1. Spelling variations
This is where the differences between the two variants are most obvious: For example, US English favours ‘-ize’ and ‘–ization’, while UK English tends to prefer ‘-ise’ and ‘–isation’. Many nouns ending in ‘-or’ in US English change to ‘-our’ in UK English, e.g. ‘color/colour’, while many nouns ending in ‘-er’ in US English become ‘-re’ in UK English (‘center/centre’).
2. Punctuation differences
Different rules apply. For example, in UK English, there should be no comma before ‘and’ or ‘or’ in a list. So the different versions would read:
UK: Check for available software updates, such as bug fixes, patches or enhanced functions.
US: Check for available software updates, such as bug fixes, patches, or enhanced functions.
Quotation marks are also handled differently. In UK English, punctuation generally appears outside the quotation marks.
UK: Once you click ‘Save’, the program terminates.
US: Once you click ‘Save,’ the program terminates.
3. Lexical differences
Examples abound, depending on the subject area.
UK: use-by date
US: expiration date
US: two weeks
4. Date formats
We’re all familiar with different date formats – but it’s still easy to make mistakes, especially early in the month!
5. Style differences
There are numerous variations between UK and US English that simply reflect different established usage, rather than any particular grammatical difference.
UK: ‘Support available Monday to Friday’
US: ‘Support available Monday through Friday’
UK: ‘Only do this if you want to restart with Profile Manager without reinstalling OS X Server.’
US: ‘Only do this if you want to start over with Profile Manager without reinstalling OS X Server.’
With production sites based in Dublin and the US, SimulTrans has an extensive network of qualified English translators for all variants of English. If you’d like to propose your preferred American English translation for ‘granary bread’, please comment below!