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Language fact: British vs. American English

Differences between British English and American EnglishWhen translating printed materials into English, it is important to know where in the world the translation will be used.

Wikipedia has a good entry on the difference between British and American English. Here are a few highlights:

-ce, -se
Nouns ending in -ce with -se verb forms: American English and British English both retain the noun/verb distinction in advice / advise and device / devise, but American English has abandoned the distinction with licence / license and practice / practise (where the two words in each pair are homophones) that British spelling retains. American English uses practice and license for both meanings.

ise, -ize
American spelling accepts only -ize endings in most cases, such as organize, recognize, and realize. British usage accepts both -ize and -ise (organise, recognise, realise). While -ize spelling is preferred by some authoritative British sources, it really is not in common use and would look wrong.

-yse, -yze
The distribution of -yse and -yze endings, as in analyse / analyze, is different: the former is British, the latter American. Thus, UK analyse, catalyse, hydrolyse, paralyse; US analyze, catalyze, hydrolyze, paralyze.

On the Internet, however, things are a bit different. To avoid supporting regional versions of the same language, many companies are implementing international English (or international Spanish, French). But as the Global by Design blog points out, for English this often simply means using American English. In fact, American English represents an astounding 80% of the English-speaking Internet. Apparently, when in doubt, use US English.

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  1. Ryan Ginstrom said...
    Interesting post. When I'm very occasionally asked to do a translation in British English, I always turn the job down. I like learning about the differences between American and British Englishes, but I don't think memorizing a few spelling and vocabulary conventions is enough to write convincingly in the other dialect. (Although British English speakers tend to pull off American English better than the other way around)
    Karen Tkaczyk said...
    Well said Ryan. Spelling is only a small part of the differences between UK and US English. I translate into both variants (I'm British and have lived in the US for ten years) but I only do technical work, where everyday usage doesn't vary as much as general prose. Verb usage is what catches me out, and little things that I don't realize we use use differently until they are pointed out by an editor (between and among, whilst/while, for example).
    John said...
    Great British-American-Canadian spelling lists here:


    I've found these to be incredibly valuable in data normalization for statistical MT.


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