US vs. the Rest: is American English Taking Over?

Is American English taking over?

Spoken English
Around the world, spoken English can sound very different; hell, even in the same country it can sound, to the casual listener, like a different language. This difference can sometimes lead to misunderstanding and difficulty in communication; however, not so long ago (certainly in my lifetime), there was very much more diversity within the spoken English language.

Brought up in the UK, I listened to the different American accents in various US television shows and films with fascination, and could identify several New York dialects, the New England inflection, the drawl of the southern states, and all very different from a west coast accent. I was a Scottish miner’s brat, who’d never met an American; the power of talking pictures.

Whilst in Scotland I was able to tell what village someone came from by their accent. After moving to a new mining community in England, I came into contact with miners’ families from all over the UK; so many different accents: Wales, Ireland (Ulster & Eire) and the Northern and Southern counties of England; a multitude of different accents.

With the advent of today’s technology and the current environment of instant, global communication; the spoken English language, its delivery and euphemisms are far more uniformed, and becoming a more tangible, global language. Less colourful, in my opinion, but with less barriers it is certainly more user friendly.

When I moved to Australia, although the accent was nothing like the American accent, I noticed that they used a lot of American phraseology: ‘gassing the car up’ as opposed to ‘filling the car up with petrol’, and ‘catching a movie’ instead of ‘going to the pictures or going to see a film’. That trend of taking their lead from the US has in fact become more so in recent times, and not just in Australia. Most Australian telephone, customer service operations is outsourced to the Philippines, where they speak remarkably good American English.

Written English
Prior to the ePublishing revolution, if you published a book in the UK it had UK spelling and grammar, if you published a book in the US, regardless of what spelling et cetera the original manuscript was written in, it had US spelling and grammar.

I live in Tasmania, Australia, but I mainly stick with the UK rules; the spelling and grammar I grew up with. Although, having said that, I have made one or two changes; for instance, I use double, as opposed to single, quotation marks for dialogue (which is generally a US trend). It just kind of… feels better; it also clearly separates dialogue from the other uses to which I put single quotations marks.

When it comes to spelling, I stick mainly with what I learnt (or learned) at school; and if you say learned, and not learnt, does that make you more learned? Of course not! And the same goes for any of the differences in spelling, between the UK and US English and anywhere else in between: Canada, Australia and New Zealand, to name a few.

Those of you who have come to know me might expect me to use at least one writer/fighter or fighter/writer analogy, and I’m not going to disappoint you. As a writer and as a martial artist, in many ways I suppose, I am a traditionalist; however, only in so far as I like to know the rules so that, fully aware of them, I know when I’m breaking them. As both a writer and a martial artist I feel I am flexible enough to adapt to different methods, and canny enough to adopt different, practical techniques and practices as my own. After all, if something clearly works, it would be extremely remiss of me to ignore it just because it began in another country; would it not? If that were the case I would have stuck with western boxing and not taken my lifelong journey in the various Japanese, Chinese and Thai martial arts.

This post has not simply been a ramble; I actually wish to pose a question, and I have given this question some serious thought. I can’t find any solid figures about the percentage of books written in English that are bought and read by readers educated in the US spelling of that language but I think it would be safe to say that more people accept the US spelling of English than any other singular way of spelling English.

My question, which to make it easier I will break up into three parts, is this:

1. Do you think it makes a difference, when you are reading, which Standard English spelling is used?

2. Do you think it makes a difference to the general, reading public which Standard English spelling is used?

3. In light of all I have said and your answers to the previous two questions: Should I consider – for the sake of netting more, US English spelling, readers – changing my UK English spelling to US English spelling?

Thank you for your indulgence today, friends and colleagues, and good luck with your own particular brand of our excellent Universal language.

Author: T.D. McKinnon

Scottish author T.D.McKinnon ‘Survived the Battleground of Childhood’ in the coal mining communities of Scotland and England before joining the British Parachute Regiment at fifteen where he remained for five years. He has trained in the martial arts for most of his life and had five Karate schools in Scotland before immigrating to Australia. He writes across several genres and has completed five books that are all available as eBooks. He lives in Tasmania, Australia with his wife. Learn more about T.D.McKinnon at his website and Amazon author page.

70 thoughts on “US vs. the Rest: is American English Taking Over?”

  1. Good morning T.D. I am a Yank so this is my two cents. I think the majority of readers are savvy and understand the difference in the spelling of certain words(realize or realise). It really shouldn’t throw anyone. I personally wouldn’t change my US English to UK English unless it hindered the story in some way. Even though I have many friends in the UK the slang and phrases can throw me at times. I think that might be difficult for some, but certainly not all. I would leave the spelling as is, I can’t see that particular change netting more readers.:)

    Thank you for a thought provoking post.

    1. Thank you, Aron, for your well thought out response. It’s pretty close to the type of answer I was hoping for.

      Thank you so much for dropping by, Aron.

  2. Interesting, TD. I enjoy reading books in all varieties of English. It’s added to my education as an author, an editor, and a citizen of the planet.

    1. I too enjoy reading the varieties of written English, and I had the feeling most writers would think in a similar manner, but I just wondered about the readers who are not writers… or editors; do they view it as adroitly, or does it annoy them that we, as writers, can’t get it together and present a unified front in this global village environment?

  3. What an interesting post. Comes at a good time for me because I did something to my phone so autocorrect is offering me British spellings (labour instead of labor).

    I actually like getting books with UK spellings because it feels like I’m getting a taste of another place. It feels more authentic. So, if the book is set in the UK, then the UK spellings are great. If the book is set in America, then the UK spellings are going to detract from the reading experience, because, as an American, I know that’s not the way we do things.

    As an aside, I just finished a book by a British writer, set outside of London, and it used American English spellings (though British expressions). At some point in the text, I remember seeing a word I know is spelled differently in British English and wondering if I got a US printed version of the book, as opposed to the original. It wasn’t a big deal, but it momentarily took me out of the book as I thought about who edited my book.

    Again, interesting post you wrote.

    1. I think you make a very interesting point, RJ, and one that has an excellent, logical feeling to it. One of my favourite historical fiction authors, who is English, and now lives in America is starting to loose me when he writes about 9th century England using American English spelling. I keep thinking it shouldn’t make any difference, but it does!

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting with such enthusiasm, RJ.

      1. What do you mean by “starting to loose me?” Is that spelling negotiable? Are you being loosened? I’ve seen so many people make this mistake—it’s “lose me,” I think, otherwise I’m giving up right now! I’m from British origins, but live in the USA. The penalty is having autocorrect addle my brain without cease. One of their favorites is changing emigrate to immigrate. For goodness sakes—what’s with that? When I visited Australia and my book was reformatted into Ozzie “English” I had the devil of a time fixing it when I returned to the US. Lesson learned…

        1. When you’re right you’re right! That is a definite ‘lose’ not ‘loose’, Ester, my bad entirely. Whether you call it a typo or a spelling mistake, it’s definitely a mistake in anyone’s version of Standard English.

          As for the Immigrate and emigrate debate; the way I always remember it is that you emigrate when you ‘exit’ a country of origin (both beginning with ‘e’), and you immigrate ‘in’ to a new country (both beginning with ‘i’).

          And the Australian English (I prefer to avoid the Aussie, Ozzie or Ozzy debate) vs US English is pretty much what this discussion has been all about (along with all the other English Standards). With the Global Village principal we should at some point have a world Standard English, don’t you think, but I doubt it will be anytime soon.

          Thank you for your comments, Ester.

  4. This is an issue that has given me pause for thought for some time. As a Canadian you know our rules sit sort of on the fence, neither totally in one camp or the other, just as is true for Australia.

    I agree with all of the above; setting will have a bearing on expectations and will affect the reader if it does not mesh, slang ought to match with the correspondent spelling and grammar, and American English seems to be gaining ground. I wonder, too, if genre will have a bearing. Who is our target audience? What will bring them up short and stop the flow of their reading? Maybe that needs to be factored into the decision.

    1. True about genre. If writing historical fiction no doubt write it in the correct spelling/grammar/slang of the day.

      Of course American English is gaining ground. It’s part of our not-so-secret plot to take over the world. LOL

    2. Thank you, Yvonne, you along with everyone else so far seem to be in agreement that situation, genre and environment should determine which version of English is used, and which I too agree by the way; however, not to put too fine a point on it, we are all writers. I do think that as writers we are more flexible readers than the average, reader of genre fiction, say, who does not write. What I’m saying is that your point about interrupting the flow of reading is very valid.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, Yvonne. An interesting debate is it not?

  5. Tough questions. I used to feel very strongly that books should be written either in the language/dialect of the writer or of the place they were being written in.

    So a UK writer should use UK standards when writing unless placing the book in the US with the characters being American.

    However, after reading so many bad reviews by Americans who were not educated in “American English is Not the only English” I’m now torn. I almost feel the author needs to offer 2 versions of the book. One that is correct. And one for the Americans who don’t know any better & use technology so they get both in the same book & choose at the beginning of the book which version they want. Like the “choose your own adventure” or “choose whose POV” to follow books.

    I read a lot of Jane Austen and I suspect other British authors as well as early American authors that I spell a number of words “British”. But the large majority of readers are occasional readers not hardcore/constantly reading readers. Those occasional readers are more likely to be unfamiliar with “odd spelling and phrases” and more likely to leave a negative review. As I said at the beginning tough question.

    1. Yes Tasha, precisely the point I am wrestling with. Does it make a difference to the average reader, of which I think we agree contains a large amount of US English educated readers, what Standard English the book is written in. I believe you just might be onto something by offering two versions.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and contributing today, Tasha.

      1. There is a way to do it within the same book. This is an important point because I’ve noticed people don’t always carefully read the title or description. Bet you’ve never seen reviews where this is the case have you? LOL

        This book is probably not to your taste but Georgetown Academy: Book One (Georgetown Academy #1) published by Coliloquy is one that offers different POV for a few chapters throughout the book would give you an idea of what I’m talking about. Or look for other books by Coliloquy that offer different POV options.

        At the the beginning and end of chapter one you can offer the reader the choice of which version of English they want to read. That way no matter which they prefer they’ve got available and if they missed the choice the 1st time around they can switch… You know for those really dense readers.

    2. Your point about us not being typical readers is really telling Tasha. I suspect many US readers would read ‘favourite’ as being misspelled, and might even count those spelling errors against the story in a review. By the same token, however, they might ignore the spelling so long as the story was not set in the US. -fingers crossed-

        1. Yep that’s what I’ve seen too much of. Complaints about non-errors for spellings and grammar that were non-American were being flagged as “wrong” in books where I thought it appropriate for non-American spelling… But the American school system never mentions that our English is different. It is taught as “English period”. Drives me batty when I see those reviews & I know correcting people will not do the writer any favors as it will be seen as an attack on the review. What’s sad is when the book description mentions the fact that words & grammar are “x English” and the negative reviews still come in.

  6. I feel like I ought to be apologizing for American hegemony. 😀

    This is a great post, T.D. I know many indies are struggling with the same questions you’re asking.

    In my reading career, I’ve read British-edited novels, US-edited novels, and reprints of classic novels with spellings and punctuation common during the author’s lifetime. None of it bothers me. It’s actually kind of fun for me to read a British novel — it pulls me out of my own head space and into a different setting. Which is the point of reading a novel in the first place, right?

    What *does* bother me is when an author brings in a character from another English-speaking country but doesn’t change his speech. I once edited a book in which the Australian author had an American cabbie ask his fare, “Where to, guv’nor?” Yeah, no. You’re more likely in America (or at least in DC) to get a cabbie from Africa or the Middle East than from Australia, and those guys aren’t going to say “guv’nor” any more than I would.

    1. As I have commented in a couple of responses, Lynne, it doesn’t surprise me at all that we, as writers, are really not phased by whichever Standard English a book is written in, as long as it is well researched and written. It’s our lovely Mr and Mrs Average Reader (and a large percentage of them being US English educated), and that interruption to their reading pleasure that I’m concerned about.

      Thank you so very much for stopping by today and taking part in this debate, Lynne.

    2. lol – Not too many taxi drivers would use ‘guv’nor’ here in Australia these days! A grunt if you’re lucky, or maybe ‘mate’ on a really good day. 😉

  7. I’m a Brit living in NY. My books are either all set in America or have American characters so I use American spellings and words whenever possible – though I’m sure when it comes to the words the odd Britishism slips through. Given my books are available from Amazon in the UK, I do wonder what readers think about my spelling given I am British. I have seen reviews of other author’s books where the reviewer has harshly criticized the spelling – not seeming to realize the different approaches. I do think the setting of the book should influence the English used.

    1. Like most British writers who end up living in the states, Mel, you have obviously made the choice I’m talking about here. Now while you’re stories are set in the States I would have no problem making that choice myself, and I have no doubt that your reading public in the UK and elsewhere are now so used to reading US English, in regard to spelling, that I’m sure there is barely a blink of an eye over your US spelling. Of course euphemisms, syntax and phraseology should be down to professionalism in regard to research et cetera.

      Thank you so much for dropping by today and taking part, Mel.

      I don’t know what the hell goes on with this computer sometimes, Mel, but I put this reply to you in this space before racing off to an appointment and when I came back it was way down the page.

  8. The only place British English throws me is when a clearly American person in an American city (in the story) suddenly starts sprouting British English. If the character is British or the story is set in England or a British area I think it should be British English.

    1. Jill (and Mel, since you said the same kind of thing), this is an area where (at least IMO) the flavor of English matters. Specifically in dialogue. One book in particular drove this home for me. It took place in Scotland and the author was Scottish, but the main character was an American teenager and the first part of the book took place in America. But the character didn’t talk like an American teenager. After she had gone to the “loo” multiple times, I had a hard time with her character. She wasn’t believable to me and that (among other things) ruined the read.

    2. I put this sort of thing down to being unresearched and simply unprofessional, Jill, and unprofessionalism, in whatever guise, is extremely annoying and bad for all of us.

      Thank you very much, Jill, for participating today.

  9. TD,

    I’m going to answer this without looking at what others have said. No doubt I’ll be repetitive in some places. These questions as they pertain to books is something I’ve thought about a lot and I have definite opinions.

    1) Does it make a difference? In a word, yes. In that I’m aware on some level that the book I’m reading is in whichever flavor (or flavour) of English. How much difference depends. There are multiple things that can be different. Differences in spelling conventions, differences in the syntax (there are many correct ways to say the same thing and which is used tends to reflect the flavor of English used), and the use of idioms/slang. These are roughly in the order of how much “difference” they make. I should note that just because I think this makes a difference it doesn’t mean I think that is a bad thing. I don’t. I see it as a good thing if done correctly. The differences contribute to my experience in a positive way and put me in the proper setting (country-wise) for the story.

    2) For the reading public outside of the US, my sense is it doesn’t. I’ve been told that in the past those books traditionally published in the US first with our spelling conventions, etc, often maintained those when published to the rest of the world. In the US, I the opposite was also true at one time (I can remember reading books 40-ish years ago by Dick Francis and others that had UK spelling conventions, etc), but at some point the publishers started Americanizing the books. The result has been that *some* readers in the US aren’t aware of the differences and see UK spelling as wrong.

    3) Hmm. That’s a hard question because to pull it off isn’t just spelling. You’d need to consider syntax as well. Probably use a US editor to tweak your verbiage to make it sound “American” where appropriate. And that isn’t clear cut. If your character is Scottish, for example, then his or her dialogue shouldn’t change, IMO.

    FWIW, I did a blog post early last year that was largely on this subject. If you’re interested, here is the link.

    1. Thank you, Al, for addressing the questions directly. I am of course getting an general message here, from the responses, of what the overall feeling is in regard to the main question I’m asking; however, your itemised (or itemized) response is most appreciated.

      I’ve just had a quick look at your blog on the subject, I will go back when I have a little more time to take my time over it, I think it deserves it; I like your style and your candour (candor), sir. I had a review written by a reader, who said of Terra Nullius:

      “I found Terra Nullius to be informative, highlighting a corner of history I knew nothing about. I also found the way it was written almost too disturbing. I would give it 4 stars but I found the spelling errors made it harder to read than it should have been so I give it 3 stars.”

      Everyone is entitled to their own opinion; however, needless to say, there was nothing wrong with the spelling. So, Al, should I publish in US English, for the sake of those US English readers who think there is no other way to spell? Or perhaps do two publications, one of them in US English?

      Thank you so much for dropping by today and participating, Al.

      1. TD,

        I have two answers. 🙂

        First I’ll echo Lynne in apologizing for my fellow Americans. IMO, that this question even needs to be asked is a relatively minor example of the often justifiable complaint that we (Americans) are too insular. Part of that is that we’re insulated. (The editing of UK books by trad publishing for a US audience is just one example. Another I’ve had driven home by some posts on facebook showing the covers of Time or Newsweek for the US market compared to the rest of the world. Both have the same story about something of import happening elsewhere in the world, but the cover is of something of no importance in the US while the more newsworthy article gets the attention on the cover everywhere else.) FWIW, I think the internet and frequent interaction with people from around the world is helping make this less the rule, but we have a long way to go.

        On my review blog I have a section where I specify if a book is in a flavor of English other than what we’re used to in the US. I do that for two reasons which lead me to my two answers.

        The first reason is to educate readers. If they see that, and subsequently read the book, I’m hopeful that it will connect with them that the language and spelling isn’t wrong, it’s just different. I want to answer that you shouldn’t change it to conform to US standards. The way you’re doing it isn’t wrong.

        But my second reason is, some people don’t want to be taken out of their comfort zone. If reading in a flavor of English is going to be an issue for a reader, I want to warn them off. I do the same if the book is sexually explicit or uses language that some might find offensive. While none of this is an issue for me, it is for some people. As an indie author, you’re a business. The argument for doing another edition (or including both versions in a single book as someone suggested earlier which I like even better) is that you’re satisfying the expectations of your customer. Some percentage of the readers in the US are going to have a problem with the book if this isn’t done. What percentage this is, I have no idea. I’d like to think the avid reader, which is going to make up a large portion of your readership, would be smart enough and flexible enough to not need it. But I don’t know. Deciding to do this or not is, in my mind, a business decision. Is it going to increase your readership and sales enough to make the additional time and money it would take to do it worthwhile?

        1. The biggest problem with my 2 versions in one is that it only works for the ebook. I don’t know if you can sell the print Americanized version on & the correct version everywhere else. Time is of course another big consideration. If outside the US everyone is ok with Americanized English & the book is not set in an English non-American real world setting do we want to set for the lowest common denominator?

          1. Good points, Tasha. Not being an actual author who has gone through publishing a book, I’m only vaguely familiar with the process. It would also be a different process depending on who you use for the paper version. But I’m thinking maybe Create Space or whatever company you used probably allows you to select which markets a book can or can’t be sold to. I know this is an option for ebooks. If you wanted to limit availability of the US version to the US and the UK version to elsewhere, I think you could. But I’m not sure you’d want to. Why not have both available everywhere, but clearly labeled as part of the title “UK English Edition” and “US English Edition”? This does present a problem with linking the book and paper book to each other though.

            The lowest common denominator is a good way of putting it. That is the term I’ve used to describe how the broadcast radio business has evolved in the US. Doing that means a larger potential market, but it is going to turn off a non-trivial segment of your market as well. It comes down to a business decision at least partially based on the author’s goals, I think.

          2. I wouldn’t want the non-Americanized version available to US buyers because too many times I’ve seen them ignore the YA vs Adult versions & complain about the sex in the YA (when they obviously bought the adult) so I’d be concerned they’d buy the wrong paperback version & complain about the typos/grammar which defeats the whole reason for doing 2 versions. Remember in my original ebook I suggested having both versions in one ebook where the reader chooses which “English” they want at the start of chapter one & giving them the option again at the end of chapter one for those who missed it?

  10. TD great post

    I say the grey areas between the rules of English are getting lighter because the English language is a continually evolving thing.

    I am writing an adventure for young readers that takes place in Britain, and a few beta readers have highlighted things I already know but assumed would be okay.

    I referenced the RSPCA and it stopped a reader cold (something authors are told to avoid) The royal R stumped them. One American beta reader asked: What’s an RSPCA? So I dropped the R. The four letters SPCA is more likely to be generically understood. Meaning trumps spelling. Same book: a character has to dial 999, which is unfamiliar to the 911 crowd. It seemed a tad tedious to write they dialed emergency services, so the jury’s out on that one.

    So, my rule is to use the spelling which feel correct and to alter some words to suit the American understanding.

    Perish the thought that an entire novel ever be written in the new abbreviated language of ‘texting’ … I wanted to write ‘in text’ here, but all books are written in blocks of text… still everyone knows what I meant.

    I’m Canadian, so I’ve lived between the two English rules all my life.

    There are few boundaries between the spoken word, in fact the color or colour of new foreign words is rich and appeals to me. It’s movies that have caused more melting in the pot because they are ‘talkies’ Now authors have to ‘spread the word’ on paper. Communication and entertainment are more important (to me) than the chiseled rules that once fenced us in.

    1. I see what you mean about those little things that you thought would have been OK, Veronica. A point made by several people today is that, in the broader community (outside the US) Americanisms are accepted, understood and don’t even register a bump in the reading of; for instance, 911, as opposed to 999 in the UK or 000 in Australia. To be honest though, I would have had to Google SPCA (didn’t automatically recognise it without the ‘R’).

      The future must hold a blending somewhere, but while US citizens are somewhat shielded from what goes on (in regard to different Standard English spelling), my question seems to be being answered.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and taking part today, Veronica.

  11. My bloke is a pom, (an English person who grew up in the gutters of industrial Yorkshire.) I am a kiwi (New Zealander) We live together here in NZ. When he asks me to pass him a cork I do so. He gets frustrated because he didn’t want a cork he wanted a coke, so he has to get it himself which is good for him!

    Once he asked me for a bowl. I asked what he wanted it for. He said it was for Vicky Naylor. I asked who she was and why she should have one of my bowls. Turned out he had a cold and wanted to put a towel over his head so he could breathe in the healing vapours from the Vick Inhaler. He has no idea where to put his ‘h’s, so Vick Inhaler becomes Vicky Naylor.

    These kinds of communications difficulties are part of our life together. You have to develop a sense of humour.

    1. I get what you’re saying completely, Tui, the difference in the spoken English accent can be funny, strange, or sometimes downright annoying. When I first came to Australia my son, in one week at school (he was seven years old), changed from a Jock (Scottish speaking type person) to a dinky die Aussie ocker (pronounced Ozy oka and meaning Australian local who speaks in the colloquial vernacular). It took me a couple of weeks to work out that when he said, “Mimates godda paramara to watch the fudy!” he was actually saying, “My mates’ (friends) go to Parramatta (a nearby town) to watch the rugby league football.” The funny thing about it was that he didn’t realise that was what he was saying either!

      Thanks for dropping by and taking part, Tui.

  12. Like most British writers who end up living in the states, Mel, you have obviously made the choice I’m talking about here. Now while you’re stories are set in the States I would have no problem making that choice myself, and I have no doubt that your reading public in the UK and elsewhere are now so used to reading US English, in regard to spelling, that I’m sure there is barely a blink of an eye over your US spelling. Of course euphemisms, syntax and phraseology should be down to professionalism in regard to research et cetera.

    Thank you so much for dropping by today and taking part, Mel.

  13. As an Australian of a certain age -rolls eyes- I had British spelling drummed into me as a child and I can’t change the way I write – except for those ‘z’s. The US spellchecker is so ubiquitous I no longer know which is the correct spelling without looking it up [correct as in British correct]. But the truth is, I also don’t want to change. My books are not set in the US so I think I should be free to spell within my comfort zone.

    In 50 years time, however, that option may no longer be available. Just as English has become a sort of defacto lingua franca, I believe US spelling will eventually become the /only/ acceptable spelling. Gazing into my crystal ball I see British spelling slowly becoming an anachronism. In 100 years time, students of English literature may need to reader 20th century writers in translation [the way we do with say Chaucer].

    I’m rather glad I won’t be around to see any of that because diversity is what gives life its colour and flavour. 😀 Homogeneity is great for convenience and efficiency but it does tend to be boring.

    Vive la difference!

    1. Oh, I’m one hundred percent with you, AC, but we have to be pragmatic about these things: do we really want to put offside so many potential readers (buyers of our particular brand of literature)?

      I too am around that certain age (and a little bit older but ssshhh) and I have thought long and hard about this, AC. I do feel the same as you about the way I learnt (or learned) English spelling and grammar, and I can also see into your crystal ball, but should we cut ourselves off from such a large percentage of the global readership? I don’t think so! I’m kinda leaning toward the idea of two publications (one in US English); although the jury is still out (I’m playing the Devil’s advocate here) and I haven’t decided what action (if any) I will take.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and taking part today, Meeks.

  14. Simple reply: no.
    In Australia we use English English and there are no signs of changing. I see no need to adapt my grammar or spelling for the US e-book market.
    I am a mod of a G+ writers community, and all of us that use UKstyle English (Aust, UK, New Zealand etc) have fun stirring US members re grammar and spelling. For instances, seeing how much added ‘u’ words we can put in a post.
    I think its important to write in your own variety of English. Just keep doing it and soon buyers will accept diversity.

  15. PS Todd, Tasmania sounds like a whole different country/era. I’ve only been there once but it seems as if you use different words and phrases than the mainland. For example, its been decades since I’ve heard anyone say okker or dinky di, and ozzie is normally used as a joke. And I’ve never heard the term ‘gassing up’. I think I would have had to ask your son repeat himself, too.
    Then again South Adelaidians get teased about speaking ‘posh’.

    I like Big Al’s comment re ‘warning’ readers.. I make it clear that I am an Australian writer. That is also my point of difference, I hope. If anyone wrote a review re spelling ‘errors’ then I think that says more about their ignorance than my writing skills.

    Todd, do what feels right for you. Readers are more adaptable than what our overthinking writer-minds might try to get us to believe.

    1. Hi Karen, thank you for your input. And you’re right, it actually was decades ago; I arrived in Sydney in July of 1980. But I think you’re missing the irony here: my son, at just seven years old – a child, from another country, another culture, parroting the sound of what he was hearing – was doing what he thought he should do to assimilate. When told that story, my son laughs; he still lives in Sydney, and had his fortieth birthday last Friday. I lived in various locations around this great big, sunburnt country of ours before, nearly nine years ago, settling in Tasmania.

      Educated in the fifties and sixties, in Scotland and England, I have always stuck fairly strictly to UK Standard written English; it would in fact be difficult for me to write any other way. However, as I stated earlier, such a large percentage of the global reading public are educated in US Standard English, and the average American reader is not going to embrace other forms of Standard English anytime soon. Also, I know that the US reader’s comment regarding spelling says far more about that individual than it does about my work, but that’s not the point, is it?

      You can stand on the sidelines throwing stones all you like and feeling superior; or, you can consider other ways to assimilate. The USA has the largest reading public in the world. You must have heard the old adage, ‘You get more flies with honey than with vinegar.’

      Thank you so much for dropping by, Karen. Oh, and my name is not Todd, by the way.

  16. And then there is Canadian spelling, which differs slightly from UK and US. My Canadian publishers use Cd spelling, my US uses US. I read US spelling with a kind of translation going on in my head.–skeptical/sceptical, travelling;traveling– but there are some words that jar. Compliment does NOT mean complement no matter how often the US copyeditors believe they are the same word. Every time I read that the car is ‘complimentary’ I wonder if it is going to say nice things about me.
    1. Yes
    3. No

    1. Yes Marion, there certainly is Canadian Standard English, one of the five English Standards I mentioned in the article. And yes, I certainly do understand your frustration.

      In light of your comment, your answer to question number one, plus the fact of my personal experience in this area, and the instances referred to by many of those commenting today, how can you be so definitive with questions two and three? My heart and my head are at odds on this issue; are you finding the same ting?

      Thank you so much for stopping by and taking part, Marion.

      1. I don’t believe everyone or even many people notice the differences the way writers do. They may enjoy the story without noticing the spelling. If that is true, then you might as well use the language you like.

        1. I have been researching this for sometime, ever since the adverse review by a US reader in regard to spelling, and my findings are that in the US it makes a difference (not to everyone but to enough to make a difference); outside of the US almost not at all.

  17. TD – I appreciate that you have posed the question respectfully in terms of enhancing the reader’s experience as opposed to faulting the readers for being ignorant about their own language. One of my friends in grad school was from France, and he said when he heard one of our French Canadian classmates speak, the experience was a bit like someone speaking Shakespearean English and he never got over how odd it was, although the other guy didn’t even notice the difference. Neither of them were ignorant; they simply grew up with a different set of languages weaved into their brain. When documents are translated for my job, US English and UK English are treated like two different languages, just like Mexican Spanish vs. Spanish in Spain. I think it’s no different from dialects: “New England” language, accents and sayings, is different in Boston than in Maine, and downeast Maine is noticeably different from western Maine near Quebec. I don’t consider people outside of Maine to be insular for not being aware of these differences. Language is highly complex and living and fascinating, and no one person can possibly be aware of all of the nuances of their language. Of course, if a reviewer publicly criticizes something they don’t understand, I think that only reflects badly on them.

    1. Yours is a voice of reason, Krista, I love what you say and the way that you say it; however, taking all that you have said as a given, do you think this state of affairs could or should be remedied by any of the suggested options? Or should we, I, stick to the status quo? Which in itself leaves me likely to remain ostracised (ostracized) by a section of the potential reading market.

      1. I think of it this way: If the initial audience you’re trying to reach is French, you write your book in French, then when it becomes popular, you translate into German or Polish or whatever language is your next main audience. Harry Potter is an example that started out in UK English and was translated into a US version when it became popular and had a more global reach. Many Harry Potter fans have then sought out the UK version, which has had the bonus effect of introducing millions of kids to the concept that there is another version of English.

  18. US English has been dominant for a LONG time. English didn’t become the “language of the world” (and officially the language of the internet and air traffic control and computer code writing) because of England. Those were US inventions and processes. And American music (even when performed by non-American groups like Abba and Rolling Stones) became the “world music”, furthering the impact of English worldwide. “English” is basically “American” with some regional variations in certain areas, like England, and has been for most of our lifetimes.
    Being a native English speaker is a huge, powerful gift that anybody who is lucky enough to have it should be thankful for. Because if you dont speak it natively, it’s a major bitch to learn.

    1. I have mixed feelings about this whole subject (obvious by my orchestration of this debate) for a number of reasons. You have a point, Lin, as does Tui in opposition; however, whose English is not the issue here; what to do about it is, I believe, the real motivation behind this debate. As you say, Lin, we are fortunate to have English as a first language.

      Generally, there seems to be a knee-jerk reaction, ‘hackles up’, from the rest (as in versus the rest). To be honest, my initial feelings were of a similar nature; however, after some logical thought processes, I am coming to a different head space.

      We are the pioneers in this literary revolution and we, the Indies of the world, are making the rules up as we go along. There are some very convenient setups in place (Amazon being the largest of a group of options in which Smashwords and Barnes and Noble are a part) to spread our readership throughout the world but, let us make no bones about it, the largest single market is in the USA. Unfortunately, for those of us who use a written Standard English other than US, we are just a tad behind the eight-ball. Now we can choose to stay behind that eight-ball, or we can choose to, where appropriate, utilise (utilize) the knowledge we have to play on a more level playing field.

      Thank you so much for coming along and adding to the debate, Lin.

  19. I disagree with Lin above. Of course English became the language of the world because of the English.It was the English who took it to America surely! It was the English who brought it to my own country way down here in the most isolated spot you could live – not the Americans! Nor was it the Americans who took it to our huge neighbour only one small ocean away – Australia.

    I (and all my countrymen) just learn to a new term when we see Americans referring to clothespegs as clothespins but my publisher would not allow me to use the word clothespegs in my story in case the poor limited American readers were puzzled. I simply removed the word altogether rather than give in to this nonsense. My book is from New Zealand and it has the right to reflect its origins.
    The book with the clothespegs was a children’s book and so could be used to broaden the minds of American children who read it, and give them a broader understanding of cultural and language differences around the world. The kids themselves are happy to learn new words and new names for familiar things. It’s only the adults who are fearful.

    1. You have sound reasoning there. And your publisher was wrong. Especially in a children’s book, which likely had illustrations, the word clothespegs is self-explanatory. Even without an illustration the meaning would be obvious from the context. It’s all part of what i see as the dumbing-down of education to a low common denominator.

  20. Apologies for calling you Todd, I must have remembered it incorrectly from previous visits here (my day would not be the same without a dose of IU). And I am not good at recoginsing irony. I’m not sure how you have imagined that I feel superior, or that I have applied vinegar to my post. An example of cross-cultural communication breakdown, perhaps?

    While I respect your views on changing the way you write, I am also comfortable writing the way I do. It is who I am, my identity. As a creative person, my identity is a core part of the writing process.
    I don’t think assimilation of language is a good thing. We are all different, with different worldviews. Language is a core part of culture and identity. There is evidence that losing one’s mother tongue, and being pushed towards using another, has a direct impact on health and wellbeing.
    Take for instance First Nations Peoples of Australia. Assimilation of language (on top of the other forms of continuing assimilation) has had a huge impact on culture, identity, rights, health, socio-economics etc. Loss of language is a form of genocide. As an Aboriginal person, not having the opportunity to learn my own language has been like a loss that needed to be grieved. Without access to my ancestors’ language I will never be able to fully learn my culture; language is the gateway to cultural knowledge.

    So if I am throwing any stones, they are stones to protect all peoples rights to speak and write in their own languages. To say no to dominant worldviews or cultural bias.

    And I will throw just as many stones to support those who choose to change their writing language, for whatever reason.

  21. Thank-you Karen. I don’t wish to lose my cultural identity just to please one part of the market. The ironic end to the clothespin story was that we never sold it to the USA anyway – only NZ and the UK, so we could have hung in there with the clothespegs.
    Any teacher worth their salt would introduce the book by saying, “Today we have a book from New Zealand. Try to find all the places where the words used are slightly different from words we would use.” The kids then are broadened by the story experience.
    I know this because here in NZ we have MOST of our books from other parts of the world, and the kids are completely accustomed to allowing for international differences. It’s GOOD for them.

    1. This is a fascinating debate. Part of the beauty of reading fiction is expanding cultural knowledge and learning about places you might never visit (or be encouraged to visit because of the book!). So it’s important that the story observes the differences in the country where the story is located. It was mentioned above about the different emergency numbers and how Americans might not know 999 was the British equivalent of 911, but shouldn’t this be an opportunity to educate them – who knows, at some point it might come in useful!

  22. T.D., I think you raise an interesting and necessary issue. I don’t mind reading the different styles of English, although at first it does take me a nano-second to adjust to the spelling, but it’s certainly not off-putting. What it does do, which I think is important, is remind us “Yanks” that we are not the center of the universe. Being at ground zero of the whole Amazon experience, it’s easy to forget that other writers do not have the ease of the direct connection that we do. In that regard, I think it’s a nice little heads up. Great post.

    1. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy writing schedule to drop by, Melissa. And yes, by the response to this article, it was due to be brought up by someone. We do need to get our bearings every now and again.

      Thanks again for dropping by, Melissa.

  23. You could be right about the cross-cultural divide, Karen, because I certainly am not talking about changing the way I write; having said that, my writing changes with each project that I take on. No, what I have been considering for some time is to offer an option specifically for the US market. I don’t propose anything more than offering the option of a US Standard English spelling version.

    Outside of the US, we constantly get the chance to read all of the English Standard alternatives, but in the US, for years, they never had that option, and it’s only now, with the advent of the independent authors, that it is open to them. In todays literary climate, with the traditional industry kicking as much muck in the faces of the US reading public as they can (in regard to the Indies); some say it’s their (the trads) death knell, I’m not quite so sure but the change is definitely underway and they are fighting it tooth and nail.

    I do understand your plight, in regard to first nation peoples, more than you know. You may consider the Scots to be the same race as the English; however in 1745, just forty three years before the first fleet invasion of Australia, the Scottish highland clans fought a last desperate stand for their right to their own country, their own language, culture and completely different way of life to that of the English power mongers, who annexed all the neighbouring lands, islands and countries before setting off to do the same all over the world.

    After slaughtering most of the wounded at the close of that battle, the English army rampaged throughout the Scottish highlands and islands, killing most males who might pick up a weapon, from young boys to old men. They burned down the simple, meagre thatched roofed dwellings, and raped the women and girls in an attempted to impregnate them and breed out the bothersome Scottish clansmen once and for all. The use of their own language and the wearing of their own, traditional clothing warranted beatings or even hangings. The subject of my next book.

    My last book, Terra Nullius, is about the 19th century genocide of the Tasmanian First Nation People of Tasmania, from their POV. Check out the YouTube reading of a chapter of Terra Nullius:

    Anyway, my point is, the purpose of these posts is to share ideas, considerations and quandaries, so that we might all benefit from there airing. I think this post has been extremely successful in that it has stirred debate and discussion, across the planet. Once again, thank you for taking part, Karen.

  24. The evil poms! My bloke is one of them. Ouch! But he’s innocent. He wouldn’t hurt a fly! I promise.

    But I think its a good point about the emergency phone number. Just for the record, if ever any of you are in this country and in trouble, our emergency number is neither of the ones mentioned above. Here you have to dial 111.

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