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.
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.