Sunday, April 20, 2008

Canadian English: A US and UK Hybrid

Just an interesting (to me anyway) observation. I've got Canadian writing clients, US clients and UK clients. I've noticed recently that Canadian English seems to have become a hybrid of the US and UK versions. I have to pause when I'm writing for the US and make sure to type color instead of colour. I've gotten really good at changing hats and not having to think twice to remember when to write centimeters versus inches, miles versus kilometers, dollars versus pounds(£), cents or pence, or kilograms versus the other kind of pounds (lbs.) but I do have to be deliberate when writing for various markets, and the US makes up more than 60% of my work. It bothers me when I see that accusing red line under words I know I'm spelling correctly and while Canada is a unique country, linguistically we're sort of somewhere in between US and UK with a few of our very own nuances as well.

I have UK English clients and not long ago, a client corrected a few spellings on my work and told me I was using US English. I was surprised. These words are ones that I've spelled this particular way my whole life and yet I write favour instead of favor. I have come to a conclusion that Canada, as a British commonwealth is so Americanized (Americanised?) because we read so much from just shy of the border instead of way across the pond. I say realise not realize but I say specialize instead of specialise. I write program instead of programme. Strangely, I say Mum but spell out Mom on notes and birthday cards.

Therefore, it seems to me that I'm using English potpourri as my standard language in both the written and verbal worlds. Maybe my English teacher would use her red pen, I don't know. I recently took on an Australian client and so I am now working out the nuances of Australian English...Oh joy oh bliss :) It would be rather nice if everyone paid me in Pounds Sterling though.

Nope, I wouldn't complain about that!


WordVixen said...

I'm an American who feels more at home in Britain. I still spell grey, alchohol, colour, and several others that I can't think of right now. I pronounce words a little funny too, since I can never remember which way they're supposed to be pronounced- I often end up mixing them.

Think I should move up north? My mixed language skills might do well there.

Ashwin said...

Good thing about being far away and residing elsewhere -- in South East Asia, to be precise -- is that it makes me an outsider. Keeps me detached from any one language. Well, My word processor keeps pushing to espouse the American Usage, but like Dana says -- we do what the clients want!

Bruno LoGreco said...

I got myself in a little bit of a mess when I worked in NJ. All my presentation were written with Canadian English, my fellow colleagues did not appreciate the use of my Canadian English, and always corrected my English is meetings.

The biggest word was "labour" or "labor"

Sharon Hurley Hall said...

I'm on another side of the equation, as a British writer with a lot of UK clients. I also work with a lot of Canadian writers. I find it relatively easy to switch hats, but I have to keep on my toes to make sure I deliver the right English to the right client. Good post, Dana.

Dana Prince said...

c'mon up! But you might not love the snow so much. It's finally melted so you could be a snowbird :)

Yes, it's great that Word lets you toggle between languages to double check your usage.
And Ashwin, I read a really interesting post somewhere not long ago about Indian English where certain phrases are used which make it obvious that the article was written by someone in India. I don't see those things in your writing though so I guess because you've done such extensive travelling you're a language chameleon :)

@Bruno: Yes, it's difficult to please everyone, especially when working with a company that works across the border.

@Sharon, Thanks. My husband and I had a long conversation yesterday about language that inspired this post.

Graham Strong said...

The most frustrating part is that there are holes in the Canadian spelling and grammar rules. For example, both program and programme are acceptable. Colour is supposed to be the correct Canadian spelling, but most people don't really say anything when they see the word color in a Canadian sign. 'Course we don't want to go too far and become an Anglophone version of the language police (though I think writers may have a greater appreciation of Quebec sign laws than the average non-Quebecer)...

But one thing that I cannot find any absolute ruling on is the use of punctuation with quotation marks within a sentence. In the US, you would write: I would like to see how it turns out "in the end." In the UK, you would write: I would like to see how it turns out "in the end".

But in Canada? Who knows?! I would tend to think that we would default to UK style. Besides, in this case the US version is just silly and makes no sense from a grammatical point of view. The quotation is contained within the sentence, not vice-versa... But I had one Canadian client who insisted that the US way was the "correct" way -- hey, her publication so I'll do it the way she wants!

On the bright side, having that flexibility of being a Canadian writer does help the writing business. One of my clients has offices in the UK and the US, and one of my selling points was the fact that I could produce copy in both "languages".

Anyway, great post!


James Chartrand - Men with Pens said...

I hear you. I feel your pain. Well, it's my pain, certainly, when I correct Harry's spelling of dialog and write dialogue and then he tells me that no, it's dialog.

It just looks like a huge spelling error to me.

In writing for clients, I choose US spelling. You get used to it.

As for Quebec language laws, don't even get me started, hm?

Words For Hire said...

Dana, I can relate. I am in the US but have Canadian, UK and Australian clients. Like you I have become really comfortable swinging back and forth with ease, but certain US English words do start to look strange. @James I keep getting dialog wrong too! I use dialog but thought it was dialogue and I guess it was at one point but that's now arcane. Perhaps we writers have created our own hybrid English and the rest of the world just needs to catch on. ;-)


Graham Strong said...

Yeah, dialog/dialogue is a good one, like catalog/catalogue.

Here's one that I didn't realize though: "enquiry" is not really used in US English. In other words, the US just use "inquire" while the rest of us have to learn the difference between the two...


Anonymous said...

Try being dyslexic and reading and writing from all over the world and trying to keep your spelling correct!

Some days it hurts my brain and causes fatigue so bad I have to close my eyes!

I wonder as the blogging and writing world becomes more international what will be the future of this. Will we merge into a blend of it all?

(by the way for all BLOGGER sites,I don't know if anyon's ever mentioned this, that word verification thing you have to copy is a dyslexic person's nightmere.)

Dana Prince said...

Thanks for stopping by, Wendi. I have a dyslexic writer friend who recently said the exact same thing and ended up posting comments four times on one post because of those turing letters.

You have a point about the international blogger. It briefly made me ponder an eerie one world order. :S

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Vic Grace said...

I am the same. Most of my readers are from the US but since I was born and educated in England and now live in Canada I tend to stick to the original. One of the things that differ is the use of " " between England and America. I was told in the USA the . or ? is outside the " whereas in UK it is inside which makes more sense to me.

Precise Edit said...

We have U.S., Canadian, and British clients, so we have to do quite a bit of mental switching. Because of its hybrid nature, we find Canadian conventions most challenging to apply.

Inside, like in the U.S.--right?