Why localise US English?
While a UK or English-speaking European audience would understand most US English terms, there are definite advantages to localising US English for non-US audiences. The foremost of these is relevancy and ease of reading. A native British English speaker will read a UK English text and immediately understand its relevance to him or her. This gives the text greater impact and authority and, in terms of sales, is more likely to have the desired result. The ease of reading a text written in one’s native English variant is also important – US corruptions of phrases such as ‘could care less’, which in British English is the more logical ‘couldn’t care less’, grate when read by a UK English speaker.
A second reason for localisation is that while a British English audience will be very familiar with US English as a result of the cultural osmosis of the language through the medium of television, and therefore will largely understand what is being said, some nuances may be lost in the communication. As the saying goes, the UK and the US are ‘two nations, divided by a common language’.
Finally, Europeans largely learn British English as their second language at school. Like the British, they will have absorbed some US English from television and film, but, as English is not their native language, overcoming the differences in vocabulary and understanding the nuances of meaning are bigger obstacles to comprehension. For this reason, texts which are aimed at a European audience are best written in British English.
Surely it’s just a case of changing ‘color’ to ‘colour’, isn’t it?
Not really. US English differs from UK English in a host of subtle ways:
- Of course, the most obvious differences are those in vocabulary and spelling – for instance, the American ‘faucet’ becomes a British ‘tap’ and ‘catalog’ becomes ‘catalogue’. However, there are many more subtle differences in the use of words – while US educational institutes might refer to a ‘course catalog’, a UK university would speak of a ‘prospectus’.
- The use of punctuation differs in US English compared to UK English. For instance, US English uses double quotation marks for all quoted material, while in Britain single quotation marks (known as inverted commas) are used. In addition, end punctuation is included within the quotation marks in US English, whilst only punctuation that was part of the original quote is included in British English.
- US English tends to use the simple perfect tense more than British English. For example, while an American might write ‘I told her I received the wrong drink Saturday, and then Sunday’, a British person would say ‘I told her I had received the wrong drink [on] Saturday, and then [again on] Sunday’.
- Idioms, phrases and cultural references also differ between US English and UK English and these will also be adapted for the audience through the process of localisation.
These are just some of the more general (and obvious) ways in which US and UK English differ from each other. Naturally any localisation will ensure that the text reads well in British English in every way.