An Englishman in New York – The Problem Of UK-US English in Freelance Writing
Some people see the differences between American English and British English as a problem. I see them as an interesting challenge. And although the title to this article might indicate that I’m English, I am in fact, a British Scot. I am also fully aware there is more to the United States of America than the wonderful state of New York, but I felt it made a good title, so I went with it.
Why Has This Difference Come About?
The English language arrived in the Americas with the advent of British colonization in the early 17th century. As the British Empire grew, so too did the language, which by 1921 had incorporated around a quarter of the world’s population (approximately 470–570 million people).
Since that time, the form of English used in the Americas (particularly in the USA) and that used in the UK, have diverged in many subtle ways, leading to the individual dialects now more commonly known as American English and British English, or on Microsoft Word, as US English and UK English.
What Are The Differences?
The main differences that have developed between the two strains of English include pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, idioms, and date formatting. A few words have even developed completely different meanings, which can mean something in one dialect, but be a source of embarrassment or insult in the other. Some words may not even be used or are unknown to the other.
What Is The Impact?
As a freelance writer working from home, I am frequently assigned jobs by companies and individuals, more often than not, from the USA. Telecommuting is an area of freelance writing that I enjoy; working with a local Bed and Breakfast on an advertising leaflet one day, and writing a press release for a US-based dot com client the next. It’s exciting and provides a great way to earn a living.
But as this kind of work increases, more often than not I am asked to write articles or essays in the target audience’s own version of the English language. In most cases, this means adapting my work into US English.
Is There A Right One Above All Others?
No. Clearly it depends on several factors, such as intended readership or editorial preference. A freelance writer should take guidance from both the publication type and the editor when deciding which to use.
Where the issue becomes cloudy is when you have a large company with a global audience, or with a company that has separate websites covering different geographical locations.
I’ve worked with clients in the past that required two separate articles to be submitted for every one assignment, i.e., one copy of an article in US English for their .com website, and the other in UK English for their .co.uk website.
Websites such as our very own Daily Writing Tips, has a global readership, yet the difference in language expectation is highlighted where one readership is of greater number than the other. And so an article written naturally in UK English may stand out against the eye of the US English reader.
What Then, For The Freelance Writer?
Make a judgment call based on the publication’s intended readership. If there is no information available or it’s too hard to pinpoint, ask the editor. Always remember, though, in the world of freelance writing for the Internet, you won’t be able to please all the people all of the time.
But above all, make sure the content is interesting and topical, because if it isn’t relevant, no one will even read it to spot where the differences are.
Footnote: Did anyone notice this article was written in US English purely for the benefit of DWT’s US-English speaking readership?