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    Sprachlabor

    British vs. American English Differences

    Betrifft

    British vs. American English Differences

    Kommentar
    To those of you who work in translation work:

    If a job announcement is seeking someone for British English, how difficult is it for an American to provide an adequate translation? My perception is that this is mainly a matter of orthography and punctuation. Is this naive? I'd like to apply to do some translation work for a historical institute. They are looking for a British native speaker. I have the right education, but, alas, am an American. ;) How picky are employers about such matters in Germany? What are some of the biggest pitfalls for Americans attempting to "sound British" in writing? Thanks!
    Verfasser German Tarheel (EY) (147393) 16 Nov. 09, 15:48
    Kommentar
    Hi EY,

    Even after 20 years of juggling between AE and BE (professionally), I am still discovering subtle differences between the two that go way beyond the systematic distinctions in orthography (color/colour etc) and lexis (flashlight/torch). Would you say "a variety of x is Y" or "a variety of X are Y"? Keep a good dictionary handy!

    #1VerfasserEverytime16 Nov. 09, 16:09
    Kommentar
    I have the same issue the other way round, as a British person who regularly translates into American at the clients' request. In fact, a recent job asked for Australian English (cue joke: it's the same as British but you add cobber to the end of every sentence)! I don't see it as a major problem. Yes there are certain expressions or formulations that are more strange. You have to keep asking yourself not just, does this sound good to me, but also, is this natural British/American. For this reason I occasionally post queries on Leo about 'is this term used in American as well as British?'. Bear in mind that you will be writing, I presume, fairly high-level academic texts (for a historical institute), and I feel the distinctions are not so marked there as for, let's say, informal dialogue, which I don't think I could manage. I have never done a screenplay into American, for instance.

    You pick up the obvious differences along the way, like the that/which distinction for relative clauses. I always keep copies of Chicago Manual of Style and Hart's Rules close by, and Google to see if a particular expression is used, for instance, by an American educational establishment, which is a pretty good recommendation that I can use it.

    Two final points - most of my work is edited by another translator before going to the client, who can if needs be correct a false 'Britishism' which has crept in. Secondly, the majority of clients in Germany are really not that fussed about it being 100% accurate British or American, for instance, because the readership at an academic level is international anyway. What is important is consistency between different texts, and that is most obvious at the level of punctuation or orthography.
    #2Verfasser yackydar (264012) 16 Nov. 09, 16:26
    Kommentar
    My non-professional’s view is similar to #2. There are a myriad tiny differences between British and American writing habits, but if they’re asking you to translate fairly formal texts with no country-specific vocabulary (slang, legal or admin terms etc.) then I can’t see a major problem. If you got the spelling and the obvious vocab differences right, I doubt many British native speakers would notice that you were an “impostor”, or care much about it if they did.
    #3VerfasserSteve UK16 Nov. 09, 16:31
    Kommentar
    I don't even like to proofread American translations, as there are a lot of phrases which seem odd, but when you Google them they turn out to be standard AE, so you are constantly chasing red herrings. I don't claim to write in AE - I point out to people that all I can do is adapt the vocab and spelling. Some people are happy with that!

    Have a flick through this book to see some of the many ways in which you can sound weird to Brits :-) http://www.amazon.de/gp/reader/0521379938/ref...
    #4Verfasser CM2DD (236324) 16 Nov. 09, 16:36
    Kommentar
    Thanks! I guess my strategy will be to acknowledge that I cannot fully translate into British English but point out that my academic background is well-suited to the material, which should ultimately be more important...
    #5VerfasserEY16 Nov. 09, 22:19
    Kommentar
    In many years of practicing law in New Yoek with a lot of English law firms, only twice has there been serious misunderstandings because of the language barriers. One was when a American lawyer said he wanted to table a major issue (US: postpone discussion, UK: discuss immediately) and another time where a British lawyer referred to our proposal as a "scheme" (US: conspiracy or fraud, UK: plan). All of the other differences have either been familar (lorry, lift) or easily figured out on the the spot (does "stock" = "bonds" or "shares")
    #6VerfasserRobNYNY16 Nov. 09, 22:52
    Kommentar
    I'm with CM2DD (No. 4) here, though the other way around - I don't even like to proofread or localize British texts, because they sound foreign or unidiomatic to me in many cases and I can't tell what's translatorese and what's legitimate British usage. I say this as an American professional translator who has lived in both England and Germany. Full mastery of British usage, especially across registers, will always elude me. The more you know, right?

    I also don't think that most German clients are that concerned about whether your text is fully situated in either American or British style, but I personally would rather avoid turning out writing I don't recognize as mine - even if the audience doesn't really care if I strike a false note. Some Englishperson out there somewhere would notice, the same way I notice a subtle difference and something strikes me immediately as British.

    In your case your background may well make up for the difference, and sure, your strategy sounds fine. Also, you don't really know the reason they're asking for British English. Some will carry more weight than others - do they have a major funder in the UK that they need to impress, or is it just someone's personal preference, or is the material largely UK-specific? And so on. Having that info might give you more traction.
    #7VerfasserKatydid (US)16 Nov. 09, 23:03
    Kommentar
    BTW, I got the job. Should have my first assignment soon. I ordered the book that you recommended, CM2DD, but since it came after I did the trial translation, I could only focus there on basic spelling differences and comma placement. I thought about having a native Brit proofread the trial piece, but decided that I needed to know whether or not I was able to meet their standard alone.

    Thanks again for the super advice I always get here! I haven't been very active here lately, what with the kid and all, but if I am spending more hours at the computer in the near future for the translations, I'm sure that I'll be here more often, too. ;)
    #8Verfasser German Tarheel (EY) (147393) 03 Jan. 10, 20:28
    Kommentar
    I noticed Katydid (#7) mentioned localisation of text. Could somebody tell me what this means? I keep hearing "translation and localisation" but in Australia this term isn't really used. Does it perhaps mean just editing a text to the local context (whatever that may mean)?
    #9Verfasser Knittelcity (282544) 04 Jan. 10, 12:13
    Kommentar
    AFAIK localisation means adapting the text to make it suitable / palatable for local readers. That means anything from changing "north" into "south" (if appropriate) and metres into feet to adding explanations of things which are unfamiliar in the other country, or adapting the style to local tastes, e.g. making the text sound more or less jokey.
    #10Verfasser CM2DD (236324) 04 Jan. 10, 12:30
    Kommentar
    Thanks, CMD22. In Australia, with a small population relative to the UK and the US, we have such high exposure to both British and American media that we understand both and therefore there seems little call for localisation. Having said that, it may be independent of the translation profession as I could see it being used for advertising, etc.
    #11Verfasser Knittelcity (282544) 04 Jan. 10, 12:53
    Kommentar
    @Yackydar: this is off-topic, but could you possibly explain the that/which distinction? I'm unfamiliar with it but intrigued...
    #12VerfasserAardvark04 Jan. 10, 15:06
    Kommentar
    Oops, just realised Yackydar's post was from November. Would anyone else be able to elaborate?
    #13VerfasserAardvark again04 Jan. 10, 15:06
    Kommentar
    I think the difference concerns restrictive relative clauses. According to many AE style guides, "which" cannot be used to introduce a restrictive clause. In BE, you can use either "that" or "which". So "A suitcase which has lost its handle is useless" (example taken from the Oxford Guide to English Usage) is acceptable in BE, but would have to be changed to "A suitcase that has lost its handle is useless" in AE, since the relative clause is clearly supposed to be restrictive.

    This also means that the only way to distinguish between a restrictive and a non-restrictive clause in BE is the comma:

    BE restrictive: "The bottles which (or that) contain orange juice are on the far end of the table" [... and the bottles of water are on the near end.]
    BE non-restrictive: The bottles, which contain orange juice, are on the far end of the table." (There are no other bottles; I just want to tell you what's in them.)

    AE restrictive: "The bottles that contain orange juice are on the far end of the table."
    AE non-restrictive: "The bottles, which contain orange juice, are on the far end of the table."
    #14Verfasserdulcinea in black04 Jan. 10, 16:33
    Kommentar
    Ah, now I understand. I had always been puzzled by Word marking those clauses wrong (even in BE, surprisingly), now I'll know why. Thanks, Dulcinea!
    #15VerfasserAardvark04 Jan. 10, 18:31
     
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