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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Americans can get confused writing for Canadians, unless they write in French

The dual influence of British and American spelling on Canadian English can make life difficult for Canadian writers, and for Americans writing for Canadian readers.

Canadians use standard British spelling for certain words (axe, cheque), and use American spelling for others (connection, tire), and will use either version for other words (programme and program, labour and labor, neighbour and neighbor).

It's important to be consistent so you don't look silly and confuse your readers.

Set up your own style manual (just a list, really), and stick to it. Don't mix "neighbour" with "labor," for example. Choose one pattern or the other and don't vary.

A Canadian dictionary might help, too (is there such a thing?). Word processor spell-checkers (chequers?) may not be much help. My MS Word rejects Brit spelling, and there doesn't seem to be a Canadian or British "language pack" available. I could tell my PC to accept "programme" and "neighbour," but that would not make it reject "program" and "neighbor." To be safe, I'd probably have to search for all of the offending Americanisms and change them.

Or, I can just keep writing in American and not worry about the smaller countries that speak sort-of the same language. I don't freak out when I encounter British spelling. "Programme" is not as disconcerting as having to convert pounds and shillings.

(Thanks to Dorothy Turner for her work published by the University of Ottawa)

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4 comments:

  1. As an American expat who spent many years living (and teaching English) in England I also often get confused; my MS Word, however, does allow you to choose between American and British spellings - plus numerous other variations (New Zealand, South Africa, etc.)

    And, by the way, shillings - which were a rayal pain in the posterior - are no longer in use.

    DuvidMeir

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  2. I'm not an expert on anything about Canada, although I do enjoy their tasty bacon --in moderation.

    I can say that I notice a lot more of a French influence with Canadians, and more so than a British influence.

    "Cheque?" I'm pretty sure that's of French origin.

    As a bellman at a major strip hotel in Las Vegas, I've met plenty of Canadians who only speak French (obviously from the Montreal, Quebec region, and they're usually visiting Vegas to see Celine Dion and shows by Cirque Du Soleil).

    Yes, Western Canada (British Columbia) perhaps has a British influence that still lingers, but not like the Eastern and more French region.

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  3. I'm not an expert on anything about Canada, although I do enjoy their tasty bacon --in moderation.

    I can say that I notice a lot more of a French influence with Canadians, and more so than a British influence.

    "Cheque?" I'm pretty sure that's of French origin.

    As a bellman at a major strip hotel in Las Vegas, I've met plenty of Canadians who only speak French (obviously from the Montreal, Quebec region, and they're usually visiting Vegas to see Celine Dion and shows by Cirque Du Soleil).

    Yes, Western Canada (British Columbia) perhaps has a British influence that still lingers, but not like the Eastern and more French region.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I can speak to the question of Canadian dictionaries! I'm an American lexicographer, but I've had occasion to read Canadian dictionaries.

    The Canadian Oxford Dictionary edited by Barber is a mainstream dictionary that you can check to see whether a word is spelled the American way or the British way. This dictionary has been updated in 2002 and 2005, and it will have current terms.

    The Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (1967) edited by Avis contains Canadianisms that are historical, specialized, or obsolete. Depending on what word you're looking up (or what Canadian book you're reading), this book might contain words that aren't listed in Barber's more mainstream dictionary.

    Happy looking up Canadian words, eh?

    ReplyDelete