Globally over 80 countries recognise English as an official language, with current estimates stating that nearly 1.5 billion people speak some level of English. Although, theoretically, we should all be able to understand each other, certain variations are so different that they could be considered a new language. We sometimes forget that there are many distinct variations other than British and American English, such as Australian, Irish and South African. A country’s geography, history and the other official languages have a huge impact, as does social media. Since we have already tackled US and UK English in depth in our three previous blogs, let’s take a closer look at some other variations…
Australian English: you don’t want to sound like a ‘great galah’!
In 2012, Australia had 16.5 million native speakers of English and a further 3.5 million who spoke English as a second language, a number which is only growing! There are many languages which predate the British colony belonging to three groups: Australian aboriginal, Tasmanian and Torres Strait Island. While these have had little grammatical impact on Australian English, they end their syllables with a vowel sound which has transferred overtime and softened the accent, giving it a singsong quality.
Australia was colonised by the UK in 1788, over 250 years after the USA! It’s no surprise then, that it bears more resemblance to British English, especially when it comes to spelling. Like Brits, they use “-re” endings instead of “-er” (for example ‘centre’ not ‘center’) and “-our” endings instead of “-or” (for example ‘colour’ instead of ‘color’). They also spell words with ‘s’ instead of ‘z’ (for example ‘organisation’) and use double ‘L’ in words like ‘marvellous’ and ‘travelling’. However, although British and Australian English have their spelling system in common, when spoken Australian English is a lot more informal. You’ll find Aussies abbreviating words such as ‘afternoon’ to ‘arvo’ and ‘barbeque’ to ‘barbie’ and in some cases, words take on completely different meanings in the other: flip-flops become thongs, countryside becomes bush, a soldier becomes a digger… When translating documents for Australian companies we ensure that the grammar and spelling is consistent to the target audience using quality management software and an expert localisation team. So don’t worry, we always do a ‘bonzer’ job of it!
The luck of the Irish and the best way to avoid ‘malapropisms’
The official language in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is English, but a large majority in the Republic of Ireland also speak Gaelic. Gaelic has had such an impact on language in Ireland, that now the two languages blend together in many cases, for example “having the craic” means having fun, which could cause confusion for non-Irish folk!
The term ‘malapropism’ describes when you replace something in a sentence with a similar sound, creating an amusing effect. For example, if you are singing Elvis Presley’s ‘You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog’ and accidently sing ‘You Ain’t Nothing But A Hotdog’! The term comes from Irish playwright, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play ‘The Rivals’, as the character Mrs Malaprop does this often to comic effect.
Another fun fact about Irish English: it is not very common to hear ‘yes’ and ‘no’. For example, a typical response to a yes/no question in Ireland, such as “do you speak another language?” would be “I do” or “I do not”. There are also differences in prepositions, as actions are done ‘on’ someone, (for example “the car has broken on me”). These are just a few differences which we would consider at Surrey Translation Bureau while localising the document to Irish English. Our localisation team is grand!
South African English: it’s beter bang Jan, as dooie Jan
There are eleven official languages in South Africa and so blended phrases like the one in the title above are more difficult to understand than in some other English variants. This is a cross between English and Afrikaans and means “better to be safe than sorry”; something strongly recommended in the world of business! Whether you prefer your document localised into South African English, or the other way around, we would be happy to help. Unlike other variants, as well as internal influences, there seems to be a balance between British and American English influences, as in South Africa they follow British English grammar rules, however use Americanised words, such as “chips” not “crisps” and “jersey” not “jumper”.
South Africa was first colonised by Great Britain in 1815 after previously being colonised by the Dutch Empire, meaning that, of all the variants discussed, this is one of the newer English versions, and so outside influences, like the USA, also have an influence. Due to the variety of languages used officially in South Africa, it is therefore important that when conducting business in English, that the language remains consistent and professional.
It is incredible that so many people from so many countries can communicate with each other in their own mother tongue with little difficulty. However, in written communication, while spelling and grammar may still be understandable, if the information you are producing is highly target market-specific or if professionalism and appropriateness is vital, we recommend localising your content to really meet the requirements of your target audience.
At Surrey Translation Bureau, we offer localisation services, meaning that, as an expert English Language Service Provider, not only can we make sure that the language used in your documentation is high-quality, consistent and culturally appropriate, but we can additionally ensure that all references and figures used are tailored to the demands of your target market. We hope that this series of blogs has helped highlight the importance of choosing an English language specialist for your English translations. If you would like to know more about what we could do for you, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org!