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To: gentoo-doc@g.o
From: Peter Humphrey <prh@...>
Subject: Re: american english/british english/??? english
Date: Fri, 08 Jul 2005 10:34:31 +0100
Shyam Mani wrote:

>Jack Dark wrote:
>>While browsing the docs in search of general spelling errors, I
>>noticed that a few documents had internationalized spelling of certain
>>words. Are the docs generally supposed to be written in American
>>English--as most of the English ones seem to be--or is that
>>unimportant? I have no particular preference either way; the addition
>I think that as long as we get the point across and the word/sentence is
>correct english, it doesn't matter.

I think there's no such thing as "correct" English, as that would
require a complete and consistent body of rules analogous to that of
algebra, which is impossible in such a varied, complex field [1]. We
should instead aim at idiomatic English, or even "proper" usage if you
prefer. My opinion is that, to the extent to which one can generalise
usefully, Americans try to establish a rigorous framework for whatever
they do, including writing, whereas the British preference is to use
judgment to interpret guidance - a very different approach. I spent two
years in Minneapolis, and discovered that, in many subtle ways, the
citizens of the so-called land of the free are in practice less free
than we are in the UK. I don't mean this as a troll, just to illustrate
the evident fact of different styles in UK and US.

As an aside, education in the UK has suffered grievously from the
attitude that adherence to norms doesn't matter, ever since the 1970s. I
know you aren't discussing education, but I think it is nevertheless
valuable to strive for high standards of expression.

>>or subtraction of a few letters from the odd word doesn't bother me. I
>>was just wondering if doc writers are supposed to adhere to one
>>consistent spelling scheme even though it might be outside of their

Here's an example: in English (not American) "outside of" is a noun
phrase denoting a region: "the outside of" some boundary. The adverb we
should use in your sentence is "outside".

The UK and US versions of English differ in far more than spelling; on
the contrary, I think it's just about the most trivial difference. Word
order is a more important difference, and blind insistence on the Oxford
comma is particularly confusing and therefore misguided. This is a good
example of the preference for rigid rules that I mentioned above.

I won't go into other pervasive influences such as the contribution of
other languages on each side of the Atlantic. Not here, anyway.

>>For example, do the doc writers from the UK have to spell using
>>American English (or Australian English), even though it's not what
>>they're familiar with, or are the guidelines much more relaxed and
>>permit one's native lexicon to be used?
>Anyway, AFAIK, we have no rules on that, and I think it is darn too
>trivial to sit and actually bother about. If the sentence
>formation/spelling is good, we're okay. As an example, I recently
>removed sections of a patch that changed correct British English to
>American English like localisation to localization because it is
>unnecessary to correct something that is already correct :)

I know of three approaches to the s/z problem: the American, which
always uses Z, and two British usages of which one uses S and the other
Z. This example is not a question of correctness but of personal preference.

Lecture over...   :-!

I'd like to know what support there would be for splitting the two
languages, so that original documents would be written using either the
en_GB or the en_US locale and then be translated to the other. I'd be
happy to contribute to such a translation effort.

[1] "Time flies like an arrow; blue flies like a banana." "He broke the
window with a stone; she broke the window with a curtain." I believe the
AI community use couplets like these to illustrate the difficulty of
extracting meaning from natural language. It is just not possible, in my
opinion, to formulate a complete, consistent set of rules for
application to the whole of any natural language. Or, more-or-less
equivalently, if that ever were achieved, the result would be more
difficult to apply than just getting on with using the language as we do

Peter Humphrey
Linux Counter 5290, Aug 93.

gentoo-doc@g.o mailing list

Re: american english/british english/??? english
-- Shyam Mani
american english/british english/??? english
-- Jack Dark
Re: american english/british english/??? english
-- Shyam Mani
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