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I'm not a native English speaker. I'm Italian and I'm doing my thesis in the Netherlands. I have to write technical documents for non-native English speakers, so I didn't receive any advice for choosing which one dialect (British or American) to use, as long as I stay consistent.

My concern comes from the fact that, while British is the original form, American is more related to my field of interest (electronics) and, I would say, more related to the spread of English as universal language.

Is there any reason because I should use one over the other?

My audience is not well specified because the document is meant to be conserved, but most likely European people, not necessarily Dutch.

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    I just want to interject that British is not "the original form". This is like saying that today's fish are our ancestors. Both American and British English have been deviating from their common ancestor — in different directions but by the same degree. And in many respects, contemporary American English is much closer to the original than contemporary British English. – RegDwigнt May 30 '12 at 8:46
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    @RegDwightΒВBẞ8 please, now you're confusing me :) – clabacchio May 30 '12 at 8:47
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    @clabacchio: Have you tried asking whoever will be reviewing your thesis which variant they would prefer? – user11752 May 30 '12 at 14:00
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    My experience is that Dutch (and other continental European) people writing English tend to use British spelling --- After all, it's easier to get first-hand experience in English by travelling a few tens of miles across the Channel than across the Atlantic. But this may be generational, the barrier to transcontinental travel is lower today than it was 50 or even 20 years ago and the Internet is also spreading American spelling more widely, so that new English learners around the world have readier access to American sources. – The Photon Aug 6 '12 at 5:20

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Actually I'm a writer. The difference is enormous. You probably cannot write a single sentence that would please a rigorous editor in the U.S. and a similarly qualified person in the U.K.!

It is not just a question of spelling a few words. The differences are so pervasive that I personally as a professional U.S. writer would be incapable of writing text which would not be massively re-written if I submitted it to a British editor.

So yes, you have to choose. Questions to consider, in order of importance.

  1. Which are you most comfortable in already? Your text above read nicely to me, so I suspect perhaps you are most comfortable in American English.

  2. Which English does your editor speak? If you write your text in perfect American English and your editor has learned British English, it's going to be a long, hard edit.

  3. Which type of English are your source materials written in? It's going to be a lot easier to write American English if all the texts you are drawing from are in American English. And of course the reverse is true!

I suggest relying on these factors since it's impossible to know whether your audience prefers British or American English. Britain is closer geographically for Europeans, and BE is the language often used in airports, hotels and train stations. However, many Europeans have spent time in the U.S., or at least watch American movies. In the scientific realm, there are more publications written in American English so scientists may have more exposure to it.

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    For fiction, there may indeed be an enormous difference between American and British English. But for scientific writing, there is relatively little difference; each form is almost perfectly comprehensible to speakers of the other. – Peter Shor Nov 8 '14 at 14:34
  • This is complete bosh. (Sorry to be harsh.) For a thesis, especially a technical one, the main difference is spelling. Almost all the formal-type and -level written sentences are the same. And I doubt lift versus elevator would be an issue. The truth is these types of theses are written by non-native speakers for non-native speakers in eurospeak English, and it can get rather horrible very fast. Often, the target reader doesn't even know there are mistakes in the text...all these upvotes denote lack of culture. That's a fact. – Lambie Jun 30 '18 at 15:07
  • If I write a document in American English, and the editor has learned British English, then unless the publication requires British English, my document stays unchanged, and if the editor cannot handle it then he isn't qualified. Same the other way round obviously. – gnasher729 Jul 1 '18 at 23:12
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The differences between British English and American English are more apparent in speech than in writing, where the main indicator of variance is spelling. You have to consider who your readers are, and adapt your writing to their expectations. Do you have any particular example that is bothering you?

  • An example: behaviour vs behavior. It's particularly annoying because Word's spellchecker forces one or the other. – clabacchio May 30 '12 at 8:15
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    I think the best answer to this question may be the one the O.P. gave: just stay consistent. The first time I see "behaviour" in a document, I just assume it's written in British English. At that point, I don't feel marginalised; I simply expect to see a few more quaint spellings. I can't see any harm in choosing one over the other. – J.R. May 30 '12 at 10:13
  • @clabacchio: Spelling is a matter of orthographical convention rather than dialect. It depends in part on whether you identify yourself with one convention rather than the other. – Barrie England May 30 '12 at 11:43
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I think you're possibly worrying unduly about this. Both the UK and US have active electronics industries and research programmes and UK speakers are used to reading documents written by US speakers and vice versa. I aslo wonder how much difference there really will be for your purposes anyway, beyond a few minor spelling differences.

So I would just choose the variant that's most practical for you: are you more used to reading literature from US or UK researchers/manufacturers? Can your more easily get a US or UK proofreader?

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    Well, speaking as an American, I do find the occasional British spelling of words like "programmes" to be rather jarring. However, technical folks are smart enough to deal with it, and as he said, it isn't liable to be read by a lot of Americans. – T.E.D. May 30 '12 at 15:59
  • @T.E.D. I thought that the verb to jar was connected to the sound of words. Or is that what you mean -that you can hear the different spelling? – Qube May 31 '12 at 7:44
  • upvoting here. But: The Brits spell program as programme. Get over it. T.E.D. I am American and love the fact we are all different. As for the public, who knows,our Italian friend may be the new Tesla. So, let's put unreasonable statements aside, shall we? I'm all in favor of acculturation through English. – Lambie Jun 30 '18 at 15:03
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The International Organization for Standardization favours British spellings, spelling the -ise/-ize suffix with a z (which is valid, though rare, in British usage, and standard in American usage).

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry has settled on the British spelling (and pronunciation) of aluminium (not the American aluminum), but the American spelling of sulfur (not the British sulphur).

That might give you some guidance. (This system is known as Oxford spelling.)

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Based on your question, it seems that you are free to choose so, you can choose which English to use based on your, personal preference.

Is there any reason because I should use one over the other?

The main reason for choosing one form of English, whatever the context, is your audience. Who you will be communicating with, in the language.

You mentioned that it will most likely be European people, so , you can use British. As far as I know, American English is not the language of any European country (not even the UK) so it is not necessary to limit yourself to it. It is one, particular dialect that is very different from others. There is no particular need to use it, unless you know beforehand, that you will be communicating mainly or only with, people who speak American English.

Generally, there is no problem speaking or writing in, the English form of English. I have not had any problems communicating with other people from the English-speaking world (apart from Americans) and the non, English-speaking world, when speaking and writing in, English English. I have visited a lot of continental Europe and met many continentals who spoke English. Generally, I had no problems in being understood by them. The only exception being two, different people, who were learning American English, in particular.

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    I pretty much agree with this answer (so +1). However, as an American I found it rather amusing that "English English" is simply being sold as a choice, while American English is something you would be "limiting yourself to". Again, I agree on a factual basis, but it wasn't hard to guess the author of this answer was British. :-) – T.E.D. May 30 '12 at 15:54
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In Canada we see this contrast all the time. While British English spellings are standard here for government documents, other industries vary. As other responders have noted, choose one and stay consistent, or your readers will get annoyed.

  • Very astute observation that Canadian English varies by industry. Government and banking are more inclined to British terms, while in the auto industry, Canadians have trunks and hoods, not boots and bonnets. – M. K. Hunter Nov 8 '14 at 15:57
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I don't think it matters as long as you specify. Being English though it does annoy me when I hear English people in my own Country speaking American English words, such as 'Gotten' also 'Skedule' instead of schedule. American English is basically (2 LL's) a 300 year old version of English.

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    "Gotten" is an archaic form in most of England, but Wiktionary says it's still used in Ireland and Northern Britain, as well in as the U.S. So some people in your country use it without having borrowed it from American English. – Peter Shor Nov 8 '14 at 14:42
  • Saying that American English is a 300-year-old version of British English is a vast oversimplification of the process through which languages develop, and it is not germane to the question at hand. I do affirm that consistency is more important than the choice between the two. – M. K. Hunter Nov 8 '14 at 15:55
  • I agree. Who cares as long as you specify. I wonder if anybody around here has ever been in this situation. As an American, I have translated a lot of academic bumph into English using BrE spelling for use in the UK and never had any issues. – Lambie Jun 30 '18 at 14:55
  • Modern British English is also a 300 year old version of the same English that US English is derived from! – user184130 Jun 30 '18 at 19:34
  • Also I'm afraid that, even though I am a BrE speaker, I say skedule. It was a word I never used until I lived in Japan and then, because of the nature of my work, I used it multiple times a day. I would find it almost impossible to change now. – user184130 Jun 30 '18 at 19:42
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Having read through all the responses, and being both an Engineer and linguist, I would have to say that in many instances British English terminology is clearer than US English terminology. The term "brake-disc" makes total sense to me, whereas "rotor" makes absolutely no sense to me at all, unless of course you add a context.

I don't want to enter into a discussion about who was the originator of the words, nor who was first with an idea, but clearly just as terminology seems to be a company specific thing, it is also a cultural one too.

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Use American English, not only are we more handsome, but more people speak and read American English, therefore potentially making your document more ubiquitous.

The Brits will be able to read it anyways. Other countries are starting to speak American English more these days as well, as opposed to English, another thing to consider.

This all assuming your document holds relevance in all English speaking nations.

  • 1. What evidence have you for stating that other countries are starting to speak American English? 2. I am amused to see that you speak of American English "as opposed to English". I am a speaker of British English but, like most teachers and linguists, I consider both my own variety and the American variety to be English. Do you thing of American English as a distinct language? – tunny Nov 8 '14 at 19:47
  • Talk about jingoistic, you win hands down on that score. And as I have made a vow of protest (not silence), I will say this: You might want to take your argument to the White House, they would probably agree with it. [yuck, yuck, yuck] – Lambie Jun 30 '18 at 14:59
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I have worked as a technical writer for several decades, mainly semiconductors and embedded software. Nearly all of that work has used American spelling and vocabulary, because that is the largest target market.

Edit: based on the comments and other answer, to clarify what I meant by this: do what the target readers expect. And, even more importantly, be consistent.

  • I knew a guy years ago who worked in Saudi for oil companies, and he used to talk about doing joined up writing. Funny, huh? That said, I should think the target market is the broader international public who is assumed, in these technical areas, to at least have a working knowledge of English. – Lambie Jun 30 '18 at 15:01
  • @Lambie Yes, the market is international but most people are used to seeing documents in US English (because, historically, they have been the largest suppliers of the technology). – user184130 Jun 30 '18 at 19:42
  • This may not be about IT etc. – Lambie Jun 30 '18 at 20:17
  • @Lambie True. (p.s. I didn't understand your comment about "joined up writing" - because he was writing in Arabic?) – user184130 Jun 30 '18 at 20:24

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