Yesterday, my Operations Manager approached me with an article idea. He wanted me to look at the whole British/American English question. A quick introspect later, I felt that such factors were best decided by the audience segment we intend to target. Obviously we have to speak the language spoken in that market but at the same time, given the fact that the US is well on its way to global cultural domination, there is an undeniable shift towards US English. Everything else is mostly of only academic interest.

Sure, there have always been indicators in the public domain, undoubtedly assisted by Hollywood – ever notice how villains speak with British accents and heroes speak American English? (Try watching The Lion King to see how far down the age groups this schism can go.) So there I was, faced with a blank page and an agenda to throw some light on these ‘two countries divided by a common language’ as G.B. Shaw put it.

As usually happens when you know nothing, I made my way to Wikipedia and looked up the reasons and differences between these two. Apparently the Americas have been a melting pot of cultures and more open to vernacular inclusion. Being a younger culture, there also is a clearly perceivable urge to get to the point earlier in the US. This includes omitting some of the more ornate vowels in words. The UK also has distinct variations of dialect such as Scottish, Welsh, etc, but the spoken English of south-east English has come to be accepted standard; as ‘BBC English,’ ‘Queen’s English’ and more formally ‘Received Pronunciation.’

I already knew that grammars are usually created after the language is already well in use and anyone can look up the essential differences in word usage, spelling and phraseology. Although I know most people simply rely on contextual memory and their word processor spell checker. Here’s my quick list of spelling differences:

  • ‘Our’ or ‘or’ as in the spelling of colour or color
  • ‘Re’ or ‘er’ as in metre or meter
  • ‘Ce’ or ‘se’ as in defence or defense
  • ‘Ise’ or ‘ize’ as in colonise or colonize
  • ‘Yse’ or ‘yze’ as in paralyse or paralyze
  • ‘Ogue’ or ‘og’ as in catalogue or catalog

Even as I write this, the omnipresent curly red line of my spell checker is reminding me of the essential differences between us and it’s obvious which I use the most. No, I am not telling you which simply because here in India, we are caught in between a past filled with British English and a new generation of cultural exposure to American English. Things do get confusing if a written piece jumps the pond to use both versions. Keeping to one straight standard in each article is what we writers and editors are content with and that is what I personally have decided to dedicate my self to ‘in future’ or should it be ‘from now on’…


The author, Arunesh Dogra, is a member of content writing team with Veda Informatics.