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May 7 , 2002
Whose English Will I Be Writing In Today?
By Tad Hulse

When dabbling in the international freelance market, one question you will repeatedly be asking yourself is, "Whose English will I be writing in today?" Style, spelling and word usage can fluctuate enormously in the many variations of our ever evolving (or as some would say, transcending) language used around the world. There really is no secret in adapting to this alteration. It is as plain as day, and as an international writer, you will simply need to become bilingual in your mother tongue in order to cope. If you are unable to muddle through these colloquial differences, even on the most basic level, you will breathe your last in this market.

If you are an American freelance writer that's ever written for a British publication, you will know
exactly what I'm talking about. Nowadays, the question is no longer what language to write in for the
international market, but what form of English. It is in regular use throughout most countries. You should always ask yourself before each query or submission, "Where is which version appropriate?" As a writer publishing internationally, you will need to know how to address your readership in its own variation of our tongue. As strange as that sounds, it is most certainly true.

One of the greatest legacies left by our British forefathers during the age of colonialism is, no doubt, the English language. If you look at a map prior to the First World War, you can get a good idea
of where British English (also referred to as Oxford English) is still used. Like the history books say,
"they came, they saw, they conquered and colonized all right, but when they pulled out, they undoubtedly left their cultural and linguistic mark (i.e. spelling, pronunciation) on the lost colonies." This language - the living, morphing organism that it is - has continued to grow and thrive in its new homeland which, of course, has added other cultural and linguistic influences as well.

Americanisms abound most where our North American culture is largely influential and, in this post-CNN world of ours, that covers quite a few of those perched satellite dishes. There really is no dispute;
the mass media makes America the power behind the language at this start of a new century. Our friends across the water often accuse us of diluting and twanging the mother tongue down to a weak tea of two hundred words plus. Perhaps this is true, but one thing is for sure, we have definitely made it more user friendly.

As for our friends down under, the Australians and Kiwis are too well isolated to count a great deal in
this ongoing war of words, however, they have thrown their own hybrid vocabularies into the mix. This goes pretty much for the South Africans and the Caribbean nations as well (including Jamaica and The Bahamas). And let's not forget there's also Mid-Atlantic, which pertain to the various individuals who spend the majority of their lives overseas, living out of the US (or whatever country they happen to be from), developing their own vernacular.

One nice jest for international writers is the editorial guidance available, especially over the Internet. Publications of any significant standing, anywhere in the world, will provide freelancers with guidelines, style sheets and publishing samples. Do what they tell you to do. It's a simple rule to abide by, as I like to say no ifs, ands or buts. Editors and publishers in neutral countries, like those here in
Scandinavia or the South Pacific, will let you know initially which version they expect you to be writing
in (usually either Oxford or the Colonial's). Take into consideration, the easier you make this editor's
job, the more likely it is he/she will get you hired for another assignment.

There is, of course, the tool of tools you can always rely on, your computer's spell-check. Don't be
embarrassed to do so, it's there for a reason. Set it for the "correct" English and get yourself an Oxford's and/or Webster's Thesaurus Dictionary as backup. Remember as well, that grammar and usage are a mind-gap; it is more about how a group of people collectively think and perceive their world than it is about subjects, predicates and objects of the preposition. For example, in American English we would say that "we are hungry," but our Norwegian friends up here would say, "we have hunger." Language is our very point of view.

The bottom line is simply that the living, breathing, insatiable creature we call English is the basic tool
of the trade. In keeping its teeth sharp and claws filed, it will help you see your words in print to the
end, no matter how you choose to pronounce them or how they are spelled (or make that spelt).

Good luck to you.

Tad Hulse is an American freelance writer who has spent the last two years traveling the world.
Currently he is based in Oslo, the capital of Norway. Email:

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