The Rhetorical Context: Straddling the Pond

Guest Post

Regular readers will be aware that I have raised the subject of the ‘AmericaniZation‘ of our language before. E.g. https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/americanization/. I’ve also discussed the tendency towards misunderstanding between our cultures too: e.g. https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/people-are-rude/ which was written after several years of trans-Atlantic comments on a YouTube posting.  Roger Elmore then kindly supplied a considered response to the matter back in September 2010.

Now, I’d like to introduce yet another Trans-Atlantic consideration of our language. This time by Mariana Ashley [see by-line below]. mariana.ashley031@gmail.com

We would both welcome your comments to this special Guest Post.

The Rhetorical Context: Straddling the Pond

I.

As a writer, I’ve long been amazed by the wonderful ways of language, and as a college graduate who once studied abroad in Sydney, Australia, I’ve come to love, as well, the wonderful subtle differences between different languages, especially between my American version of English and the version that many of my Australian friends spoke and wrote. Likewise, my travels to London, where one of my college friends now lives, have also allowed me to experience the wonder of British English.

I do not mean, at all, to make these other non-American versions of English into an ‘Other’ form, a less-legitimate or unnatural version of the English I speak; no, my praise is meant sincerely, for I value these differences, and I appreciate how they have created an entire English language that is both distinct and various.

But, as we have often seen, these distinctions bring with them a certain trouble, especially when we are concerned with meaning and the context that provides such meaning. For example, guides abound throughout the Internet that are meant to help students going abroad better prepare for these different contexts and possible miscommunications that could arise simply because the same word might have two different meanings between America and Australia, or America and Britain.

II.

This impulse to educate those who will soon be crossing over into new linguistic contexts is a very good one, and I think there ought to be more of it. Yes, languages will always shift as cultures change over time; however, there are certain linguistic shifts that should not happen if a culture wants to preserve some aspect of its past. In this case, those cultures who hold the lever regarding their influence on others should consider exerting some cultural responsibility when it comes to wielding that lever. Likewise, those cultures being influence can resist in unique ways, thus reappropriating the cultural impact. Consider, for example, the ubiquitous McDonald’s restaurant, which I saw many of in Sydney. I learned that Australians call McDonald’s by a slangy term: Macca’s. Yes, it’s a bit rough, but I thought it was interesting to see how Australians had appropriated what is essentially an American export and made it their own in a culturally significant way.

I believe that writers and educators, in many ways, are the guardians of the English language, and because of this, we must be mindful of how we make use of it in different contexts. My training as a writer, and as a one-time teacher of composition/rhetoric to freshmen students, has always made me aware of this. I view all communication through the prism of the rhetorical triangle: audience, purpose/author, message. If a writer is aware of this rhetorical context, he or she can sincerely do his or her best to engage in appropriate forms of communication that respect linguistic differences between groups.

III.

Let’s consider this post here: an American writer, trained in American universities, writing for a British audience and trying to explain one way by which we all could better police the less pleasurable linguistic shifts in language as a result of American English’s jargon infiltrating British English. I’ve tried, as an American author, to connect with my audience by giving some of my past, by explaining the pleasure I’ve taken from interacting with other forms of English. I’ve also tried to dial down some of my Americanisms; in fact, ‘dial down’ is the first Americanism I’ve used here, I believe. Yes, there are conventions I’ve maintained, such as certain spellings, and I cannot completely avoid allowing my idiosyncracies as a writer to shine, but I like to believe that I have made an effort to meet the expectations of my audience.

I think that an understanding of the rhetorical context, in many instances, could help us to avoid unwanted linguistic baggage. Of course, this will certainly not solve the issue, as many Americans and Australians and British are not conscious of how their speaking and writing of English might affect others, so my solution here is merely an individual one. The hope, then, is that by our example, others might become inspired.

By-line:

Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031@gmail.com.

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Oceans Apart

Guest Post

Regular readers will be aware that I have raised the subject of the ‘AmericaniZation‘ of our language before. E.g. https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/americanization/. There’s also a tendency towards misunderstanding between our cultures: e.g. https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/people-are-rude/ which was written after several years of trans-Atlantic comments on a YouTube posting.

Roger Elmore [rogerelmore24@gmail.com] has kindly offered a considered response to the matter. We would both welcome your comments to this special Guest Post.

Oceans Apart: American and British English and the Importance of Knowing the Difference

Whether we like it or not, English is a fractured language, and the deepest fault line is the Atlantic Ocean. As any American who has visited England knows, we Americans speak a completely different language than our English brethren do.

Of course, America’s relentless cultural imperialism has served in many ways to dilute the distinctiveness of British English, much to the chagrin of many residing in the UK. Matthew Engle, in a Daily Mail article published earlier this year, made his disappointment about America’s invading Americanisms clear, and reader responses demonstrated resounding agreement.

Although we could argue all day long about which English is superior, we Americans must acknowledge and respect the fact that American English isn’t the only one in existence. In our increasingly globaliz(s?)ed world, we should become more familiar with the differences in language before either engaging in business with UK partners, creating software programs that may be consumed by Britons, or simply going on holiday to England.

Engel does concede in his article that language usage inevitably expands and contracts, but our American cultural hegemony has expanded to a degree that is unfair. This is especially true of software and online or mobile applications. Engel notes:

“We have to be realistic: languages grow. The success of English comes from its adaptability and the British have been borrowing words from America for at least two centuries…But the process gathered speed with the arrival of cinema and television in the 20th Century. And in the 21st it seems unstoppable. The U.S.-dominated computer industry, with its ‘licenses’, ‘colors’ and ‘favorites’ is one culprit. That ties in with mobile phones that keep ‘dialing’ numbers that are always ‘busy'”

To American ears, Engel’s grievances may sound more like the grumblings of a language snob, but we can’t forget that being ignorant of the differences between American and British usage of English can have very real consequences for certain people. For example, eLearning students in the UK, especially those with learning disabilities like dyslexia, are unfairly marginalized when they must use American software that requires learners to spell words in American English or that uses phrases and expressions with which an English learner would be unfamiliar.

For Americans who would like to become better acquainted with British usage, grammar, and spelling, there are various sources on the Internet from which to find out more. Wikipedia gives a fairly comprehensive overview, and an additional Engel article notes more Americanisms that have “snuck” into British usage.

Above all, if both Americans and Britons alike educate themselves about the differences–not just in language usage but in terms of culture, too–between us, we can avoid misunderstandings and celebrate what makes our common but diverse mother tongue so unique.

By-line:

This guest post is contributed by Roger Elmore, who writes on the topics of hotel management degree. He welcomes your comments at his email Id: rogerelmore24@gmail.com.

Tea

I sat and watched Heroes the other night, I think it was episode 14:

Anyway some quick (as in speedy) knife guy (Edgar) was getting a good beating by Mr. Bennet in a fridge. (Compare this Mr. Bennet with the other Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice… a world of difference?)

Bennet’s wannabe girlfriend Lauren, suggested to him that a gentler approach would be more productive so the scene changed from being Guantanamoesque to an afternoon at Betty’s.  Edgar is English you see – you can easily tell this because his accent is one you would never hear on the streets of Bristol, Birmingham, Bolton or Bradford – but one that is obviously not American. I’d thought he was South African or Australian – but no, he’s English. We know this because Noah (Mr. Bennet) was offering him tea.

A cup of tea.

Why is it then, that despite (whilst?) promoting the stereotype, America (and much of the rest of the world) gets it so wrong? First of all, what Noah Bennet was offering poor Edgar was neither a cup nor a pot. If it was tea, it was being served in a handle-less cup like you might get Green tea in at the local Chinese restaurant. Now I realise that this is what some people, some races even, might call tea – but it is not I suspect, what the average English person brings to mind when they think of tea. And Edgar for one certainly didn’t seem to be a pinky-waving, light-weight, milk-less, weak tea drinker.

We’ve been drinking tea for over 350 years, so I suspect that we have it right by now. 350 years ago Americans were only just beginning to denude North America of trees, Bison and Native Americans – what do they know about tea? Well for one, the tea bag http://www.tea.co.uk/page.php?id=4 was developed there, but it only really took off big-time in the UK. And that’s no real surprise given the way they (and many Europeans) serve tea.

Any tea drinker who has traveled abroad will have been presented (countless times) with cups of hot water, accompanying tea bag on the side, two sugars and a tea spoon. In America, the thought of adding milk to a hot beverage is anathema – even coffee drinkers seem to get cream or half-n-half in preference to milk (I don’t mind this, half-n-half in coffee is fine, but in tea it’s just pants).

For someone that was brought up on the notion that tea should be made as follows, the tea-bag-on-the-side model it just strange.

– Warm the pot (warm your mug)
– add the tea leaves (add your tea bag)
– take the pot to the kettle (take the mug to the kettle)
– pour on boiling water
– set aside for five minutes (It’s usually ok after two)

    My Grandma really poo-pooed the idea of tea bags in the first place, but had she been served tea in a cup like Edgar the circus knife thrower (or anyone else in America) she would have been mortified. So come on Mr Bennet, the next time you want to be ‘nice’ make a proper cup of tea.

    Refs:

    http://www.tea.co.uk/
    http://www.teapalace.co.uk/

    🙂

    Leeds 2

    Cold Turkey.

    I’m now at the end of a rock and roll week with only one more day to go before I can put my feet up for a short while [I wrote this on Saturday – I’m now on my ‘feet-up’ day]. I’ve booked myself a day off on Monday [today – yippee] but have already committed to make many phone calls and ‘quick’ replies before it starts again in earnest on Tuesday.

    Since Saturday last, Sharon and I have been in Leeds working with a large group of adult learners, here to improve their language, understanding of British culture and ICT. Also see https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/leeds-1/ Through Monday to Wednesday, we were joined by Lilian (@xlearn : www.xlearn.co.uk).

    Advanced e-Guides and PDAs
    Late on Monday afternoon, I had to leave the group and go to London where I worked with other colleagues to deliver the Advanced PDA/e-Guides course. Sally Betts, Nigel Davies and I worked through the day to deliver this course for the first time. We’d spent Monday night having dinner at a place on Tabernacle Street, just behind the hotel on City Road. Apparently, the restaurant was a member’s club but really – you had to be a member to find it. The only recognition that it existed at all was a small plaque above a buzzer, by the side of an innocuous door. Inside it looked great and the food was good – what we could see of it. The light was so dim, we each had to use our mobile phones (or iTouch in my case) to read the menu. We shared the most wonderful and most green bowl of olives I’ve ever seen.  On Tuesday, we repeated the course again in Birmingham but without the excellent food.

    And then it was back to the Europeans.

    Back again
    It sounded like they had had a great time in Bradford on Tuesday, where they had gone to explore the Pakistani culture living within the British culture. For many, this was the first time they had witnessed women wearing the burkha outside of television news and made them stop and think. They also visited a Mosque and were given a talk about Islamic tradition and culture. The National Media Museum also provided them with a two-hour workshop, where they learned the tips and techniques of television. http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/ Their enjoyment of this day was reflected in their blogs (read on)…

    Lilian had introduced blogs on Wednesday, so my plan on Thursday was for them to continue with blogs for a while and to move back onto their Bonfire Night web quest before lunch.  Which is what we did, but there was such a lot of questions about blogging that many neglected the web quest. Although Blogger is remarkably simple to set up and use (and links directly to all the other iGoogle tools) it was not the best choice within the University.

    Techie Stuff
    Each room we used represented the interface differently. The Thursday room even had different versions of IE – which the techies told me was impossible. But IE 7 has tabs and prior to that there were no tabs: Our room had a mixture of tabbed IE browsers and non-tabbed! Then some machines needed Flash updating, or Java updating or simply updating. WHY oh why can’t this be done automatically? Why do learners have to suffer because the technology is bollocks? On Friday, Internet Explorer simply would not show the normal Blogger interface. Learners could not ‘add’ pictures or videos because the buttons were simply missing. I eventually got most of them onto Firefox – but then Blogger had updated itself since Thursday (it probably hadn’t, and probably has a slightly different interface for Firefox) and the video button was missing until you went to settings and asked it to revert to the ‘older version’ – which caused huge amusement amongst the older participants (all except two were over forty and many fifty plus – one was 21 on Thursday).

    Reflection
    It has been the most wonderful, entertaining, wet, though-provoking, funny, rewarding and exhausting experience. The group; from Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria, Latvia, Italy and England have worked together well this week and to say that they had not met each other before last Sunday, they have made remarkable progress.

    Outcomes include the sharing of experiences and of each other’s cultures. Both of these were addressed in abundance. It became very clear to everyone that when national boundaries and prejudices are set apart – we are all the same. We share the same concerns and the same pleasures. This has been a wonderful week.

    The group had said during their first day (last week) that they wanted to be bloggers – let them tell the story:

    (Please note the use of videos, pictures they have edited and pictures made into movies too)

    Our blog addresses:

    http://leedsexp.blogspot.com Roberto

    http://unver64.blogspot.com Fahrettin

    http://vonweitzel.blogspot.com/ Christoph

    http://eduwholearning.blogspot.com Eduardo

    http://jnmarin.blogspot.com Javier

    http://guntistravel.blogspot.com/ Guntis

    http://secretary-fall-secretary.blogspot.com/ Mairita

    http://learningwithpeople.blogspot.com Angus

    http://mpwbauhuette.blogspot.com/ Edith

    http://annavuerich.blogspot.com Anna

    http://leedsandbradfordexperience.blogspot.com/ Gabrielle

    http://siegfrieddierl.blogspot.com/ Siegfreied

    http://vivianapurina.blogspot.com Viviana

    http://cristinadelfabbro.blogspot.com/ Cristina

    http://atanurcaglayan.blogspot.com/ Atanur

    _________________________________________________________________________________

    http://xlearn.co.uk/blogger.html Lilian’s blog

    http://sharonsugden.blogspot.com Sharon’s blog

    Leeds 1

    We’re at the end of what really is day two, but is officially day one now. The Improving Language and Culture with ICT course has started well.

    On Thursday, we’d heard that there was to be a right-wing English Defence League rally in Leeds on Saturday with the inevitable opposition rally occurring at the same time. Because our visitors were coming to Leeds to witness and learn more about British culture (and given that the postmen and local refuse collectors were striking anyway) we decided that as the Latvians had arrived a day early, we
    would ask them to visit York on Saturday instead of Leeds! This turned out to have been a good plan because the two that did go to York had a brilliant time. The third Latvian went to Bradford and enjoyed herself too – the only problem being that we’re spending a day in Bradford this Tuesday. Never mind.

    So that was three participants sorted – but the rest were arriving at various times in the day. Only one, from Germany, was affected and then, only because the police had put a ring around the railway station, that prevented taxis from operating out of there. The poor man had to walk all the way to our hotel, with his luggage, not understanding why there were no taxis!

    Sharon and I arrived mid-afternoon.

    We first went to Leeds Metropolitan University to drop off all the tools and equipment we will need on Monday through until Friday and then to the Novotel in Leeds, where we had our first meeting today. They knew we were coming today, when we called in last week to check and they knew who we were on yesterday when we came along with all our ‘stuff’ for Sunday (today) – but today (Sunday), they had no idea who we were (but that’s another story and one that a stern voice and no nonsense but polite attitude took five minutes to sort out). Then we arrived at the Ibis, where we are to stay for eight (8!!) days.We’d arranged to meet everyone at 7.00pm for dinner at 7.30pm – at the
    Ibis. Which was ok, but fairly confusing because no one had met anyone else. Luckily I have a distinctive visage and was able to attract people from all over Europe to our table. There were fourteen of us for dinner and as it was Halloween (another story), a special menu too. So the meal went ok and the group got on well. Four people were still traveling as we went to bed.

    Breakfast was nice and relaxed but the weather had changed. Outside it was pouring down. Torrential rain followed by strong winds was the story of the day. Everyone was drenched by the time we got to the Novotel. We’d planned that everyone would introduce themselves first and then tell us a little more about their countries by means of a newspaper collage. But most of them didn’t bring their newspapers to the Novotel. So we moved on to the ‘what do you think England is, what
    do you think the English are, what do you think about English culture’ activity. We were investigating preconceptions and asked the group to mix themselves up to reach a common understanding of ‘England’. This turned out to be a brilliant get-to-know-each-other activity that
    highlighted some real stereotyping. The idea is that we re-visit the activity again next Saturday and see how things have (or have not – gulp) changed.

    We spent the afternoon at The Armouries (after another stern voice and no nonsense but polite attitude with the taxi company). Now we’re preparing to go out into Leeds for a communal dinner – at La Tasca!

    Leeds

    Improving language and culture with ICT.

    Tomorrow, Sharon and I will meet most of the sixteen people arriving from all over Europe to take part in this course. Some won’t arrive until very late evening, so we’ll meet those people first thing Sunday morning at breakfast.

    The course is taking place in Leeds.

    This is a city I’ve hated with a real passion ever since I was dragged there twice a year as a cub-capped, short-trousered boy needing summer, then winter clothes from C&A (do you remember C&A?). I used to find it big, noisy and far too full of shops for comfort; the only good thing about it was the train journey from Huddersfield. Yet things change, and whilst it is still big (too big), noisy and far too full of shops for comfort, my preparations for this course have changed my view of Leeds.

    The course was conceived by Khawar Iqbal and she’d asked me to help her deliver it if she won the European funding required to run it. Both Sharon and I have been heavily involved in the planning. Basically, Khawar has done the early people-stuff (recruitment, flight and transfer booking, hotel booking etc.) and Sharon has done the later people-stuff (venue planning, food, goodie finding and purchasing, bag packing, David pushing). I have had the leisure of planning the course around Khawar’s original ideas and with Khawar’s support and input.

    And the planning has been a real pleasure. I’ve learned more about Leeds than I ever thought existed. I’ve walked the streets with new eyes. Until September this year, Leeds was still the place of boyhood dread; these days even the train journey was (is) to be dreaded (mainly due to the times I generally have to visit Leeds, the trains are overcrowded for about three hours at each end of the day). But researching the history, the culture and the city itself has opened my eyes to it’s (mmm, lost for a word here – not quite beauty …) Well.

    So  we start on Sunday with a full-on day and continue through to Saturday with another full day planned (although the afternoon, like Wednesday is fofo).  We will also visit Bradford to look at culture within culture and part of our historical/cultural research will include Bonfire Night! What is it? Why is it? What does it say about us?

    Because I have to help deliver Advanced PDA/e-Guide courses in London and Birmingham this week, the lovely Lilian Soon will be working with the group Monday through until Wednesday – so I know they will be in good hands.

    Which reminds me – I plan on reading through the Advanced course today (as well as the Leitch 2006 Report, the Digital Britain Report and another big paper I’ve already lost the will to read), so I’d better go.