Hello, G’day, Howdy — what English do you speak?

It’s going to be interesting to see how the growth of the Internet worldwide affects what’s considered “standard” English in the long-term.

Of course, standard English is different according to whether you’re in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia… and so on. So, as the Web has developed most rapidly in the US, is US-English going to become the standard — at least in online communications?

Or will there be a new language called Internet-English that’s a hybrid of the various versions? Inter-English anyone?

This came to mind after reading a post on a new blog called Word Wise — Comma Comma Comma Comma Comma Chameleon. The author muses on the usage of the “serial comma”, also known as the “Oxford comma” (in other words, “planes, trains, and automobiles”) — usage that differs according to whether you’re in the North America or the UK, etc, as well as according to which style guide, or even newspaper, you read.

I’m from the UK, now living in Canada and writing for any English-language audience when it comes to online communications. So whether I use “-ize” or “-ise”, “color” or “colour”, and so on depends on the main audience the client wants to target. If it’s a universal audience, it normally comes down to where the company is based.

And, of course, there are also search engine optimisation (or optimization) considerations. For example, if you’re a UK-based SEO company targeting a UK client-base, using “search engine optimisation” will get you UK hits. UK search companies like Bigmouthmedia and others get round this by using title tags like “Search engine optimisation (optimization)”.

Google “search engine optimisation” and “search engine optimization” and see what comes up.

And the differences don’t end with spelling. Punctuation and individual words and phrasing can be very different.

For example, before working in North America, I’d always placed punctuation outside the quotation marks, like this, “Punctuation outside”. (Unless it was part of the quote). Now I have to do this, “Punctuation inside.”

This Wikipedia entry has more common differences: American and British English differences.

To complicate matters, the fact that I’m Scottish (and so have to suppress my own regional language quirks) means I’ll sometimes unknowingly throw in the odd word that flumoxes any editors I’m working with. Recently I included the word “outwith” — admittedly not a word I use a lot — in a regular eBay business newsletter I write. The context was something like this, “Most eBay members now come from outwith the US” (meaning from outside the US).

It turned out that not only is “outwith” peculiar to the UK, it’s actually only really used in Scotland. I even checked on the Scottish Office (government) site, and there it is in the, not very inspiring, report headline, “Children educated outwith school and pupil projections”.

So there you go, you learn something new every day — never use the word “outwith” outwith Scotland.

In terms of writing for different clients and audiences, it’s never been a problem (apart from maybe with the word, “outwith”), and — as the Internet rapidly expands outwith North America (sorry) — I actually find it an advantage that I’m aware of these considerations, and can build them into project-scope discussions.