Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are at war.
(Well, some of us.)
As an Australian, I have the power to stand between both sides of insanity, pleading for reason. That having been said, I often find it difficult not to side with one or the other. Capricious neutralness is not always a bad thing, but I more often than not find myself siding almost entirely with the left. We must be calm, we must co-operate (… hyphen?), we must be civilised (z?)…
Oh bugger… or is it damn?
And so, my cover has been blown. I am, of course, referring to the unavoidable distress of being “divided by a common tongue”. British and American English: where do I begin?
As a translator, I take pride in changing the words of something (or someone) otherwise incomprehensible into words that can be understood. However, as the lovely American chap (dude) (actually, a professor, so I should be more polite) who proofreads my work for me has indirectly pointed out, what I say in English has to then be filtered down into a palatable liquid for the American readers to digest. I call the process “Yankification”. It is one of the few instances where I do not appreciate being “yanked”.
Not only do I have to go from Japanese to English, but then I have to sometimes go from English to American. What’s a lad to do? There is only so much about Americanisms that The Simpsons can teach me. For moral support in my time of need, I turned to someone else who is used to being Yankified… Mr. Harry Potter.
On average, Mr. Potter’s, his allies’, enemies’, or author’s turns of phrase are Yankified 80 times per novel when the books are republished for American release. These changes cleverly point out the minute differences of which I speak. For example, we’ve both had ‘wonky’ Yankified to ‘crooked’, which to a Commonwealth English speaker just isn’t the same; we’ve had “Minister for” edited to “Minister of”. (As in “Minister of Finance” instead of “Minister for Finance”… Is Finance one of those bizarre countries that only cartographers know?) One that always has me second guessing myself is the usage of group nouns with verbs. (Is it “Slytherin wins” or “Slytherin win”?) Just when I think I have grasped it, I realise that I have just used the British way… again… We’ve had “timetable” morphed into a “schedule” (pronounced with a harsh K sound to top it off)… but buses don’t have black books to write their tea (dinner) dates, so why would it be a “schedule” (this time “sh”, because I said it and there’s a bloody SH in it)? “Peckers up!” in America would encourage some rather crass behaviour, so in American Harry Potter it was written as “Spirits up!” Whereas, I still have a little chuckle when I hear someone say “fanny pack”.
I have once raised the hopes of many Americans while interpreting on a tour by promising them “lemonade” which should have been interpreted as a bottle of “lemon-lime”, I realised later. Also, I’ve seen one or two Americans squinting while obviously wracking to determine the tense of my sentence, ‘He had just got up when I called him,’ which is especially confusing to an American as they would have said “have gotten”. It could have been made even easier to understand if I had simply said, ‘He just got up when I called him.’ I’m assured by Americans, in general, that the first sentence is probably more grammatically correct, but it is simply not commonly used in American conversation.
With each eyebrow cocked, I learn how to generalise (z?) my vernacular. This all goes to pot if I hear some words, like 地下鉄, in Japanese, though. Should I say “subway”, “tube”, or “metro”? Should I use some kind of amalgamation, like “subetro” or “metwaybe”? Or when I hear 糖蜜 should I say “treacle” or “molasses”, or perhaps “trelasses”/”moeacle”? Nobody can please everybody, yeah (right)? Of course, I have no problem with either (pronounced “eye” not “ee” when I say it). I love the diversity. I only playfully gibe American English because I love my United Statian friends dearly. If we’re all in a foreign country, and I’m already doing the favour of translating to English, who should compromise (does this need a Z too?) the regional dialect? When Harry Potter’s charm is his Britishisms, does Americanisation (z) make sense? I ask you American, Canadian, British, Australian, New Zealander, South African, Irish, Indian, and any other English speakers: do you have the ultimate solution for me? Is there a way to keep my Down Under flavour (u?) without being misconstrued by my neighbours across the Pacific?
Awaiting your help,