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Editing Tips: A Rough Guide to English Dialects

Dialects – i.e., forms of a language specific to one location or group of people – come in various forms, from local (e.g., Lancastrian, Texan) to national or regional (e.g., British English, North American English). And English has a lot of dialects!

Our Becoming a Proofreader course covers British, Australian, and American English. These are the three main dialects used internationally, but there are many other English dialects you might encounter as a proofreader. In this post, we look at a few examples.

Dialects and Proofreading

Why are dialects relevant to proofreading? Simply because English dialects often differ in various ways, especially in terms of spelling, punctuation, and vocabulary.

These differences can be subtle, such as with British and Australian English, where formal writing conventions are broadly the same. In fact, many English dialects from around the world are based on British English. This is due to the influence of the British Empire, which colonized many countries and spread use of English in the process.

In these cases, the differences between dialects are typically most noticeable in terms of vocabulary, especially when it comes to informal collocations and slang.

Sometimes, though, the differences are more extensive, such as the spelling differences between British and American English in words like “colour/color” and “centre/center.”

As a proofreader, then, you need to check which dialect your client is using before you start working on a document. You can then adapt your edits accordingly.

A map of countries in which English is either an official language or widely spoken.
A map of countries in which English is either an official language or widely spoken.
(Image: Sulez raz/wikimedia)

Most of the time, clients will specify one of the major dialects covered in the Becoming A Proofreader course (i.e., British, Australian, or American English). But if your client asks for you to work in another English dialect, you’ll need to know how it works.

To give you a sense of what to look for, we’ll look at a few examples below.

New Zealand English

New Zealand English draws on British and Australian English. In standard, formal writing, then, you can usually follow the rules of British English when proofreading.

However, there are a couple of notable exceptions to this, including:

  • Like Australian English, New Zealand English almost always favours “-ise” over “-ize” in word endings (whereas either is acceptable in UK English).
  • New Zealand English uses the spelling “fiord” instead of “fjord.”

In terms of vocabulary, New Zealand English has influences from British English (e.g., duvet instead of doona or comforter), Australian English (e.g., ute instead of pickup truck), and American English (e.g., eggplant rather than aubergine).

It also boasts many New Zealandisms and words borrowed from the native Maori language, which are especially common in conversational or creative writing.

Canadian English

Canadian English combines aspects of British and American English, notably:

  • In terms of spelling, Canadian English follows British English in most respects, but it favours “-ize” word endings, and uses “-e-” instead of “-ae-” in words like “encyclopedia.” It also leans toward US spelling on words where there is a strong commercial or cultural link between Canada and the US, such as with automotive terms (e.g., tire, not tyre).
  • With a few exceptions, Canadian English tends to favour US-style punctuation.
  • Canadian English combines British and US vocabulary. It leans toward US words more often, especially in areas where there are strong links between the countries (e.g., automotive words again, like using hood instead of bonnet). It also boasts a number of Canadianisms.

Conventions can also vary in different parts of Canada, with US spellings and words more widespread in areas closer to the USA. This variation makes flexibility key when proofreading, with internal consistency often the most important factor.

Indian English

While it was originally introduced by the British Empire, English is now an official language in India and widely used in areas such as business and education. In fact, India is only behind the United States in terms of its total number of English speakers.

Broadly, Indian English is based on British English and follows UK spelling, grammar, and vocabulary conventions in many respects. However, there are two key differences:

  • Indian English often uses its own numbering system, which differs in both terminology and the use of commas as dividers between groups of digits.
  • English speakers often use words drawn from other Indian languages (e.g., brinjal rather than aubergine or eggplant) and Indianisms unique to Indian English.

These Indianisms can be tricky for proofreaders, as they may not seem like fluent English to those unfamiliar with the dialect. “Do the needful,” for example, might sound unusual to someone accustomed to UK or US English. But this phrase (meaning “do what is required”) is common in Indian English, even in formal business writing.

In cases like this, then, you may need to gauge whether the usage is suitable for the intended audience. If not, you can leave a comment to explain the issue.

Proofreading Different Dialects

As a proofreader, you have the chance to work with clients from all over the world. This can be a great thing, but it does mean you need to be aware of dialects!

Knowing the differences between UK and US English is a great start, as many other dialects draw heavily on one or the other, or use a mix of conventions from both. But, as this post has shown, other dialects have their own distinctive features, too.

Thus, if you’re proofreading a document in an unfamiliar dialect, make sure to check any words or phrases that seem out of place, especially with less formal writing.

And to learn the key differences between UK, US, and Australian English, you can study the Becoming A Proofreader course. Sign up for a free trial today to find out more.

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