Ow gov’nor, me words!

Let’s talk spelling.  It’s tough being an English English speaker in Japan.  Thanks to America’s supreme cultural dominance, the default form of English words in Japan are the American spellings. The wrong spellings.

America’s continual angsty, adolescent attempts to proclaim its rebellious streak against England via spelling are bad news waiting to happen.  Japan is like the kid who only half-willingly agrees to go and smoke cigarettes and read the dictionary with America behind the international bike sheds.  How is it to know any better that ‘defence’ should really have a ‘c’, not an ‘s’?  America swaggers around spelling ‘centre’ as ‘center’ in a less French-looking, more incorrect way, devil-may-care.   Japan’s obviously been led on to the wrong side of the tracks, but it’s a good kid, deep down.  It’s the Ponyboy of  the international schoolyard.

I want to help.

Although I work in a Japanese office, I often write reports and presentations for international audiences.  I’m one of the only native English speakers in the office, and I often need to get a Japanese coworker to proof my work for technical accuracy and silly typing mistakes.  It saddens me that conversations like this need to occur:

“I think you spelled this word wrong.”, says my sincerely helpful co-worker.
“Oh, which word?”
“It’s not a big mistake, but it looks like you made a typo in color.”
“No… that spelling is correct.  I’m pretty sure I know how to spell colour.”
“Then what is this extra ‘u’ doing in here?”
“Ah, that’s the Queen’s English”, I say, smiling.
“The Queen?”
“Of England.”
“Is that how she spells color?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes.  America is wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.”
“But why would you want to type an extra letter when you don’t have to?”
“Well, that’s just correct, you see.  You can’t just drop the ‘k’ out of ‘kick’ because it’s seemingly unnecessary.”
“But all the programming languages I know use ‘color’.  Lots of international specifications use ‘color’ too.”
“Well, they’re wrong too, but it’s too late now.  Anyway, the important thing is that I’m right.”
“Okay.  You’re the native speaker.”

More reading.

“Oh, but you’ve made another mistake.  I think ‘visualise’ is spelled with a ‘z’.”

This has happened many times.  The saddest thing is that to avoid problems such as this, I’ve given up on all that is right and pure.  I’m beyond helping anyone.  I just automatically Americanise Americanize my spelling.  I run a US English spell checker. Each time my fingers automatically adorn my words with Anglo-friendly ‘u’s and ‘s’es, the tell-tale red underline comes up.

I don’t know what I’ve become.  I tried to cross to the other side of the tracks to bring them back to the light, but I only got stuck there myself.

If you need me, I’ll be behind the bike sheds, sitting on my motorcycle.  Of shame.


5 thoughts on “Ow gov’nor, me words!

  1. Oh god, I feel your pain. My company is Belgium owned but is really pan-European. For this reason the official company language is “English”… sorta. First, they all spell like ‘mericans and all the software is set to US English by default. Second, because most people in the company have English as a second or third language they all speak to each other in a mutant form where all the “false friends” end up being used in their Latin rather than English sense and they all just reinforce this usage in each other.

    So, in Euroclear English:
    Important = Big/Large
    Actually = I am…. Starts almost every sentence and just sounds so condescending
    Normally = They use it when we would say “if everything goes according to plan…” or “hopefully…” Normal to them is a desired state, rather than a likely one. This one is bad because it is almost right, but just grates on my nerves and it is very hard to explain to them why they are so wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Then there is the arbitrary creation of new words by attaching a random suffix.. anyway, I should really not complain as I am but an ignorant monoglot but some of these are like nails down a chalk board to me.

  2. Heh, I really enjoyed reading your response. I’m in the odd position of sympathising with both sides here. I sympathise with you, of course – I think that usage of “normally” would especially drive me crazy.

    On the other hand, when I’m speaking Japanese, I’m pretty sure something similar to what you describe is in effect.

    With a more limited menu of vocabulary choices, I just go with whatever word I know that’s in the ballpark. People are likely too polite to correct every slightly strange word selection I make, so I can only assume that what I said was mostly correct.

    When I’m speaking Japanese, my brain, trying to assemble words as fluently as possible, follows those paths which offer least resistance, which naturally includes my frequently mistaken, uncorrected words. Eventually, I’ve given birth to a type of bizarro Japanese, where everything is the same, but the nuances on many words are slightly different. Luckily, the population of speakers of this dialect stands now (and hopefully forever) at one.

  3. Tell all your coworkers (note – not cowworkers) that for a good lesson in the English language then they cannot go past the film “The Expendables”. It has the finest english-speaking actors of our generation: Jason Statham, Sly Stallone and of course Dolph Lundgren (with a cameo from the Governator). Defnitely a Chookas film.

    • I’d forgotten about The Expendables! I agree that it should be an excellent linguistic showcase with explosions and punching, so I’m definitely going to get along and see that. August in Oz? No word of a Japanese release date yet, though.

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