English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world and the preferred choice for many multinational businesses – so, more often than not, global publications are written in English.
Though more people speak Mandarin or Spanish as their first language, the British Council estimates as many as two billion people will be studying English by 2020. That’s around one in every four people on the planet.
In China, there are currently more people learning English than in any other country. So it’s likely to remain the lingua franca for internal communicators around the world, for the near future at least.
Yet differences in meaning, pronunciation and use of words abound. Grammatical preferences and dislikes vary enormously too, as I discovered while producing a pocket guide to the US city where a client is holding its global conference.
With our local and global audiences in mind, we chose a US English house style and I drafted a style guide for the guide to ensure consistency on both sides of the pond.
Ss were replaced with Zs, -RE word endings became -ERs, Us and additional Ls were diligently removed in adherence to Webster’s dictionary rather than Collins. Even so, British and North American colleagues working on the guide each had their own distinctive writing styles, ways of expression and grammatical bugbears.
There were heated discussions about capitalisation, the correct use of single or double quotations, whether those quote marks should be positioned inside or outside punctuation marks, what to italicise and the use of the Oxford (or serial) comma.
Some battles were won, others lost. But we found common ground in our shared passion for words, even if we sometimes disagreed on how best to use them!
As Oscar Wilde once wrote: ‘We really have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.’
English, like all languages, will continue to evolve. But whatever style you adopt in your own publications, make sure you’re consistent and clear.