Thursday, 7 February 2008

On IT regional dialects

A correspondent refers me to The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, from which he quotes: 'the influence of US films and television has led to a considerable passive understanding of much American English vocabulary in Britain, and some of this has turned into active use, especially among younger people.' He asks: 'What about the effect of information technology? Do there still exist differences between American and British English in terms of using IT terminology?'

It's an interesting question, and on the whole I see very little sign of differences between British and American English in internet terminology (other than the occasional spelling difference). I suppose this is because the internet by its nature is a levelling medium: a new usage on one side of the Atlantic or the other is quickly made available to all parts of the internet world, and its point of origination becomes unimportant. It is in the nature of scientific terminology to be general, in any case.

The terminological differences I've collected over the years are more related to specific schools of thought (such as the slang used by different IT labs or different software companies) rather than to anything specifically regional. Indeed, it would be impossible to tell whether a new term in, say, contextual advertising, arose from the British branch of Yahoo! or the US branch, or any other. (I am reminded of the way scribal conventions spread in Anglo-Saxon England: scholars now think that several forms previously thought of as dialect features can be traced back to individual monasteries rather than to geographical regions.)

My correspondent also asks for some research references on this point. I don't know of any. When I was researching my Glossary of Textspeak and Netspeak (2004), I went into dozens of sites looking for regional uses, and found nothing, apart from the occasional slang item (which related to a specific institution, as mentioned above).

So I'd be interested to hear of any candidates for US vs US differences, as far as IT terminology goes.


Eric Armstrong said...

I subscribe to a screencast about the mac (a form of video blog) by Don MacAlister, who is Liverpuddlian, I believe. I am Canadian. Occasionally he will say a term with a UK accent that catches my ear. Today I heard him talking about a "beta" test. He pronounced it as "beet-a", where I've always heard it pronounced as "bait-a". I've also heard him use, I believe, Gigabyte to begin like the word "jiggle", not as I would say it, like "giggle". Are those examples what you were looking for?

DC said...

I was rather thinking of dialect rather than accent differences - in this case, differences of technical vocabulary. There will always be differences of pronunciation. Yes, the 'beeta' pronunciation is typically UK, though 'baita' is rapidly encoraching - and in fact I use 'baita' all the time now. The normal UK pronunciation of gigabyte is as in 'giggle', with the 'jiggle' variant listed as an alternative in the pronouncing dictionaries, but I rarely hear it these days.

Mike Smith said...

Have you seen the section on "Commonwealth" jargon in Eric Raymond's Jargon File?

This discusses US and British (+ Australian etc) differences in jargon among geeks.

Rudi Somerlove said...

Mmmmmm-One of my pet hates is the word 'router' regularly pronounced by everyone it seems BUT British people like the common woodworking tool, rather than 'root-er'.

Now in Austrailia I can see that it would be useful to pronounce the word in this way to prevent smirks and giggles everytime it's mentioned due to the word 'root' having an alternative verb form there.

But when I hear an American say it I always shudder and correct them. Usually I receive a blank stare, until I point out the famous American song 'Route 66' (always pronounced as 'root').

Personally I think it's important that the word 'router' is pronounced differently (though spelled the same) for the different devices. That way there is clarity and people will always know wether you are talking about a woodworking tool or a piece of networking kit. It could be very confusing for a Networking Carpenter!!

DC said...

Thanks for the reference, Mike. I hadn't seen it.

Martin Owen said...

Words to do with mobile telephony - which are now in wide usage do differ.

My mobile
My cell
My handy (German)

To text vs To SMS

In times past, the computer languge LOGO was log-o in the US - but here in the UK many used low-go.

As far as routers are concerned its function is to route things - so it should not have been a problem -we get our kicks on Route 66 after all. Maybe someone in cisco just didn't understand.(It clearly has nothing to do with Welsh performance against England, Scotland and Italy - and with fortune- Ireland and France too!)

DC said...

My original question wasn't about pronunciation - there are lots of differences there - but real differences of vocabulary. Mobile and cell are certainly an example, though usage has begun to overlap considerably. I hear cell etc quite a lot in the UK these days. And there has never been a clear regional difference between text and sms, I think largely because the US came to texting so late. Handy was an interesting development in Germany, indeed. But what really interests me is whether there are lexical examples operating at a more detailed level.

Anonymous said...

The only example of a real vocabulary difference I can think of is mouse pad (US) versus mouse mat (UK/Europe).

Also, somebody told me that an exclamation mark followed by an equal sign (!=) is pronounced as "bang equal" by US programmers, while I've never heard that anywhere in Europe. Here we just say "not equal" or some such. This character sequence denotes inequality in many programming languages.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

I haven't noticed any differences.

Interesting about "baita", though. I've only ever heard it as a US pronunciation, through a variety of podcasts I listen too.

I, in the UK, still say "beet-a". I'd be interested to know why you now say "bait-a", David :) Do you just prefer the sound, or is it now automatic to you, without making a choice change?

PS: I've been commenting a lot on older posts the last two days, but don't want to over-do it :D

DC said...

I guess it's because, when I first got involved with the software business, most of the people I was talking to used 'baita'. But I readily accommodate. If I found myself in a group where everyone used 'beeta', I would too. Nothing wrong with having more then one pronunciation for a word. I've got several pairs like that: I say both 'shedule' and 'skedule', for instance - again, depending on who I'm with. And my mixed regional background allows me both 'example' and 'exahmple'.

Anonymous said...

Some characters have names that are more widely used in some regions than others. for example, IME in Britain, # is called "hash". "Pound" and "pound sign" are common in America, which misleads us in Britain where "pound sign" means £.

There are also various regional preferences for metasyntactic names. These are names to use in situations where arbitrary names are called for. In America, foo, bar, baz... are common. Foo is first choice, and has a long history. It seems that bar was chosen for second metasyntactic name so as to allude to the acronym FUBAR when foo and bar are used together. In Britain, "fred" and "bill" are common.

DC said...

Interesting topic, arbitrary names, covering such expressions as John Doe, Tom Dick and Harry, and so on. Very little done on this, I think.

Jonathan Wadman said...

According to today's Independent, what is known in the UK as a memory stick is called a thumb drive in the US.