Sunday, 10 June



Tom Johnston, Mid-Atlantic English: Which mid-Atlantic English?


When it comes to spelling, diction and punctuation, Dutch people writing in English tend to be consistently inconsistent in their mixture of British and North American conventions. The same could be said – though obviously to a lesser extent – for younger Brits. As English continues to evolve in different directions within the English-speaking world, the rest of the world could benefit from a set of guidelines that focus on the current common ground between the two ‘supervarieties’ of English.

This presentation discusses the concept of ‘Mid-Atlantic’ English (a term resurrected here for writing rather than pronunciation) as a reasonably sophisticated, hybrid form of English for use in relatively formal, international contexts. I will focus on the type of written language used in business/finance, science and international development organizations, as so many of our clients tend to be operating in those fields. I will certainly refer to the ‘international English selections’ that Pam Peters has put forward in The Cambridge Guide to English Usage (2012), but my talk will go beyond spelling and diction to consider punctuation and even certain grammatical forms that are commonly held to be typical of either UK or US English.

Establishing the common ground is easy enough. Choosing from among the different options where the two varieties diverge is more difficult. The character of one client organization and that of its audience may call for a style sheet with a slightly different ‘Mid-Atlantic’ selection of words and conventions than one developed for another type of client. Multiple bespoke ‘Englishes’ could result, none of which are strictly UK or strictly US, but all of which are practical solutions for carefully formulated texts written by well-educated non-native speakers.

This presentation will discuss how to make such a selection: how to create an effective Mid-Atlantic English. It is intended primarily for translators, editors and copywriters who produce English texts for companies and organizations based in non-English-speaking countries.


About the presenter

Tom JohnstonBorn and raised in the United States, Tom Johnston has called Amsterdam home since 1985. In need of a job after getting his PhD in Old Frisian Philology in 1998, he began as an English editor and Dutch-to-English translator at Dutch consulting firm Berenschot. Since 2001 he has been giving workshops on writing effectively in English — initially as an offshoot of his editing practice — to professionals from all over the world (primarily in the fields of science, business/finance and international development). Besides running Johnston Text & Training (founded in 2003), he also teaches 3rd-year Bachelor’s students of Translation at ITV Hogeschool (since 2015).