Mid-Atlantic English: Which Mid-Atlantic English?

When it comes to spelling, diction and punctuation, Dutch people who write 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.

At the SENSE 2018 Conference in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, I gave a presentation on ‘Mid-Atlantic’ English as a guiding principle in the creation of style guides for European companies that would prefer to navigate somewhere in between UK English and US English conventions. My presentation was intended primarily for translators, editors and copywriters who produce English texts for companies and organizations based in non-English-speaking countries. SENSE, the Society of English-language professionals in the Netherlands, hosts an international conference every other year.   

My presentation discussed the notion of ‘Mid-Atlantic’ English (a term I resurrected in this case for writing rather than pronunciation) as a reasonably sophisticated, hybrid form of English for use in relatively formal, international contexts. I focused on the level and type of written language used in business/finance, science and international-development organizations, as so many of my own clients (like those of other SENSE members) tend to operate in those fields. While I considered the ‘international English selections’ that that Professor Pam Peters proposed in The Cambridge Guide to English Usage (2012), my talk went beyond differences in spelling and diction to review punctuation and even certain grammatical forms that are commonly held to be typical of either UK or US English.

Establishing the common ground between UK and US English is easy enough. Choosing from among the different options where the two ‘supervarieties’ 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.