Reflections on languagePosted on December 12, 2013
In my business, there is a myth that you can have a single taxonomy, or a single site structure and search terms, for the entire world. It’s a fantasy that comes from denial; it’s easier to believe that the easiest solution is possible, because the alternative feels like a lot of unfamiliar type of work.
Having moved from Canada to the UK should be a no-brainer. Canadian spelling is closer to British spelling than to US spelling, and we’re both part of the Commonwealth, so share certain cultural histories. There are some obvious differences, like boot and trunk (of a car), jumpers and sweaters (pull-overs), spanner and wrench (tools), Royal Mail and Canada Post (postal services). But it goes so much deeper than that.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned first hand, it’s how regional terminology can be, and how much knowing the right language affects success of a transaction. Part of a move means great disruption to one’s social circle, so I wanted to look for an activity group. My searches turned up very little, but when a long-time UK resident did a search, he came up with lots of results. Who knew that “walking” is “rambling”? Or that “clubs and societies” would be how to search for the equivalent of meet-ups? (Not that Oakham has either, mind you. I think the population is too small to have groups, and the average age of residents too high to have an internet presence.)
I can only wonder how many other ways I’ve missed the boat, so to speak, because my Canadian vocabulary is too far off from that of the UK. No wonder my search for “garage sales” only turns up “garages for sale” (I still don’t know the right term), and I need to remember that a “thrift shop” is a “charity shop” here.
I’ve been invited to a black-tie ball, and so have been looking for a gown. It’s been a nightmare. Holiday wear = cruise wear, fancy dress = costumes, party dress = cocktail dress, occasion wear = cocktail gown. It took a lot of sleuthing to track down the right search terms. I would have been more motivated to look if I didn’t happen to have something in my wardrobe that will do in a pinch. But what happens when you make an assumption so stop looking (it doesn’t exist; I’ll look elsewhere; I’ll ask someone and go where they say; I’ll do a drive-by and stop wherever I find something).
Next client who claims that there can be a single site structure or language for all sites will get a ticket to another country, where they’ll be left to figure out How Things Work.