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Mixed Letters

How Sticking To The Rules May Muddle Your Meaning

The English language, while a thing of beauty, is also greatly complicated by a web of rules. If English is your second language, you will have spent many hours memorising not just vocabulary and unconventional spelling formats, but also the language’s numerous quirky grammar rules.

English as a language is in constant evolution, gently shaped and altered by the ordinary civilians who use it everyday. Elegance and meaning are favoured over Latin based rules, creating a pick and mix approach to rule conformity.

As a result, someone strictly abiding by the rules when writing in English can sound unnatural. Breaking the rules can sometimes be necessary to get your message across.

English: An Evolutionary Beast

If we could jump in a time machine and travel back to the eve of the 20th century, written correspondence and daily conversation would sound very different to our use of language today. One hundred years ago, in the heat of argument, one might mutter “I can only say that I differ in opinion”. It’s hard to imagine a disagreement ending quite so eloquently now.

For better or worse, there is no doubt that the vocabulary and structure of English remains in continuous development.

This pattern of change typically begins with the spoken word. A word is used incorrectly, or mis-positioned in a sentence, but as this new use fits well with the intended meaning, the trend catches on. Over time the ‘correct’ form is forgotten and the new form takes over.

Take the word ‘decimate’. Its original meaning was to kill one in every ten soldiers in a legion as punishment for that legion’s rebellion. Today it is used to refer to the death or destruction of a large proportion of something. Its new use helps users of English communicate a concept clearly and as a result the new use is widespread.

Rules Are Made To Be Broken

Whether you should bend, break or completely disregard the rules depends entirely on the audience you intend to reach. If they are likely to consider your use of a word or unconventional grammar structure to be wrong, then it is wrong. On the other hand your text needs to connect with your audience and to do that you need to be speaking the same language. If your market describes your gadget as ‘hot’ regardless of its temperature, then go ahead and embrace their use of the word.

Businesses Beware

When translating into English the primary focus should be on conveying the intended meaning, rather than pedantically sticking to the rules.

Our language localisation service will thoroughly check your text to ensure you are saying what you mean and mean what you say. With our help you can communicate with your audience in a clear, authentic way, using their language, in a way that is comfortable and familiar to them.

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