Friday, January 12, 2007
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It's time once again for one of my regular visits to the differences between UK and US English. For a while I was thinking about being disheartened, after paying a number of visits to the amazing blog separated by a common language ("Observations on British and American English by an American linguist in the UK"). After all, she writes nicely coherent posts, all focused on the topic of interesting UK/US English differences, while I only occasionally visit the topic, and tend to ramble off the topic at the drop of the hat (or at the sight of something shiny). Anyway, today's topic is related to numbers.

I've always been interested in numbers, obsessively so. As an introverted, socially inept youngster I spent quite a lot of time counting (sometimes counting cars, or steps, or names in a telephone book, or sometimes not counting anything but just counting subvocally to see how far I could get [some of these activities continue to the present day]) and organizing things by fours (a special number, you know [please disregard any suggestions to the contrary]). And my memory is still full of numbers I don't need to remember any more (phone numbers all the way back, locker combinations, six-digit product identification codes from a job I left more than 10 years ago, and on and on and on and on). So it's very strange when a simple difference between US and UK English causes me real trouble with numbers. And I'm not talking about the fairly well-known "billion problem". No, this is much simpler: British speakers, when reciting a sequence of digits like telephone numbers, account numbers and so on (I don't know whether it also happens when people are listing post-decimal digits for some reason, but I bet it does), are quite prone to use the word "double" instead of repeating a digit (and less often, to use the word "treble" [triple] when three digits are all the same). As in the examples on this "Telephoning in English" site. At least to me, this seems very uncommon in US English (when reciting a string of digits, anyway). For some reason, I'm thrown for a loop whenever this happens. And not just when I'm trying to hold a number just long enough to write it down, but even when I'm writing digits as I hear them. I have to direct some attention toward converting "double eight" into two eights, which disrupts my attention/memory just enough that I'm sure to miss out on (or just "miss out" in UK English, I think) one of the following digits.

I should note that this doesn't always happen. 999 (UK version of 911) is pronounced "nine nine nine", and telephone numbers beginning with 0800 are "oh-eight-hundred".

Friday, January 12, 2007 5:38:38 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |   |  Related posts:
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