The Rainbow Nation of South Africa truly is a unique crowd. We have our braais, sunny skies, traditional greetings, and words that are understood only by other Saffers - no matter which of the 11 national languages they might speak.
It's only natural that you'd want to blend some of that delicious Mzansi-flava into your writing, and we encourage it wholeheartedly. (Un?)Surprisingly, the exact dialect with which you write your book can have repercussions. Have you noticed the ENG-US button at the bottom of Word (and in most other word processing software?) Most people just shrug, thinking "Ugh, what's the difference? English is English, right?"
Not so fast! There's a big difference indeed and in this post, we will discuss the reasons why you should carefully choose the language of your manuscript.
Yes, we have previously written a post encouraging people to publish books in their language of choice. Let’s clarify, it's not the language we're concerned with here, but rather the specific dialect of that language. Your choice (or lack thereof) can have an impact on several aspects of your writing career, because English is NOT always English. Confusing, right?
Speak the language of your readers
You might have noticed several versions of English on your PC - English US, English UK, English AU being the most popular. Not only do South Africans pronounce words differently to Americans and the British, but there are grammatical differences. But it's really where the vocabulary and colloquialisms come in that it becomes interesting...
When you submit your book for editing without ensuring that you use a uniform dialect, be sure to pull on your big girl panties. You can't get your knickers in a knot when your editor corrects the UK-English instances of underwear to boxers to ensure your International audience understands it. These aren't just synonyms, people - they are important parts of geographical English dialects.
It's only when you spend a significant amount of time talking to an American that you really notice how different South African English is to ENG-US.
Here are some other surprises
- Americans don't use popcorn spice. They use seasoning, unless they want it hot - then they use curry spices or pepper.
- Americans only put their feet in boots. Their groceries and everything else goes in the trunk.
- They don't stop at robots, except when they go to Disney. But they still obey traffic lights.
- Mince is a verb. They only eat ground beef, but mainly turkey.
See how easily confusion can set in?
These are just a few examples of how your book might be misinterpreted when you don't bear your audience in mind while writing your best-seller.
So how should you choose your dialect?
It's simple really. Consider the topic about which you are writing. Is it of international interest?
Of course, a few South Africans are interested in American football, so one might assume a few Americans are interested in South African rugby. But where will your book about new and improved rugby rules and training methods sell better? Logic says South Africa. If a few Americans buy your book, they will probably know enough about South Africa to excuse (and even enjoy) your talk about naartjies and biltong.
If your main motivation for writing a book is to create a second income stream, you want to appeal to the biggest possible audience.
Not to be ruthless, but go with the money here. Make sure your language is understood by the audience who will be paying you. This is why most authors understand the most lucrative language choice: American English. Everyone "gets" it.
If your target audience is South Africans, then go crazy with the colloquialisms and local flavour in order to appeal to as many local book buyers as possible. You also have to remember that the audience is small, so set a realistic price and related targets.
Be sure to set your preferred language on your word processor before sending your book to the editor and also specify it in your editing request to help reduce unnecessary to-ing and fro-ing.