Is Google Automatically "Correcting" English Spelling?

All the buzz surrounding Google today is concerning the fact that they’re attempting to play hard ball with the Chinese government, and the havoc caused by the imminence of the caffeine update.

What only a few souls have noticed is that Google are attempting to force American spellings onto an unsuspecting British populace.

 

Google UK. The whole point of it, is that it provides information tailored to UK searchers. So it’d make sense that it defaults to the local language, right?

It certainly does in France and Germany. If you put “chien” into Google.fr, it doesn’t return a comment asking you if you meant “dog”. For some reason it doesn’t treat British English in the same way.

Imagine my surprise when I clicked on a Tweet this morning that took me to this page:

The searcher asked for “search engine optimisation”. All those words are highlighted, so they are in Google’s dictionary and recognised as words. So why did Google return a search on the query “search engine optimisation”?

This isn’t an isolated incident either. I tried a few single word searches. “Colonisation” for example works fine, But when I started to search for terms with more than one word, the defaulting to Americanisms reared its star spangled head.

 

So what does this mean? Are Google having trouble with their automatic spellchecker, or is it something more sinister? I wouldn’t for a moment entertain the notion that Google are attempting to create some sort of linguistic hegemony, but is it possible that they’re working to some sort of sinister agenda?

I’m not the only person to notice the creeping Americanisation, but there’s no concensus on why it’s been done. Dodgy spell checking? Cultural imperialism? Search volumes?

I’ll leave that with you…

23 Comments comments for "Is Google Automatically “Correcting” English Spelling?"

  1. briantist says:

    What a strupid post. “Z” spellings are British English – they are in the OED.

    #fail

  2. Simon says:

    Just glad they don’t change ‘Colour’ to ‘Color’. The day they do that i’m off to Bing…… although just went to check that and Bing do the same. Where’s a Britain to search?!

    .-= Simon´s last blog ..Measure what matters in 2010 =-.

  3. I think this is something that Bing does better than Google. Bing goes for, “Results are included for search engine optimization. Show just the results for search engine optimisation.” Makes more sense to include both that to insist on one or the other.
    .-= Jonathan Beeston´s last blog ..Google UK’s Q3 revenues in GBP =-.

  4. Briantist, the vast majority of UK publishers use -ise endings. Although -ize isn’t incorrect, the norm is -ise this side of the pond.

    I like this new word ‘strupid’. Like stupid, but with overtones of strudel and strumpet – both sound quite tasty.
    .-= Tom Albrighton´s last blog ..Guardian Careers copywriting Q&A this Friday =-.

  5. Roger Davies says:

    I agree, this story actually has me slightly more worried than the battle of Google vs. China. At least I know the outcome will have little effect on me here, but start desecrating and cheapening our English language and culture and I will get mad!

    I have a feeling this may be temporary, and the result (or in connection with) the Caffeine update? Let’s hope. Failing that, start a Facebook campaign!!
    .-= Roger Davies´s last blog ..Google Considers Stopping Service in China Due to GMail Hack =-.

    • Andrew Nattan says:

      Caffeine was my first thought, but then it cropped up on Bing too. Now it’s strange that the same issue would happen on two search engines anyway, but when it’s concerning spelling? What odds on both companies using third party spell checking software?

  6. You may be a victim of googleherding whether intentional or unintentional. England once was the most powerful country in the world, but currently, the USA has the title and can dictate the way English words are spelled. ;^) Soon, Chinglish will be the norm as it is in Silicon Valley.

  7. Ben Locker says:

    On the plus side, Google will give you results with ‘isation’ and ‘ised’ for ‘bastardisation’ and ‘bastardised’. So there’s hope.
    .-= Ben Locker´s last blog ..The Best Copywriter in England (i.e. not a woman) =-.

  8. Ben Locker says:

    I seem to recall reading somewhere that the top-drawer UK publishers use ‘ize’ rather than ‘ise’. I suppose I ought to Google it, but the barriers might be insurmountable.

    Originally, I think, ‘-ize’ was appended to words with a Greek root.
    .-= Ben Locker´s last blog ..The Best Copywriter in England (i.e. not a woman) =-.

  9. Nick Wilsdon says:

    @Briantist

    You’re partly right, -ize endings are found in British English from the 16th century *however* the ending has now been dropped in favour of -ise. The Times newspaper was the last to change, dropping the -ize ending in 1991. The -ize ending is now no longer found in any British newspapers.

    Language evolves and it connected to culture/society. For example, calling someone ‘gay’ 50 yrs ago would indicate they were happy, it had no connection to homosexuality. There is plenty of evidence that British culture has evolved now to see the -ise ending as correct and the -ize ending as American. Cultural usage of language trumps historical usage.

    It’s quite right for Brits to request that Google respects our culture and current English usage, rather than forcing us to accept the US interpretation.
    .-= Nick Wilsdon´s last blog ..Google Defines Search Space Not ICANN =-.

    • Andrew Nattan says:

      Thanks for the background Nick – I’ve learned something!

      SEO Chicks are running a good piece on this too, if anyone is interested?

  10. Sean Carlos says:

    While I haven’t gone directly to the source, it appears that you should be using ize in the UK: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_and_British_English_spelling_differences#-ise.2C_-ize ; that you don’t is a different issue!

    @Nick Wilsdon: calling someone ‘gay’ today still means happy, depending on who is doing the calling. Ref: Tom Robinson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHG2LJGfEdw
    .-= Sean Carlos´s last blog ..Google giving up on China (for now). Bing, what say thou? =-.

  11. Nick Wilsdon says:

    @Sean Carlos

    Both -ize and -ise were used in British English. One explanation given for us moving to the -ise ending was to differentiate ourselves from our US cousins. I’d guess the US went with -ize ending due to the influence of the various spelling reform movements. This is an example of language evolving with a society. The Brits no more “should” be using -ize, than the Americans “should” be using -ise.

    I’ve seen American commentators suggest that either ending is acceptable in the UK as long as you are consistant. I assure you that -ize endings are considered incorrect in the UK, and also in Australia.

    Regarding the current meaning of ‘gay’ meaning ‘happy’, I’m not quite sure Tom Robinson is the best evidence for your case. Maybe this is what you were looking for? 😉

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2s13X66BFd8
    .-= Nick Wilsdon´s last blog ..Google Defines Search Space Not ICANN =-.

  12. Andrew Nattan says:

    Thanks Bob. I’ve seen lots of posts over the past 24 hours saying that things seem to have reverted. Perhaps this was a temporary glitch, and we all got worked up over nothing?

  13. j e pattinson says:

    The Times certainly used to use the alternative spelling ‘connexion’, however these days the spelling ‘connection’ is almost universal in the UK.

  14. Mark says:

    Yes, and sometimes it’s frustrating. The semantics are off sometimes.
    .-= Mark´s last blog ..Car Loan Calculator =-.

  15. Funny how something as simple as spelling causes so much hassle. My son’s school teacher (hes 8) told me not to worry about his spelling as they have “spell checkers” nowadays. I didn’t ask her how would he know whether the spelling suggested by the computer was the right one!

  16. Straygoat says:

    No point fighting it – Americanisation/Americanization is inevitable. I’m already forced to write in US English for the French company that owns my British employer. Resistance is admirable, but futile.

  17. StarryMountain says:

    I think that this is interesting what Google is doing. It could simply be that the search engine finds that there are more results with the spelling “ize” when the search is coupled with multiple words; therefore, it assumes, since they mean the same thing, that you would rather have more results with a different spelling than less with your own spelling, but of course giving you the option to stick with your original spelling. That may be the case. Some words in the United States have multiple spellings, and I have found that if you type one of those spellings in a phrase it will sometimes do the same thing. I have always assumed that the above explanation was why.

    Most people in the US know that in England they use “ise” for the words we use “ize” on, but in the US, “ise” endings are considered incorrect. In school, you will be marked down for it. Just so ya know, in case you didn’t. =)

  18. David says:

    Although set for UK spellings I still find attempts to impose US spelling. If you add the word to the dictionary that solves the problem. Howerver the question remains why do Google not sort it out?

  19. David says:

    It’s a year since I commented on this. Since then I have added countless words to the dictionary and seem to have cracked it.

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