Multilingual London: mosaic of “Englishes”

Although we tend to talk about English as if it is something monolithic, there are numerous Englishes. Tune into the conversations happening around you in a café or on the Tube, and you’ll make out a mosaic of variants.

So claims an interesting article entitled “Language can’t stay still – just listen to London” in London’s Evening Standard earlier this week. The author Henry Hitchings has just writen a book on “proper English” and relays a story which will sound familiar to many Londoners:
Continue reading “Multilingual London: mosaic of “Englishes””

Burns night: supper, poetry and an ode to a haggis

As a Scot – and an Ayrshire Scot at that – Robert Burns and his poetry have always been important to me and I’ll be raising a glass to his ‘immortal memory’ tonight as Scots the world over celebrate Burns night.

The unofficial national bard of Scotland (and voted the greatest ever Scot in a TV poll), Burns was by far the most important poet to write in the Scots dialect. Continue reading “Burns night: supper, poetry and an ode to a haggis”

Translation: to Bengali or not to Bengali?

Our production manager Sanjoy Roy highlights a common confusion about Bengali usage

Brick Lane Bengali street sign
The Bengali language is the language of Bengal, right? Well, not wrong – but it’s not as simple as that. In the UK there’s quite a lot of confusion about what Bengali is, so I’ll try to clarify that here.

First, let me illustrate the problem. I live in Whitechapel, in East London, which has one of the highest densities of Bengalis in the country. My father, who was born in Dhaka and grew up in Kolkata, is a native Bengali speaker. But when he comes to visit me in Whitechapel, he can’t understand what the local Bengalis are saying. Yet he has no problem reading the shop signs and street names written in Bengali. What’s going on? Continue reading “Translation: to Bengali or not to Bengali?”

How would you answer “Fit like ma loon?”

Me I stood and let my jaw drop, wondering what language it was. In fact it turned out the question was in English. Or at least the variant of it spoken in the north east of Scotland. I was asked the question when introducing myself to a family I was to stay with in a small town on the Spey Valley.

As a Scot myself, growing up in Ayrshire, I had become aware that there was lots of common language there that completely bamboozled English friends. But I hadn’t realised there was such a variation of vocabulary within Scotland itself. After all it is a very small nation which has two distinct languages – English and Gaelic. And while I had occasionally found some accents a bit difficult to get, I had never really had any trouble with understanding vocabulary.

Later in life when I got involved in the business of translation I began to see just how much these regional variations could matter. Spanish is spoken is Spain itself but also throughout a large part of South America. But that doesn’t mean that what makes sense in Madrid will be equally understood in Buenos Aires. Likewise with Portuguese. A Brazilian friend, who always thought he spoke perfect Portuguese, found himself struggling to be understood on holiday in the Algarve.

But I digress. Back to my predicament when meeting my landlady in the north east of Scotland. It turns out – as I came to realise during my stay there – that what I should have replied is:

“Nae sae bad quinie, fit like yasel?”

Or in plain English she asked me “How are you sir” and I should have replied “Not bad, how are you madam?”