In advance of a new radio series next week, one of the WorldAccent team takes a personal view of the ever-changing English language.
It is odd to think that some of the words we use in our everyday lives once had completely different meanings, like ‘awful’ being used to describe things that were ‘worthy of awe’, or ‘nice’ (now the archetypal British compliment) originally meaning ‘silly, foolish or simple.’ Continue reading “The ever-changing nature of language”
The opening ceremony of the London Olympics held many surprises, not least the “Queen” parachuting in. But one surprise that had some Londoners scratching their heads was the official announcements being made first in French and only then in English.
Continue reading “Les Jeux Olympiques de Londres ?”
The So Bad, So Good website has come up with its list of the best 25 non-English words with no counterpart in English: “25 Handy Words That Simply Don’t Exist In English”. This makes for an amusing read, and it would be interesting to hear what speakers of those languages feel.
Translators, of course, are well used to this difficulty. It is all too common to come across a word that has no direct equivalent or requires further elaboration to explain the implied nuances. Even worse is a word in the source text which has more than one meaning and is ambiguous in context. It may even be that the source text knowingly plays on this ambiguity – then the translation must aim to relay this ambiguity by careful choice of words or expansion and explanation.
So, in fact, this list is amusing but also highlights a common misconception about translation. Continue reading “Translation is not always one to one”
Interesting interview about language with Stephen Fry this morning on Radio 4.
He talks about how languages, and English in particular, constantly innovates:
Continue reading “Fry up enriched by many flavours”
President Obama’s visit to London seems to have led to a timely resurrection of the Anglo-EU guide. This graphic gives an amusing sideways glance at phrases commonly used in business and bureaucracy with the “translation” of British:
Continue reading “British English translation that’s not bad at all”
(Click for professional American to British translator)
Even when two people apparently speak the same language, regional variations or a lack of local knowledge can lead to total misunderstanding.
Continue reading “American & British English translation? It’s behind you!”
Many of us use it everyday. It’s widely understood around the world. But what does it mean and where does it come from?
Continue reading “Are you au fait with ok?”
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””
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?”
No visitor to Italy can miss the stream of adverts using English phrases, or the now ubiquitous “il weekend”. Today, the BBC news site has a report on a study in Italy about the infiltration of English into Italian.
The study by the respected Dante Alighieri Society [website in Italian] shows that many feel it has gone too far. In fact, the authors call on Italians to reject what they dub “Anglitalianco”. How successful they will be remains to be seen, when even those stalwart defenders of their language, the French, have come to accept borrow words such as “le shopping”.
But the question that occurs to me is: how far should we “defend” a language? Language is a living thing, it grows and borrows quite naturally. English itself is littered with words borrowed from other languages and continues to adopt them. So is insisting on “fine settimana” instead of weekend resisting linguistic imperialism or being a stick in the mud? I don’t know the answer, but as so often with language, it’s a fascinating debate.