Wednesday, May 06, 2009

On Dialects and English..

A few choicy pieces from a very well written posting by Balthazar Oesterhoudt :

"Americans speak a wholly different language than the average Briton. Europeans who learn English unanimously confirm this to me. They say that it’s much harder to understand an American than an Englishman, primarily because Americans phonetically alter sounds that appear different in writing. For example, the word “getting” looks like it should contain a “t” sound. Yet when an average American says it, there is no “t” to be heard. At most, you will hear a “d” to replace the “t” (ie, “gedding”). At the least, you will hear a strange, swallowed “-nnh” sound to replace “-tting” altogether (ie, “getting” degenerates into a half-swallowed “ge-nnh”). For a foreigner who learns to pronounce every sound he reads, these American dialectic differences cause immense confusion. By contrast, a Briton does pronounce a “t” in “getting." They do not swallow or alter sounds, allowing the foreigner to more easily hear what he remembers seeing in writing."

He hasn't heard some parts of UK, or Murphy Creek, QLD. We got our Volvo stuck in 50 cm of mud after a rain while viewing a property up on the range. Both our mobiles had no connection - bless living in the country - and the property owner had gone that morning to hospital because his wife was delivering (at least that's what it sounded on the phone). We ended up walking for 40 minutes before we came across a property with humans on it - the rest was occupied by snorting equines and mad Blue Heelers. We waved the guy on the motorised mower down and he allowed us in to use his phone for RACQ. Although he spoke understandable English to us (not much of conversation, he seemed to find ours difficult), what flew out of his mouth when he spoke to his mother was a total surprise. Neither Dan and I could make sense of it, at most maybe a word here or there. Mind you, he was not a foreigner.. what he spoke was English.

It was many months later that I told this story to another friend who lives up in Toowoomba, and she said "Bushie". I still have to research what "Bushie Australian" is like.

Another place where English is not English would be the Town Called Alice. The amount of Aboriginal words mixed into it makes it officially a separate language. Now, mind you, there are more than one tribe in Alice, and they speak different indigenous languages, so this is a green salad-pidgin made of more than just two languages.

I was also fascinated by how our Kimberly interpreters, and the translator from Torres Strait Islands spoke English. Given, it is not their first language, but they are very fluent in it. It is the intonation, the inflections, all that music of language that was new to my ears - so much softer, gentler, calmer than the barking of Sydney or the Melbournian machine-guns. Then again, it was shorter than the Queensland drawl. Fascinating.

Enough of me. Back to Oesterhoudt:

"English is a Germanic language that likes to masquerade in Latin finery, but without Latin charm or grace. English is not romantic; it is schizophrenic and crass. Because English draws on so many linguistic traditions, it can express the same thought in two, three or even four ways. For example, to express the idea “a door leading out,” we can say “Exit,” from the Latin “ex” (“out”) and “it” (“he goes”), or we can opt for the good old German “Way Out,” from “weg” (“way”) “aus” (“out”). “Exit” sounds more official and more serious than “way out.” “Way out” is prosaic. It sounds too obvious. For better or worse, English has confused itself into thinking that Latin words are somehow more “urbane” than German ones, even though our German words are much more basic and convey meaning much more readily than Latin imitations. "

Which language is not schizophrenic and crass? All European languages have roots in Greek and Latin; Many Asian countries have roots in Sanskrit; Arabic travelled both west and east and left its marks on both Spanish (and jumped with it to South America) and Hindi, not to mention Dari, Farsi, etc. Central Asian languages all carry both Chinese and Turkic elements. In the globalized village, everyone borrows from everyone.

But whereas you can ask a person to leave in more than one way in English, in Arabic I can express amazement, displeasure, approval, doubt, despair and much more with a single term - Ya Salam - by changing the intonation.

Oesterhoudt goes on to propose that the core of English language consists of the prepositions, because they "express the locations of objects or actions. We cannot precisely describe things we see or hear. In short, prepositions allow us to linguistically depict our experiences to others. "

Just as an experiment, I will try to spend this evening talking to Dan without the use of prepositions. We will see how much gets lost in translation.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

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