Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lost in Translation

Indian Traffic
"Highly Inflammable"??

We had a good laugh with this one and every tanker has it written on the back.

Apparently it's a challenge. Just try and ignite this stuff, we dare you.

English is spoken throughout India and you'll see signs in both the local native language--in Bangalore and the state of Karnataka it's Kannada--and English but often the words are slightly off. Not necessarily wrong, mind you, just off from what you'd see in the U.S., Canada or the UK.

For example, we were in a restaurant last night and a sign said, "Selling of milk will not happen."

Uh . . . what? I think it means they don't sell milk, not that the practice has stopped throughout the nation but it made me giggle.

Often they'll use strange combinations such as "very less." As in "It's very less hot today." Or superlatives such as "fully" as in: "The glass is fully empty." "I have a doubt" means simply, "I have a question."

Then there are funny adjectives or nouns they'll pick up and use which are legitimate English words but not ones that you'd ever hear anyone on this side of the globe speak such as "dissonance" or "sanguine." As in: "We apologize for the dissonance and hope you are sanguine with the construction." Heh. Americans would need a dictionary to know what they're talking about.

Cousins are "far brothers" (which I absolutely love), home town is "native place," restaurant is "hotel," detours are "diversions" and moving is "shifting."

The whole thing brings out an interesting question, namely, what makes a language "correct"? Americans speak to each other and we know exactly what is correct and what is incorrect here in the states--or at least what is formal and what is colloquial. But here you have a nation that has 400 times more English speakers than America and who is to say that how we do it is right? There are millions and millions of Indian school children growing up speaking Indian English and by a simple majority their way could be argued to be more correct than my own dialect.

Does antiquity make a language legitimate? Because if that's the case we lose with that argument as well. The UK and many other parts of the world beat us there and Indian English started about the same time of American independence so we really can't be too sure that our way has the weight of age behind it and that these other countries are merely the new kids on the block.

Anyway, it's just interesting to think about because if numbers mean anything there will soon be many more speakers saying "What is your good name?" instead of "What is your full name?" and the rest of us may find ourselves picking up some of their speech for a change. Could be fun, no?

Sponsored by Annette Lyon, whose new novel Band of Sisters is now in print.

19 comments:

Shannon said...

My kids go to International schools over seas so they play with children from many cultures (including India) and their teachers in core subjects are "native English speakers" but as you have pointed out that does NOT mean American.

I have noticed that my children do not put stuff in the trash, they put it in the rubbish bin, they queue up instead of lining up, and my personal favorite they use a rubber instead of an eraser to fix mistakes on their papers. Yes I giggle every time they as for a rubber. Some day they will understand why.

Hannah @Cooking Manager said...

Inflammable and flammable meant the same thing. From the word "inflame."

I'm enjoying following your trip, and the pictures are gorgeous.
-Hannah

Anonymous said...

The word “inflammable” came from Latin “'inflammāre” = “to set fire to,” where the prefix “'in-”' means “in” as in “inside”, rather than “not” as in “invisible” and “ineligible”. Nonetheless, “inflammable” is often erroneously thought to mean “non-flammable”. To avoid this safety hazard, “flammable”, despite not being the proper Latin-derived term, is now commonly used on warning labels when referring to physical combustibility

MRMacrum said...

I am muchly impressionable over the viewing of poster wordings you are mention in blog of yours. I am sure of it's high comedy. I thank you massively for display of this.

Jeana said...

How fun! I love little differences in language. We found lot of them in England too--like saying a business is "shut" where Americans would say "closed". Same meaning, but funny that we word it differently.

Peach Rainbow said...

It's the same here in Sri Lanka too.

Patricia L said...

What an educational post (and also here in the comments)! We must have some of the same awkward wordings when we try to speak another language. A friend of mine told me recently that she had to tell a Spanish-speaking patient that a medicine would make them feel hot and instead she told them that she was hot. She said they just smiled and nodded.

Jordan (MamaBlogga) said...

(It's really sad that inflammable is a real word.)

@Patricia—Um, the people in the clinic probably smiled and nodded because she probably used a phrase that has sexual connotations. (Very common English-speaking mistake; in fact, I don't even remember the correct way to say it in Spanish.)

Heart2Heart said...

Michelle,

Yes this truly does make you wonder about our language as well. I think ours, is perhaps the most challenging of them all with our rules of spelling and multiple meanings for words that sound the same but are spelled different. No wonder why people are resistant to learn English!

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Carina said...

There's a fascinating documentary called The Adventure of English. The last two episodes deal specifically with the many concurrent versions of the language. It's wonderful!

JanMary said...

I love the differences between countries who are supposedly united by the same language.

Here in UK we use bins (trash), shut (closed), round-a-bouts (turning circles?), pavements (side-walks), boot (of a car - trunk).... I am sure there are tonnes (tons!) more.

Lara said...

I love this. Language always fascinates me, especially the way that non-English speakers will translate things.

But you do have a point about Indian English.

Kara said...

Really loving your trip posts! I will be so sad when it is over. This post especially was great! Such good food for thought!

ewe are here said...

There are a lot of Indian engineers at my husband's company ... the english can be interesting ...

Looks like you're having a great trip.

SusieLee said...

I have recently discovered blogs, and now I found yours! Love it. And after reading your 3-4-10 post I have finally found someone who knows about the book "Cold Sassy Tree"! Also, we have traveled to Guernsey (we live in Iowa USA) to see people we met on a cruise. We loved the island and the people. And the language! This book is at the top of my must read list. In a pub I admired what I called a serving cart. They laughed at me. A cart is pulled by a horse. A trolley is used to serve food. What fun!

Don McNeill said...

You must be having so much fun! Sounds like we need to create an Indian/American English translational Add-on-Deck.

planetnomad said...

Ah this is a topic near and dear to my heart. You know it gets worse right? There are regional differences in America, not to mention British English v Amer English, and then...have you met any Nigerians? They have their own language!
But English is a live language, and somehow we manage to muddle on. I'm sure the language will continue to be enriched by its various streams.

Lori said...

I have to say I enjoy being called "Auntie Lori" greatly by my Indian friends' children. It's a really sweet way of showing respect.

I didn't stop to think about that "inflame/flame" difference.

daysease said...

I adore this post!! simply love it! Words... Love them. Love "Far brothers" and "native place"... How funny that they have a clearer sense of vocabulary than most Americans do. I am of the mindset that texting vocabulary is now our choice way of communicating, and spelling is out the window. UNFORTUNATELY. I miss REAL conversations with people who know how to use words to spice up a conversation.