For those who like sounds, accents and/or languages and have 5 minutes for a bit of fun, here is a little game where you listen to eight short recordings and must guess what language it is from a choice of two or three each time.
I scored 6/8. How did you do?
There is no shortage of political or diplomatic incidents in international archives caused by mistranslations, often due to false friends. Some blunders, however, are comical rather than harmful.
One such example is cited in John Coleman-Holmes’s book Mâcher du Coton. As a Spanish speaker once started to address the delegates of a conference by saying “Please excuse me, I have a cold”, the French side suddenly burst into laughter. Curious as to the cause of this hubbub, the rest of the delegation tuned into the French channel, looking towards the interpreters’ booths. In a lapse of concentration, the Spanish-to-French interpreter had translated “Estoy constipado, perdónadme” as “Excuse me, I’m constipated”.
Mistakes (and painful embarrassment) happen to us all…
Europe’s motto, “united in diversity”, is reflected not least by its 23 official languages and over 50 spoken languages if we include all regional languages, and the mix of cultures and exchange of vocabulary from one language to the others. But how much do you know about our European neighbours, the origin of some everyday words, food and other aspects of culture that have been adopted across borders?
Here is a little quiz… (You can do this quiz in another language by choosing any of the official European language from the top of the page.)
Happy Europe Day! (9th May)
With technology and social media invading our lives and the ability for anyone to publish anything online within seconds, we are getting used to seeing all sorts of styles and spellings and the use of the apostrophe in particular seems to have become optional, these days. Even Waterstone(‘)s dropped their apostrophe earlier this year! Who cares? Well…
“An apostrophe is the difference between a business that knows its shit and a business that knows it’s shit.” (Sam Tanner)
Happy International Apostrophe Day! (17th August)
The Guardian recently published a set of 6 commented cartoons on the stereotypes associated with the British, the French, the Germans, the Italians, the Poles and the Spaniards. A handful of journalists from these countries were given the task of compiling a list of clichés associated with each of these nationalities, then had to feedback on the list corresponding to their own country.
Clichés are well-known (and ridiculous) enough as they are, I won’t report them here. But what is an absolute gem in this set is the German reply to the list of German stereotypes, which listed “uber-efficient, diligent, disciplined – and prone to steal the best sunloungers on holiday”: “It’s all true… We have been highly efficient, diligent and disciplined about ensuring the proper upkeep of these clichés.”
So much for the Germans having no sense of humour.
Idioms make any language colourful and interesting, if not strange. When we use them in context, however, we don’t think about what they say literally, but non-native speakers hearing them for the first time will often find them mind-boggling or hilarious – or both. For instance…
French: Ca ne casse pas trois pattes à un canard
Literal translation: That doesn’t break three legs to a duck
Meaning: That’s nothing to write home about
French: Parler allemand comme une vache espagnole
Literal translation: To speak German like a Spanish cow
Meaning: To speak very poor or little German
French: Filer à l’anglaise
Literal translation: To sneak away the English way
Meaning: To take French leave
The incongruity of idioms can also be a source of inspiration for creativity, as this sculpture, Poule au couteau (the chicken with a knife) by metallic’art, testifies.
French: Avoir l’air d’une poule qui a trouvé un couteau
Literal translation: To look like a chicken that has found a knife
Meaning: To look puzzled
Photo: Sahil Anand/Facebook