Saturday, January 22, 2005

Lost in translation

And this week, because it was my birthday, you get 2 posts on the same day! Now I can't say fairer than that...

The other fascinating article in the news concerns the role of idioms in English as a global language. Check out the Wikipedia link if you want to clarify what idioms are in more detail, but, basically, they are all those tricky little fixed expressions that you can only know the meaning of if someone tells you. Knowing the meaning of the individual words is never much help - take "kick the bucket" to mean "die", for example! I use idioms a lot, much to the puzzled amusement of my students (well, okay, they laugh out loud at me and say "Julie, what are you saying?"), and last year they tried to convince me that only old people (er, like me) use idioms. So, we did a piece of research and, blow me down, it appeared to show that they were right.

When we discussed the findings, all sorts of ideas were raised to try to account for this. One of the most interesting suggested was that because young people are so internet-connected, and are used to communicating quite happily with English speakers all over the world (cousins in Australia, chatrooms for fans of American metal bands, etc), idioms are becoming redundant because they are a barrier to communication in a global context. Cor, that was a good lesson..........

Anyway, lo and behold, in this week's Telegraph there is an article about this very subject. It explores problems that are occurring in the conduct of international business in English, because native English speakers, whether American or British or whatever, are failing to take account of their idiomatic language when dealing with speakers of global varieties of English. In an utterly fascinating example, Korean airways recently awarded a contract for flight simulators to a French company because their business executives spoke more readily understood English than those of an English company. Check it out. And don't ever say you're "over the moon" in Botswana unless you know what it means there!!...

Universal language? Not on your nelly

Wikipedia on Idiom


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