Monday, 8 September 2008

"Lost in Translation" can apply to your native language, too!

It is Sunday and mum and I are enjoying our weekly visit to the Bewdley tea room, set no more than a two mile walk from our home in Kidderminster. The brilliant sun shining down on our faces feels much like an old friend after almost a full week of solid downpoars, and the piping hot tea we are drinking calms the nerves. Since mum has agreed to pay for our fish and chip lunch later on, I trundle up to the counter to pay for our tea, with every intention of making small chat with the owners of the tea room, a broad, smiling man in his early 60's, and a short, rotund lady with a shining complexion - no doubt, two of the truest Bewdlites you will ever meet.

As I hand the money over and say 'thank you' for the tea, the man turns to me with a cheeky grin and speaks:


I must have looked like I was seconds from being struck by a bus as I tried to parse what he had just said. "Divert youself?" "Dover yes elf?" Before I knew it, the man, probably wondering why the government still continued to let non-English speaking immigrants into the UK, had gone back to cleaning the tables, and my chance of having a decent conversation floated smugly out the window, along with every ounce of my self esteem.

A few minutes later, I figured out with the help of my mum that he had been warning me not to 'burn myself' in the unusually sunny weather. Doh, queue the well deserved smack to the head!

This kind of situation has not been uncommon since my arrival in Kidderminster. We once met an elderly gentleman who had lost his two greyhound dogs. When he asked us whether we had seen his "dogs," we thought he had asked whether we had seen the "doves," and subsequently directed him toward a nearby forest. (We hope to this day that that is where his dogs had scampered off to!)

I once used to think that all English accents were mutually intelligible by all English speakers. Coming here has made me realize just how wrong I was!

Have YOU ever had an experience where you have not been able to communicate with someone who speaks your own language? Let me know about it!


Steph the WonderWorrier said...

Oh yes, I have.

Sometimes when people speak, if I'm not paying the right kind of attention to what they're saying I get myself in a real mess. I think I have a bit of "selective hearing" sometimes!

It's extra hard for me when I'm on the phone with someone who is speaking English, but yes, with an accent. When I was working customer service, there were quite a few times I had to get customers to repeat themselves because I wasn't wrapping my head around what they were requesting (this happened a lot with heavy Southern-U.S. accents, and a couple of times with New Yorkers).

I'm wracking my brain to come up with a specific example, but I can't think of one. I just know that FOR SURE this happens to me!!!

Either people need to speak a tad more clearly, or I need my ears cleaned out (or, okay, yes, I just need to maybe pay just a bit more attention)!

See, I was thinking that you were going to conclude that the gentleman was saying, "Don't worry yourself". But now that I re-read the jumble of words, I see the "Don't burn yourself" (and of course it's different reading it than if I had heard it like you).

Anonymous said...

It's happened occasionally where my mom will have a long phone conversation with my aunt in true Guyanese-style slang for hours, and then be hard pressed to switch back over to normal English for just about as long. It's not really a difference in accent, but a difference in common vocabulary that stumps me most of the time.

Curiously enough, Guyanese slang is influenced by many British words since Guyana was once a British colony.

Here are a few examples:

Bruk up - broken
Box ya - slap you
Blind - curtains
Battie - butt
Cut tail, cut ass - A serious spanking
Cut y'eye - cutting your eye at someone by turning the eyes the other way.
Chana - chick peas
Coolie - east Indian
Draaz - female underwear
Frock - dress
Grip - suitcase
Hise up - lift
Jumbie - ghost
Karna - corner
Nettin - mesh
Pailing - fence
Picknie - child
Prappa - proper
Picha - movie
Rum shop - bar
Sweetman - have another woman although he’s married
Skin teet - smile
Wutless - wicked, mischievous
Yanda - just over there
Yaatin boots - sneakers
Ye ras - general exclamation, 'ras' may refer to a person

Anonymous said...

Hee, I laughed so hard when I read this.

I used to work at Tim Hortons, so I'd have lots of trouble just trying to understand people at the drive through speaker.

"Hi, can I have a dec*garble* *garble*ee?"

"U-umm, was that a coffee?"

"No, TEA, decaf TEA"

"Right, that's what I said. Drive through please."

Heather Broster said...

Haha, I love all of your stories! It is amazing how miscommunications can occur even between people from the same area, as in Tara's and Steph's case. (But I guess those were due to the use of technology, like the phone and the speaker at the drive thru?)

Speaking of which, did you know that the human ear is able to process 20-20,000 Hz, but the frequency audiable on the phone is only 300-3000 Hz -- a minute proportion of what we are actually capable of hearing! It is no wonder that we often can't hear what is being said on the other line...!

Trin, I love your list of Guyanese slang! I was actually thinking of talking a bit about slang in my next post, with a specific focus on the Willenhall dialect here in the UK. (It's the one my cousin speaks.) Just one question - what does the 'ye' in ye ras refer to?

Hannah In Wonderland said...

It wasn't so much pronunciation that has confused me as much as vocabulary. I grew up in Jersey and we got slang a couple of years later than the UK. When I visited my family in Birmingham I tried to communicate with the other kids and I would always get the wrong end of the stick. I remember talking about a film and they were saying how "bad" it was. "That's well bad that was. It's a bad film innit?". To which I replied "Actually I thought it was pretty good". I didn't realise that bad meant good. They looked at me like I was a simpleton and made me feel very very lame.

It is getting worse in the UK now though with so many workers who don't speak English. Our bus driver can't speak English and thus can't answer questions about the route. Shouldn't that be a prerequisite of the be able to converse with the public?

Big sigh.

Heather Broster said...

I puzzles me as to why they would allow non-English speakers to do jobs that revolve around communication with other people. Perhaps employers are afraid of being landed with a discrimination suit. :S

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