Monday, November 24, 2008

The Englishes of the World

English is a world language, but every now and then, someone here in Uganda expresses their surprise at hearing that 'English' is our mother-tongue. I guess it's because it's second or third or fourth language for many Ugandans, as well as many Europeans who come here. In any case, as an American, I can assure myself that what people here speak as 'English' is not my mother-tongue. As the following examples highlight, a language consists in more than the words at face-value, but also the context, appropriate time and style of expression, and other factors.

The other night I asked our night-watchman how he was, and he replied: 'Sir, I am very fine because...I am enjoying your life and work.'

I brought a mid-morning snack out for my language informant. When he saw the garlic-roasted peanuts, he exclaimed, 'Very handsome!' At the sight of the fruit punch that I set before him, he added, 'Very fantastic!'

And some more priceless specimens from around the world:

In the window of an Istanbul souvenir shop: Sorry, we are open.

In a Taiwanese hotel room: Please beware of strangers dangling in the lobby.

Name of a store in China: Warm and Fragrant Bird

On an Indonesian Menu: Amiable and Sour Pork

In the window of a laundromat in Thailand: For best results, drop pants here.

In a Mexican brochure: Come to Juan's Jewelry Shop. We won't screw you too much.

In a German hotel: Serve You Right

In the washroom of a German train: To obtain water, move the handle to the left or to the right, indifferently.

On a Chinese train: Please do not throw yourself out the window.

In a Budapest zoo: Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.

Doorway signs in the Nigerian National Theater: "In Entrance," "Out Entrance"

Notice in a public bathroom in Italy: This WC is Goof for Everyone. Would You Like to Come Back Using It? Collaborate with Education. Don't Throw Bodies Solid into Toilettes!

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