Archives for category: Language

Google Translate is really rather good. At least it’s what I assume is Google Translate. I generally search for ‘german english dictionary’ in the Chrome browser window and it brings in the german text-input box and the English translate counterpart box within the search return page.

I used to think it was a bit ropey, but it seems to be really good these days. I’ve been using it lately in reverse to establish the German words for certain English packaging and label words and phrases, and the dynamic way it adapts its translation to context the more you type in is really impressive. I have a passing, touristic knowledge of German and I can use my dangerous knowledge to make sure I’m conveying the right sense by using the translator in both directions.

The other day I received an email in German from a company. Written German is very formal, quite stilted and stuffy and in my opinion way more formal than its English counterpart. To this writer the German was impenetrable. I pasted the German sentences one-by-one into Google Translate and the resulting English wasn’t simply sufficient, it was superb.

Unless you have a need for super technical translations, or the stakes are very high indeed, I don’t know why you’d go to a translation company for their machine learning or even their human translation services any more.

Bloody Google. It will end up disintermediating us all if we’re not careful…

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I’ve written before about how the Irish language has some quite unwieldy versions of some of the most common words and phrases you’ll ever need, like hello, hello back and thank you.

It also has no words for yes and no, incredibly.

Instead, it makes do with a much more engaging and involving set of answers, that has exact parallel in English and which I use a lot myself.

‘Did you finish your lunch?’ ‘I did.’

‘Have you done that report?’ ‘I haven’t.’

‘Will you come with me to the meeting?’ ‘I will’

‘Can you commit to the end of this month for the order?’ ‘We can.’

‘Are you in charge?’ ‘I am.’

It’s an altogether more accommodating language, reversing the questioner’s word order and creating a kind of subconscious closeness and empathy. Nothing less than you’d expect from a very friendly people.

Do I like it? I do.

 

 

It seems odd to me that we European English speakers diverge from our US counterparts in our use of the words over and again.

When we on the eastern side of the Atlantic have to repeat something we start again. Sometimes we might have to do it over again. In the US and perhaps Canada they simply start over, never starting again or over again.

It’s a bit like the John Lennon song, no doubt crafted for an American audience while he was living over there with Yoko Ono, I think, called Starting Over. Perhaps he too was hedging his bets when he said It’s like Starting Over, with the ‘like’ seeming to soften the statement somewhat, as if he wasn’t sure.

Speaking of idiom, I was talking with an Iranian friend of my mother’s the other day. He said, after almost a lifetime of living here, “I can’t understand why you English people say ‘Would you like to come in for a nice cup of tea?’ Whoever would ask for a horrible cup of tea?”

Good point, well made. I was careful to ask for a horrible cup of tea the next time I was visiting.

I’ve blogged before about how a preposition can make an enormous amount of difference. None more so, I don’t think, than in this example.

‘I believe you’ seeks to assure someone that you think they’re telling the truth. It’s almost like letting them off the hook if their story or defence is flimsy and they’re clutching at straws. It’s hardly a glowing endorsement.

Contrast this with ‘I believe in you.’ This has an altogether more committed, almost spiritual tone of endorsement about it. You’re placing your trust and faith in another person, and perhaps this is the greatest compliment or statement of togetherness that you can pay¬† them.

It changes the verb, the sentence structure and the meaning completely.

In the US it’s not uncommon for people to put the phone down or kill a telephone call without saying goodbye. It’s not considered rude. We’ve seen it on TV and film a hundred times. That’s not to say it’s not mildly unnerving to a European the first time it happens.

At the other end of the extreme are people that say bye multiple times at the end of a call. It’s as if they’d be terrified if the person at the other end didn’t hear them formally close the conversation, so they double- and triple-up to be sure.

I heard this staccato farewell a lot in Scotland when I lived there and you hear it a lot in Ireland. It’s a rat-tat-tat delivery of multiple byes that has a natural cadence of its own: 3 quick byes and 3 longer byes over a 3-second-or so period. Sort of a ‘ba-bye-bye [very short pause] bye-bye-bye.

I have a Belgian friend who always closes the call with a ba-baaaaaye, one short blast and a long blast, and then he’s done.

Me? I prefer a punchy ba-bye, that’s it. Simple, decisive, clear.

Speed camera warning sign in Ireland

I passed a scruffy truck the other day and as I passed I saw a notice on the back, which said: ‘This truck is equipped with visual recording technology’, presumably to ward off would be thieves or stowaways.

Next to the words was a symbol of a camera, and it was exactly the same type of image you see on signs all over Irish roads, warning you against speeding by the presence of speed cameras. Except there aren’t any speed cameras generally, except mobile ones housed in a vehicle. So the sign has come to me to be considered a fake symbol. Whenever I see the speed camera sign my reaction is, ‘oh, no speed cameras here, but probably a well known speedy stretch – or potentially dangerous stretch, or both – is coming up’.

And so it was with this truck. My first thought was, ‘no it’s not equipped with that technology’. It’s like the visual equivalent of fake news, or at least reverse news. A sports club announces it’s fully behind their beleaguered manager, they’re on the way out.

Call it middle aged suspicion, but since the advent of April Fools’ Day in my childhood years I’ve become conditioned to look out for fake news, and fake symbols are no different.

Biannual, biennial, it’s tough to remember which one means which, what timespan we’re talking about, isn’t it?

The prefix bi generally means 2, as in biped or bipolar, so one means 2 times a year and the other means every 2 years, so not much help there.

Taking a look at the suffix, annual means yearly, and -ennial is, well, quite similar. A perennial plant is one which lasts a while, rather than something that shows up every year, so again we’re slightly in the dark.

As it turns out, biannual means twice a year, and biennial means every 2 years. I suppose you could say biennial is like triennial, which is once every 3 years, as long as you don’t think it means 3 times a year…hmmm.

I haven’t found a good way to remember which is which, other than the raw facts themselves, which is harder to do the older you get. Us older folk tend to learn via patterns rather than by rote these days.

One area that highlights the division between American English and English English, as opposed to other versions of English, is the different pronunciations and accentuations on words.

Take the words laboratory and controversy for example. Our US friends prefer to accent the first syllable and the English prefer to accent the second, and continue to do so, despite the huge influence of American English on our daily European lives.

One difference I can’t get my head around is munging the last syllable of words that end in ‘-ile’. I remember watching an eipsode of the 6 Million Dollar Man back in the mid-seventies and they talked about a dangerous ‘missle’. What the heck’s a missle? In English English we put the accent on the first syllable but still give the second syllable a bit of a dance as well.

Futile is another one. Or Fyewtle as the Americans would say. Now that’s a futile pronunciation if ever there was one.

There are plenty of laudable examples of American English changing the spelling of words for simplicity’s sake. I offer you color, realize, maneuver and celiac for that argument.

But futile, missile, versatile, agile? Why not change the spelling on those too?

Business is awash with shorthand.

Good shorthand uses TLAs or jargon that everyone understands to save time and effort. Bad shorthand leaves people unproductive, confused and alienated.

I’ve always used ‘mktg’ as a shorthand for marketing. So much so that I use it in the domain name for my business website, M4 Marketing. It’s a nice short domain. The only problem I have is that I have to spell out the domain name over the phone, which is not ideal.

I think that the mktg shorthand is good shorthand, no? It’s like ‘mgmt’ for management. Pretty much everyone knows that shorthand and uses it freely.

The Irish have a great word: passremarkable. It’s used to describe someone who is wont to pass remarks, usually of a personal nature, about someone or something.

You could say it means being judgemental, but that’s not quite right. It’s having no filter – or choosing to ignore the filter – between thought and speech. You usually associate it with, and I’m generalising considerably here, younger people and older people.

I always avoid being judgemental if I can. And especially being passremarkable. Better to give a feeling or opinion some thought and phrase your comment constructively than blurt out something that will probably offend. What are you hoping to accomplish?

And this, of course, applies in business as well as our personal interactions.