Off topic: Think you can speak English? Think again...
Thread poster: Ty Kendall

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:18
Hebrew to English
Oct 10, 2011

A testament to the variety of English .....when even native speakers cannot understand their own language....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3B6x2bLZWU

It's a clip from a comedy show called "Never mind the Buzzcocks", the round is called Indecipherable lyrics"...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEnd6LbcTOo

I'm also reminded of the controversy over the Killers song "Human" with the lyrics:

"Are we human, or are we dancer"

No, it doesn't make any grammatical sense, and the singer/songwriter knows full well (http://www.gigwise.com/news/47201/Killers-Brandon-Flowers-Settles-Debate-Over-Human-Lyrics)
It only starts to resemble something which makes sense when you know what the "dancer" refers to (see quote).

I wonder if native speakers of other languages also feel like they can't even speak their target language at times
Probably an issue for interpreters more than translators(although if you've ever seen dialect when it's written it can be equally indecipherable), but interesting nonetheless.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 20:18
Chinese to English
Would that they did... Oct 10, 2011

"I wonder if native speakers of other languages also feel like they can't even speak their target language at times"

My particular language pair is replete with the joy of people who think that because they're native speakers, they are certain to be able to understand any Chinese text better than me (and therefore are better Chinese>English translators).

I wonder if it depends somewhat on cultural attitudes to language. In English speaking countries, there is a certain value placed on wordplay, verbal innovation, and precise use of technical terminology (sometimes shading into a tiresome love of jargon!). As a cultural attitude, I don't sense those things in Chinese. But that's a very subjective opinion, and I wouldn't put any money on it!


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Angie Garbarino  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:18
Member (2003)
French to Italian
+ ...
Not in Italian Oct 10, 2011

Ty Kendall wrote:
I wonder if native speakers of other languages also feel like they can't even speak their target language at times
Probably an issue for interpreters more than translators(although if you've ever seen dialect when it's written it can be equally indecipherable), but interesting nonetheless.


Regarding Italian this can only happen with dialects, surely not with the language itself.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:18
Hebrew to English
TOPIC STARTER
Intriguing....... Oct 10, 2011

This is what makes the distinction between language/dialect so interesting in my opinion, just how divergent do they have to be before it stops being a dialect of a language until it can be considered two separate languages.

It reminds me of the phrase:

A language is a dialect with an army and a navy

There are at least 2-3 dialects in English I cannot understand, even when concentrating and trying really hard.

There's probably about 5 others I really struggle with and have to pay close attention to catch what is said.

I find it interesting because there isn't this kind of diversity in my source language. Makes me wonder how interpreters deal with it if they are faced with interpreting from a heavily dialectal source speaker.


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schallinor

Local time: 12:18
Swedish to English
+ ...
English accents Oct 10, 2011

Dialects need not even be the issue. Accent alone can pose a problem. English is surely the language where the highest number of people can read the exact same words aloud and sound the most different. Where I am from, in Northern England, an accent can change in 10 miles. With no background in linguistics, I have no idea how these myriad accents developed, but I would love to know.

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:18
Hebrew to English
TOPIC STARTER
Could write a book..... Oct 10, 2011

schallinor wrote:

Dialects need not even be the issue. Accent alone can pose a problem. English is surely the language where the highest number of people can read the exact same words aloud and sound the most different. Where I am from, in Northern England, an accent can change in 10 miles. With no background in linguistics, I have no idea how these myriad accents developed, but I would love to know.


There's no one explanation to how regional accents developed. Language has a tendency to change naturally over time, and with relative geographical isolation (like when the English accents were developing) they would have developed along quite divergent paths.

(Geographical isolation: by this I mean that in the past, it would have not been so easy to pop down to London, or even go three villages over, even if you had a horse, which most people didn't).

You also have to remember that English wasn't the original language of England. There were countless tribes, all with their own languages, then you have all the invaders, Normans, Saxons, Angles, Vikings, Danes, etc etc. There's a reason why you'll find more Norwegian based words in the dialects of Northern English, that's because that's where the majority of Vikings settled and had the greater impact on the language there (this would also have had an effect on the accent).

So even when English was in its infancy 1000 years ago, many of its speakers were probably bilingual or at least had some knowledge of another tribal language (depending on area).

However, even with less geographical isolation the process of divergent accents does not stop entirely, look at the American accent. The Pilgrims were English after all, and would have had English accents when they first arrived in America. Yet the average American doesn't sound like a native of Cornwall or Devon or London (and this only took 200 years of separation) - *but also language contact with indiginous American Indian languages*.

Areas in which the local languages survived (Wales, Ireland, Scotland) tend to have the stronger accents, which is not a coincidence since many of the speakers would have learnt English as a second language and retained a non-native accent which over time became a Welsh accent, an Irish accent etc.

Language contact is a vital component in accent development then and one which is still happening today (you can read about the demise of one accent /Cockney/ and the rise of its replacement here:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10473059).








[Edited at 2011-10-10 15:04 GMT]


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:18
Spanish to English
+ ...
Don't miss... Oct 10, 2011

Ty Kendall wrote:

Language contact is a vital component in accent development then and one which is still happening today (you can read about the demise of one accent /Cockney/ and the rise of its replacement here:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10473059).



[Edited at 2011-10-10 15:04 GMT]


There is a fascinating BBC series presented by Stephen F - Fry's Planet Word - which can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer if you have access to it.

Episode 2 looked at accent and dialect and this week, episode 3 features swearing and is currently available for 2 weeks or so.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b015h1xb


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Bernard Lieber  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:18
English to French
+ ...
Not only in Englsh Oct 10, 2011

I think it happens in most languages when other languages were spoken before a so-called native language emerged, French, Italian and Spanish are latinate languages and yet quite different because of the languages spoken before the Roman invasion.

Cajun sounds like French but is incomprehensible to most native French speakers


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