Monday, May 4, 2009

Multicultural Languages

I got the idea for the post from a mixture of a comment from Sara @ YOSH and a post by H @ Life Abroad

Sarah's comment (which I loved!) talked about typex/white-out. It made me think of certain words in the English speaking world that are different from region to region. That being one of them. I've always called the white stuff you put on pages to correct pen white-out, through Sarah I learned that in South Africa it is refered to as "typex".

Other words that come to mind are differences between Canadian, American and British English:

Appartment vs. Flat
Elevator vs. Lift
Pop vs. Soda
being in Grade 4 vs. Being in 4th Grade
Ball Point Pen (Pen) vs. Byro
Rubber Band vs. Elastic Band

Different spellings of words from region to region:

Colour vs. Color
Grey vs. Gray
Neighbour vs. Neighbor
Honour vs. Honour
Center vs. Centre
Check vs. Cheque

H's post at Life Abroad was about the Dutch word "Gezellig" which can mean a whole number of things, but yet has no exact English translation.

I didn't know the word in Dutch, but in German there is the word "Gemütlich " which I believe means the same thing as "Gezellig"

In today's world where so many people speak more than one language, I find it fascinating to see what words translate and what words have no translation.

Have any of you had these experiences with translation?

Also, for English speakers in other parts of the world, are there other words/terms that are different from region to region?


  1. Well, yes, I encounter these differences all the time. I work at the American Univeristy with (also) British people, and I never know if I should write "programme" or "program", "holidays" or "vacation", "mailbox" or "pigeon hole"... It's still English but how different in different countries/regions!

  2. Those are good examples! Thanks Jo!

  3. Don't forget zee vs. zed and zip code vs. postal code! Those get me every time. As a "Canadianized" American, I know all of these quite well. The cheque one still drives me nuts.

    Also, in Wisconsin, drinking fountains are called bubblers. I think that's weird.

  4. Pop vs. Soda is definitely regional--I am from the Midwest and moved to Texas and no one knows what you're talking about if you say it here. It's weird to have such differences even between states

  5. I'm famous!! A mention on your blog! :) well this topic is close to my heart because it's something Ive learnt a lot about. Being one of two south Africans on the whole island of Hokkaido, my friend base is pretty international - Americans, Brits, canadians, Singaporians, Koreans etc and even though we all speak English we all sometimes have to translate our English for each other because it's so very different. Apart from trying to communicate in different languages, I sometimes struggle to understand English. In SA we have 11 official languages and so our slang is very very multicultural. I speak a mixture of 5 and sometimes I don't even know which one I am talking in. So far the word that got me the best reaction was the SAfrican word for traffic light - we say 'robot' :) "the robot is green!'

  6. Hi Ella, thank you for mentioning my blog in this post :) We lived in the USA for 5 years, and it was funny to notice all of the speech/spelling differences. I remember one year at a spelling bee I got the word "puzzle" wrong because I said "zed" instead of "zee" and the teacher had no idea what I was saying! Your blog is fantastic, keep up the good work, I always look forward to reading your posts!

  7. @ Fidgeting Gidget, the "bubblers" thing made my day, I am forever more going to think of water fountains as "bubblers" now :)

    @ Children of the Nineties, pop vs soda gets me everytime I go to the states. To me, Soda is club soda or that sweet pink stuff I used to drink as a kid. Whenever a waitress would say "would you like a soda?" I feel like saying "no thanks, I'll have coke" haha

    @ Sarah, yes you're famous ;) ..and wow, 11 official langages, I would be sooo confused all the time I think. That's so interesting though, I never knew that. "Robot" is pretty good too, I wonder where that came from

    @ Life Abroad, awww thank you so much for the nice comments on my blog! I really apprechiate it! I can't believe they made you get that spelling bee wrong! That's terrible

  8. Spanish is fun like this too.....In Costa Rica if you ask for a "bolsa" at a store you will get a bag. Make this same request in Panama and you will get a laugh--there they use "bolsa" to refer to part of the female anatomy.

  9. Zedddddddddddddd

    I refuse to say zee. I think I somewhat speak Montreal English...mix with French grammar. It is interesting how a language has various version depending where one lives.