Sunday, September 14, 2014

Your English Abroad

Sometimes, I let big nouns and five dollar adjectives blindside me and I forget about the beauty and variance that comes with language. It's something  so necessary, but at the same time so mindbogglingly flexible. There is no thought or idea that a language cannot capture so as we come across new things, our language changes.
Over the last few years, I've been fortunate enough to live and travel and understand how stretchy English can be to accommodate anything it's speaker might meet.

English stretching abroad
The Little Things

Every traveler is familiar with not only absorbing a few phrases from a local language, but the strange moments when those words start to be more comfortable.

It always starts the same - small words and food will change first.

After some time in Moscow, I felt certain short words creeping progressively into my speech. Da and nyet started getting just as much traction as yes and no. Questions could be asked with shto and pochemu just as much as they could start with what and why.
With any time spent in Thailand, people start using plenty of kah and kahp at the end of sentences regardless of the company.

Along with the short words After encountering a whole cuisine that's impossible to translate, strange syllables for food start to invade your lexicon.

Pictured a dozen Korean foods with no English equivalent and some rice

When I bought baked wheat, it was always khleb, not bread. Even food with a translation is swallowed up by the local tongue. No Anglophone in Thailand would seriously consider champu a rose apple.

Think of it like the word sushi or spaghetti. It's to cumbersome to make a new word for food, so it's better to just take one.

Then the local lingo starts to infiltrate a bit more and more, with tiny words and grammars here and there.
If in Russia, your articles (the, a, an) will often emigrate back to the states, while in France they might start appearing in new place.
Thai expat communities are notorious for chopping sentences down, and culling them of all standard grammar until 'have no rice' and 'there is no rice' become interchangeable.
My friends in Germany and Austria often talk using some rather bizarre word order and exclaim things like "Today can't I to the shop go. Tomorrow can though."
Certain words will make it even faster.
After a month in Bangkok, the city's slanted and winding streets were all renamed sois while all foreigners quickly started to identify as farangs and every Buddhist temple has become a wat.

Then you meet the Expats

Native speaker or not, English tends to dominate travelers scenes (both long and short term). And with a language that resists any kind of standardization, comes an endless slew of varieties.
Ex-pat communities will normally develop their own sort of dialect, mashing up all speeches, the local tongue, bits of jargon, and a healthy dollop of gibberish.

In Thailand, the scene of long-timers is very much dominated by the English and Austrailian. Air-con will quickly nestle into your lexicon, while mentioning the oversyllabled air-conditioning will label you as a green-horn North American. Flat and apartment will get used just the same, but for some reason gherkin has out-muscled cucumber. Trousers have bested pants and every stared blank-faced at the mention of slacks.

Pictured: English trousers and pants

Korea tends to lean much more American. Color is spelled u-lessly and zebra is pronounced with a long ee (yes, it comes up).

I love traveling and all the experiences that have come with it, but I've learned that as I change with location, so does my English.

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