Thursday, December 22, 2011

Un Blog Sobre Idiomas

In the U.S. of A. nowadays, we see lots of stuff written in both English and Spanish. I guess that’s okay, because it helps our immigrants from south of the border. If I were to visit their country, I’d like to see signs and instructions in my language. (I would, of course, try hard to learn theirs if I were staying long-term… just sayin’)

Here’s a sign I saw at a hospital sign-in desk recently:

I wouldn't expect a Spanish speaker to understand terms like “disability” and “ancestry” and “conditions of admission" in English. Since this hospital gets the occasional Hispanic patient, they’re wise to give the instructions in both languages.

Similarly, our local Best Buy store has a sign that warrants translation, because it has some pretty difficult words on it:

But this translation business can go too far. I recently filled out a form that was labeled in both English and French. It asked for lots of basic information, including the following:

Last Name / Nom
First Name / Prenom
Time / Heure
Religion /  Religion
Date / Date
Disposition / Disposition

I’m not sure all of these needed to be translated, but they all were, for the sake of consistency, I guess. Consistency is nice, I just think they could have saved the ink.

Another sign in Best Buy really makes me say "Huh?!" It's over their MP3 and iPod department:

If you can understand no written English at all, I think you could still grasp that “MP3 & iPod” means “MP3 y iPod.” Maybe it isn’t just consistency that drives these decisions. Maybe Best Buy’s reasoning in designing this sign went something like this:

We must translate it into Spanish, or our Hispanic customers will be lost! They’ll search in vain for the MP3s and iPods. They’ll surely give up and leave the store without making a purchase, because in their language, “&” is “y.” No, it’s unacceptable to print only “MP3 & iPod.” We must render it in both languages, replacing the “&” with a “y.”

Good call, Best Buy!

I've just made a long-awaited update to The Bozo List. Check it out!


  1. I was in a hospital recently visiting someone, and the information services were in 9 languages.

    US Passport are in English and French. I believe that dates back to French support (or just Lafayette) during our revolutionary war.

    I used to know how to say "F** a goat" in Russian, but sadly, that's hard to work into regular conversation than you'd think...

  2. Guapo, you may be right about the tradition with French on diplomatic papers.

    So, you haven't found lots of chances to use that phrase with Russian people you meet on the street? At least you made an effort to improve intercultural relations by learning a little of their language.

  3. I have family members that speak Frisian, but all I know are cuss words and how to say "Grandpa's little sweetheart" (which I wasn't). When I went to Paris, I learned a very important phrase: "I am Canadian." (It was shortly after the US declared war on Iraq--there were riots in Paris.) Anyway, it didn't end up mattering where I said I was from, because I was traveling with a guy who looked so French I watched a girl break her bike under the Eiffel Tower so she could ask him to help her fix it.

    I don't really know where I was going with this, so, you Christmas!

  4. That's a good story, Dana. Nothing says twitterpation like breaking one's own bicycle. Feliz Navidad to you and all your Frisian-American family and friends!

  5. I think the Korean's would have been better served to translate their squiggly lines to English, than for Best Buy to translate computer jargon into itself. Ha ha.

  6. I know, Sarah! That's what I'm saying. Because there's no way I can guess what this stuff says, not even close. In Korean, "MP3" looks like two Martian characters and a 3.