Monday, June 11, 2012

Linguistic Differences

George Bernard Shaw once said that England and America are two countries separated by a common language, and if you've ever visited England or spent much time dealing with our cousins from across the pond, you can understand. These are the people who keep spare tires in their car's boot, rather than in the trunk like Americans, and who eat crisps rather than potato chips. How could they have gone so wrong?

And they're not alone. Here are two interesting charts that compare the way people speaking different languages express the same two ideas. First, did you ever wonder why we speakers of English call it a pineapple rather than something else, like the rest of the world does? ...

And consider the fairy tale character we know as Cinderella ... where did the Germans go wrong? ...

There's a great joke (well, great if you have a background in Linguistics, anyhow) about an Englishman, a Frenchman, a Spaniard, and a German who are arguing over which of them speaks the most beautiful and expressive language.

The Englishman maintains that English is clearly the most beautiful language ... just look at the word butterfly - what other language could have a word that so clearly expresses the idea of the colorful insect as it flits from flower to flower?

The Frenchman, of course, disagrees, pointing out that the French word papillon rolls gently off the tongue, like the fluid motion of the papillon as it drifts on the breeze among the flowers.

The Spaniard is equally convinced that only his language can convey the concept, as the gentle and evocative word mariposa clearly cannot be equalled for its simple descriptiveness.

And the German glares at the other three and asks, "So what's wrong with Schmetterling?"

And that is your linguistic observation for today. That Tower of Babel* really did a number on us, didn't it? Someone once said, "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse." I wonder what he would have made of Chinese.

Have a good day. Express yourself well. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Genesis 11:1-9.


Amanda said...

I always enjoy your posts on language. By the way, pineapple in Malay / Indonesian is 'nenas'...close enough to 'ananas' to add on to that list.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

I'm fascinated with language, and you have some real gems in this one. I enjoyed it; thanks.

Schmetterling? They have done better.

Where I come from we refer to dragonflies as "mosquito hawks." That was a less-than-inspired localism.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Aschenputtel sounds like a literal translation. Euphony sometimes is poorly served in translation.

Banana Oil said...

Very interesting differences among languages.

aschenputtel? Uff da!

John A Hill said...

reminded me of an old post:

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

This was interesting since I only know bad words in Italian. :-)

And the word for butterfly in Indonesian which is Kupu Kupu. My friend from Indonesia taught me that it means butterfly and prostitute which I found interesting.

Mike said...

Wikipedia has all the info on pine cones..... I mean pineapples. The excellent fruit (nanas).

Big Sky Heidi said...

Very interesting post. I don't think that pineapple sounds so bad, and all of the butterfly words sound melodious. Well, the German word is a wee bit atonal.

Hope you Monday was not too painful.