How English sounds to everyone else

I got the idea for today’s post from the podcast A Way With Words. I’m super in love with this show, and I recommend it for everyone who is interested in English word origins and other language topics.

Native English speakers have ideas about how languages they do not speak sound. There are certain noises we can string together that imitate our idea of another language—noises that if we were to make to a speaker of that language would sound like gibberish.

Here’s a video of one English speaker speaking what he thinks sounds like several foreign languages:

 Ever wonder how English sounds to people who don’t speak it?

Youtube has a treasure trove of videos showing just this: English-sounding gibberish. Here’s a collection for you to enjoy.

This is a song made for Italian TV in which the singer sings entirely in sounds he interprets as sounding like English. (Also note the awesome background dancers!)

Here is a song in “fake” English from an Argentinian band:

Skwerl is a short film that plays with the same idea. In it, a couple speaks in “fake” English. One aspect I like about it is that even though they are not saying real words, the audience can still understand the emotions and ideas portrayed.

Here are more examples of foreign language speakers’ interpretation of English:

Meow! Miau! Nyan!

I happen to be obsessed with a little Japanese kitty who has a Pop Tart for a body and leaves a rainbow trail every time he moves. His name is Nyan, and he stars in a simple but deceivingly addictive video game of the same name. At first I thought the kitty’s name was Nyan just because . . . well, it was. But it turns out that nyan is the sound cats make in Japan.

In English, we’re used to our moos and oinks and woofs and meows, but animals don’t make the same sounds in other countries. Or, rather, the people speaking the languages don’t interpret the sounds the same way.

Take our Nyan cat, for example. In Japan, he says nyan. In the United States, he says meow. In Germany, it’s miau; and, in France, it’s miaou.

Here are other examples of what animals say across the globe:

Bird
English: tweet
French: cui cui
Greek: tsiou tsiou
Portuguese: pio
Swedish: pip-pip

Cow
English: moo
Finnish: ammuu
French: meuh
Japanese: mau mau
Spanish: meee

Dog
English: woof
French: ouah
German: wau
Greek: gav
Japanese: wan

Rooster
English: cock-a-doodle-do
French: cocorico
Hebrew: coo-koo-ri-koo
Japanese: ko-ke-kok-ko-o
Portuguese: cucurucu

Frog
English: ribbit
Dutch: kwak kwak
Finnish: kvaak
Italian: cra cra
Japanese: kero kero

pig
English: oink oink
French: groin groin
German: grunz
Japanese: boo boo
Russian: hrgu-hrgu

Want to learn more?
Here’s the page where I found all of these lovely words. Want to know the noise a donkey, moose, or crocodile makes? Check it out.

Here’s a link to a great ESL page where you can hear sound clips of native speakers saying the animal sounds.

When to italicize foreign words and phrases

Every once in a while, it feels good to add a snooty foreign word or phrase to your writing. I mean, what would the writing world be without a little je ne sais quoi? However, there are rules about how to treat these words and phrases on first reference, and that’s what today’s post is about. (After all, teaching language and style rules is Grammar Party’s modus operandi.)

Section 7.49 of the sixteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style states, “Italics are used for isolated words and phrases in a foreign language if they are likely to be unfamiliar to readers. If a foreign word becomes familiar through repeated use throughout a work, it need be italicized only on its first occurrence. If it appears only rarely, however, italics may be retained.”

The question is: How do you know if a foreign word or phrase will be unfamiliar to readers? Chicago has an answer for that, too. According to section 7.52, the test to find out if a word or phrase is likely to be unfamiliar to readers is to see if it is listed in Merriam-Webster.

If the foreign word or phrase is listed in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, don’t italicize it. If it’s not listed, italicize it.

Here’s a starter list of foreign words and phrases that don’t need italics (because they are listed in Merriam-Webster):

addendum entente
ad hoc ex officio
ad infinitum exposé
ad interim fait accompli
à la carte fete
à la mode habeas corpus
ante meridiem habitué
à pied hors d’oeuvre
a priori machismo
apropos maître d’hôtel
artiste mandamus
attaché mélange
avant-garde ménage
beau ideal nom de plume
belles lettres non sequitur
billet-doux papier-mâché
blasé per annum
bloc per capita
bona fide per contra
bourgeois per diem
cabaret précis
café prima facie
camouflage procès-verbal
canapé pro forma
carte blanche pro rata
chargé d’affaires protégé
cliché quasi
communiqué quondam
confrere realpolitik
coup recherché
coup d’état reveille
cul-de-sac résumé
de facto soiree
décolletage status quo
détente subpoena
dilettante têt-à-tête
distrait tour de force
doppelganger vice versa
dramatis personae visa
éclat vis-à-vis
en masse viva voce
en route

I hope you enjoyed our quasi têt-à-têt. Remember, if you’d like more Grammar Party musings throughout your day, you can follow me on twitter at @GrammarParty.

Foreign color idioms

 

Last time we talked about the ways colors have infused themselves into the English language. Naturally, this happens with other languages, too. But often there’s a little tweak. For instance, in English one could get a black eye, but in French it would be a black butter eye. And in English one could get red with rage, but in Italian it would be green with rage.

Alan Kennedy’s Color/Language Project has collected hundreds and hundreds of idioms involving color from languages across the globe. Below is a small sampling of my favorites from this site. If you enjoy these, I encourage you to check out Alan’s site. You’ll love it.

 

  literal translation meaning
French
passer une nuit blanche to spend a white night to have a sleepless night
blanc-bec white beak an inexperienced but pretentious person
une oie blanche a white goose a naive, silly girl
œil au beurre noir black butter eye bruised eye
Chou vert et vert chou cabbage green and green cabbage six of one, a half-dozen of the other
faire quelqu’un marron to make someone brown to cheat on someone
Spanish
blanca como la nalga de una monja white like a nun’s butt cheek pale
más listo que los ratones colorados more clever than red mice very cunning
un principe azul a blue prince Prince Charming
Italian
di punto in bianco from a point in white suddenly, unexpectedly
verde dalla rabbia green from rage very angry
un giallo a yellow an unsolved mystery
eminenza grigia gray eminence a powerful man controlling the situation behind the scenes
German
Halbgötter in Weiß demigods in white physicians
Heute rot, Morgen tot today red, tomorrow dead here today, gone tomorrow
das Gelbe vom Ei the yellow of the egg a good thing
Blauäugig sein to be blue-eyed naïve, gullible
Nachts sind alle Katzen grau at night all cats are gray It makes no difference (under certain circumstances).
sich eine goldene Nase verdienen earn yourself a golden nose to make a fortune
Polish
mieć żółte papiery to have yellow papers to be insane
myśleć o niebieskich migdałach to think about blue almonds to daydream
szary cztowiek gray person average Joe
Russian
отложить на чёрный день put aside for a black day put aside for a rainy day
голубая мечта light blue desire the thing you crave the most
Hebrew
אין לי מושג ירוק I don’t have a green notion I have no idea
צהובים זה לזה yellow to each other hating each other
טלית שכולה תכלת a light blue prayer shawl innocent & pure (used sarcastically)
Scottish Gaelic
chan ‘eil e geal da he has no white for him he is not fond of him
dearg-amadan a red fool a complete fool
Tagalog
maputi ang tainga white-eared stingy
maitim ang buto bone is black bad person
Greek
άσπρο πάτο! white bottom! bottoms up!
μαύρα μάτια κάναμε να σε δούμε our eyes turned black to see you we missed you for a long time
πράσινα άλογα green horses! an exclamation indicating disbelief; nonsense
πρασίνισε απ’το κακό του he turned green from anger he got very angry

Sabai dee pee mai! Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun! Happy New Year!

 

Felix annus novus tibi sit! Or, for our English readers, Happy New Year.

I’ve been wanting to study Latin for years. (If some super rich and friendly reader happens to want to sponsor my Latin classes, I’d, um, be open to it. ‘Cause I’m broke.) So, I bought this Latin phrase-a-day calendar because that’s sort of like studying Latin. And for January 1, it says, “Felix annus novus tibi sit.”

So, I would like to officially announce to all Grammar Party readers: “Felix annus novus tibi sit” to you.

In honor of well wishes for 2012, I have also collected translations of “Happy New Year” from other languages. Enjoy!

Afgani: Saale Nao Mubbarak

Afrikaans: Gelukkige nuwe jaar

Armenian: Snorhavor Nor Tari

Arabic: Kul ‘am wa antum bikhair

Croatian: Sretna nova godina

Danish: Godt Nytår

Dutch: Gelukkig Nieuwjaar

French: Bonne année

German: Glückliches neues Jahr

Greek: Kenourios Chronos

Hebrew: L’Shanah Tovah

Hungarian: Boldog új évet

Indonesian: Selamat Tahun Baru

Italian: Felice anno nuovo

Japanese: Akimashite Omedetto Gozaimasu

Klingon: DIS chu’ DatIvjaj

Korean: Saehae Bock Mani ba deu sei yo!

Loatian: Sabai dee pee mai

Norwegian: Godt Nyttår

Polish: Szczesliwego Nowego Roku

Portuguese: Feliz Ano Novo

Punjabi: Nave sal di mubarak

Slovenian: sreèno novo leto

Spanish: Feliz año Nuevo

Tebitan: Losar Tashi Delek

Thai: Sawadee Pee Mai

Turkish: Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun

Ukranian: Shchastlyvoho Novoho Roku

Urdu: Naya Saal Mubbarak Ho