Archive for January, 2018


January 12, 2018

Excuse my FrenchWhile speaking about developing countries from which most immigrants come to the U.S.A. nowadays, Mr. Trump used a word that was not in accordance with accepted standards of what is right or proper in polite society. Reportedly, Mr. Trump asked lawmakers, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” He was apparently referring to Haiti, El Salvador and African countries. Leaving aside the hotly debated question of the American President’s views, I found it linguistically interesting to trace how the “serious” media across the world translated the improper word into their respective languages. The Ukrainian e-papers translate the word as “dirty holes” giving the original English invariant in brackets. In French, headlines featured “pays de merde”, using the expletive to refer to the countries but without the word “hole.” In Spanish, “países de mierda” was used, similar to the French, as well as “países de porquería”, which means “trash countries.” In German, “Drecksloch,” which literally means “dirt hole” but like the word used by Mr. Trump is considered vulgar. In Dutch, one newspaper used “achterlijk” (“backward, or mentally deranged”) as its headline. In Japanese, a word that translates as “outdoor toilet” was used. In Portuguese, one outlet used a word that translates as ‘pigsty’, while others translated the quote literally. Mr. Trump’s slur was translated into Japanese as “restroom-like countries,” ”unsanitary nations,” “countries not fit to be fertilizer.’ The Chinese (Taiwan and mainland China) preferred “softer” words: “trash countries,” “broken place,” “haunted spot.” Only once a ‘stronger’ expression “manure kingdom” was used.

The whole world is attempting to correct Mr. Trump’s speech manners. And I thought about giants. About George Washington who formulated the articles of the U.S. Constitution, about Abraham Lincoln’s carefully crafted Gettysburg Address in which he spoke about his country that was “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” about J.F. Kennedy addressing his fellow Americans with “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” or Winston Churchill’s “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm,” or Charles de Gaulle’s “The leader must aim high, see big, judge widely, thus setting himself apart form the ordinary people who debate in narrow confines.” I thought about uplifting words that give wings.


January 10, 2018

equilibrist-2While rummaging through my archives. I have discovered a joke which is a perfect specimen of Englishmen’s love for their language.

A man is trapped in a room with no windows, no doors and no cracks. How did he get out?

ANSWER: He banged his head on the wall until it was sore, then he used the saw to cut the table in halves, whereupon he put the two halves together to make the whole. He crawled through the hole and started to shout until he was hoarse. Then, he jumped upon the horse and escaped. Voilà!


January 1, 2018

2018-01-01blg-West MidlandsMy first day of the year 2018 began with the thing I enjoy most – a plunge into English. This time it was listening to The Archers. Since I’m going to post a few entries about The Archers  within the next month or two, I will just mention some major aspects of the programme which make it attractive for me.

First, it’s the language, of course. The actors speak dynamic British English with a huge variety of phonetic modulations and a rich palette of vocabulary and colloquial structures. All in all, there are about sixty actors involved, and each week you may hear 20-30 of them. The voices represent all strata of the middle class: the old and the young, the educated and those who are less educated, business people and farmers, Northerners and Southerners speaking their particular variants of English.

This BBC Radio 4 soap opera (and this is a soap opera) is only a year younger than I am 🙂  : it was launched in 1950 and is the world’s longest-running show. Originally it had some financial support of the British Ministry of Agriculture which aimed at enhancing the agricultural competence of the rural population. Later, the demand for food grown at British farms lessened, and The Archers was gradually transformed from a show about (and for) the country folk to just a “drama in rural settings.” Events take place on the date of broadcast, which makes it possible to include quite a number of topical subjects. For example, one of the themes discussed nowadays — not politically, but on everyday level, is Brexit: a disadvantage may be, some farmers say, that there will be no European grants for agricultural development, but on the other hand, the inner market for British farmers may become larger. Earlier, the highlights were the World Trade Centre attacks, the 7 July 2005 London bombings, etc.

However, the main charm is that the serial makes much of everyday small concerns of the English family. It’s like a window into an English home. Many of today’s values and agendas (education, migration, job-seeking, environmental problems, the generation gap, feminism, the future of the family, etc) are scintillating in daily 13-minute dialogues.

2018-01-01blgThe locale of The Archers is the fictional village of Ambridge. The village is situated on the fictional river of Am in the fictional county of Borsetshire. The main county newspaper is The Borchester Echo, the cheese brand produced in the county is called Borsetshire Blue. There’s a cathedral city Felpersham in Borsetshire with a local university. When the inhabitants of Ambridge travel beyond Borsetshire, they say “It’s on the other side of Felpersham!” But there are real things too: the West Midlands where Ambridge is, the city of Birmingham to the North (the Ambridgers go shopping there), the counties of Worcestershire and Warwickshire bordering on Borsetshire (in reality Worcestershire and Warwickshire are contiguous) and the Malvern Hills on the horizon observed on a clear day.

DSC06920aIt’s no easy task for a foreign student of English to start with The Archers. It took me about half a year to grow into regular listening of the serial. I had had to study (and to remember!) the ramified genealogical trees of the families who live there. Besides the Archers, there are the Aldridges, the Pargetters, the Grundys, the Carters, and other families there. There are many storylines which are suspended and which crop up again later. I had to ask my son who is living in England at the moment and also my wife, who traveled to England a few times, to bring me a few books with the background information (I am posting the book covers right in this blog entry). Besides, I subscribed to some Archer blogs run by Archer fans. Of course, I listen to the show in a different way than those old ladies who sit in front of the radio and shed tears over accidental deaths, suicides and extramarital pregnancies in the serial. However, I know that if, according to official figures, some 5-7 million listeners follow The Archers, there is something in the programme that appeals to the English psyche – the mind and soul that I want to comprehend.

%d bloggers like this: