Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Our own international English

Ever since we moved here I've noticed little British-isms creeping into our speech. There are so many Brits here, and many other residents who speak English as a second language have learned the British variant, including Miriam's Iraqi schoolteacher and not a few of her classmates. What ends up happening is that to avoid confusion when speaking in English with persons of indeterminate nationality, we often use the British word/term first. It's just easier that way, even though I feel weird doing it.

(Before you decide I'm being pretentious, please know that it's not Jeremy and me sitting in our living room chatting away in an affected British accent. It's only when we're dealing with someone else's sketchy English skills and we know we might only get one shot to get our message across.)

So instead of dropping someone off, we just drop them. No 'off' needed. And when we pick them up, we don't. We collect them. (I actually love the mental image conjured by this term.)

Miriam is the source of a good many of these Britishisms. She sometimes slips into a very slight British accent these days. It's so cute. She's always "tidying up" and admonishing us to do things "properly" and sending us on our business with an "off you go!"

She also calls erasers "rubbers," which has taken some, uh, getting used to.

In UAE English, it's a canteen, not a cafeteria. A lift, not an elevator. The "leisure" in "leisure center" rhymes with "pleasure." (Heck, it's called a "leisure center," which in itself seems pretty British.)

There's also this weird practice of attaching an "it's good, yeah?" at the end of a sentence to elicit an affirmation from someone. In fact, just "yeah?" all by itself sometimes gets tacked onto a statement.

If we're the one affirming, sometimes we say "very good" instead of the more American "OK."

I'm sure some of these (and the many more I can't recall right now) are not strictly British. They are more likely an odd, international pidgin English created by the massive mish-mash of dialectal varieties found here. I came here expecting a foreign language, but I confess that another version of English was not what I had in mind.

And it makes me wonder how the American accent sounds to other people. I love all the different English accents that we hear in the UAE (Irish, Scottish, Northern England-ish, regular British, and if you're really good at telling the difference, Australian and New Zealand-ish). Plain old American English sounds so flat and drawn-out in comparison.

Oh well. At least we don't call an eraser a rubber. We'll always have that consolation.


Amanda said...

I don't think I could keep a straight face if Lillian asked me for a rubber. The "it's good, yeah?" reminds me of the Canadian "eh?". My best friend for my teenaged years was Canadian, and I adopted the "eh" just from being around her so much. Then everyone in college made fun of me and I had to make a conscious effort to stop doing it.

Susanne said...

Haha...I loved this and laughed out loud at the paragraph about what Miriam says! :)

Anonymous said...

When I studied abroad in London, I came to understand that the American accent sounds very nasal to Brits, in general. A friend and I had a contest to imitate one another's accent, and when it was his turn, he sounded just soooo nasal. Maybe this was just his interpretation (one is a pretty small sample size), but I don't think the American accent is one people think sounds "cool." Sigh. I so badly wanted to sound cool when I was there.

Anonymous said...

So if this is a pidgin English does that mean Miriam is speaking a creole?

I have had to learn that grading homework is "marking" and one "invigilates" exams here rather than "proctors".


Susanne said...

I found a rather new book at the library the other day and it was the next in line for me to read so I started it today. Rather timely with your post being about English. I keep thinking you might enjoy this one although I haven't gotten very far into it. Maybe it would bore you.

Here it is at Amazon.

Shannan said...

My favorite British words - "nappie" for diaper and "trolly" for shopping cart and "jumper" for sweater (it took me forever to understand that British people weren't running around in sleeveless dresses, but rather, sweaters).

I also love the term "lovely". As in "I had a great day today" "ah, that's lovely"

I've also adapted the "right" phrase where it sort of replaces "well" in front of a sentence - "Right, I'm going to do that now."

Liz Johnson said...

I would definitely do a double-take if my kid asked me for a rubber. Yesiree.

Miriam and Connor would probably have a most delightful conversation, since he sounds like an old British man when he talks thanks to Thomas the Train. He is often "cross" with me and declares that he will throw things in the "rubbish." He even talked about using the "lift" the other day. WHAT THE HECK. I was really hoping he'd pick up "y'all" from Indiana, but so far it ain't happenin'.

Katie said...

When I moved to the south, I planned on crazy accents and funny different words and terms. The only thing I've encountered is everyone here says "I know, right?" at the end of a sentence.

Kathy Haynie said...

I enjoyed reading the post. Thank you!

Amber said...

About half the staff I hired for the camp I ran were from Great Britain. On top of that, for about 18 months the only other two people in my office were both from England. I picked up a ton of Britishisms without even realizing it.

For example, instead of saying "I know this guy named..." I would say "I know this guy called..." I said that to someone back in Portland and they actually had to ask me what I meant - was that actually his name, or just what you called him. I also started saying things like "full stop" instead of "period". I still use lovely and proper on occasion, and I'm sure there are probably others that I can't think of right now.

Lark said...

I love your "linguistic" posts. Its so interesting to me.
About the American English...I was working in Texas one summer and asked a southern girl if I sounded like I had an accent. She said I sounded like I was from "the movies" or Hollywood...which isn't too far off as I grew up in L.A. So, instead of feeling like I have a boring/lazy American accent, I tell myself that I sound like a movie star...sounds much more fancy.


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