Thursday, October 18, 2007

UK... USA... Who said?

One autumn day in Florence, a friend and I walked in to a book-store. The place was full to capacity, and as I wondered through the crowd, two sets of dictionaries caught my eye. One said: Italian/English dictionary, the other said Italian/American dictionary.

It honestly took me by surprise! As I held both of them in disbelief, I murmured underneath my breath that I thought I spoke English. An Italian gentleman next to me actually heard me and began to laugh. No you don't, you speak American, and it's not the same thing. Up to that point, I had never considered the fact that Italians don't think I speak English... I speak American.

In person, there's no denying it. But when it comes to formal writing, are we that much different? I read BBC all the time, and it doesn't feel like another language to me.

Well, it seems like the British translators are overwhelmed with work right now. I've been very busy myself, but there is a translation that needed to be assigned immediately, and they've asked me to step in.

11,000 words from Italian to English. PS Can you make your English as British as possible? Oh, boy!

So, I leave you with a video from the Italian band, Planet Funk, "Who said?"

"I...I... I've never been to the USA... Deeetroit, New York, aaand LA, but I'm stuck in the UK"


Romerican said...

Yeah, I didn't realize how many differences there were between American and English until I moved to Italy! Most of the English here tends to be British (aubergines, courgettes, rocket, you get the picture) since that's what they teach in "English" classes.
I think when it comes to technical translations, the difference between the two isn't as noticeable. But in my case, I translate lots of dialogue so you can really tell that I'm American. I’m incapable of translating into British, I mean I can use British spelling but that’s about as far as it goes for me (=

Audra said...


What a great topic. I have lots of friends and family in Italy and they actually tell me they like American English better because it's easier for them to understand. I would have to agree.. American accents aren't as divergent as British ones. Another thing that in my opinion makes them feel a bond towards American English is the fact that every Italian I know has a relative in NY or somewhere in Canada (which sounds more like American English, but with British English spelling conventions).

Roam2Rome said...

Ciao Romerican,
You translate dialogue, too? Ah, yes, I see you do subtitles :) Fascinating work, but probably more challenging due to the idiomatic expressions that can get lost in translation and need translator's creativity :)

Mine are more straight forward... enjoyable... but much more straight forward :)

Hi Audry,

I wonder why they think spoken US English is easier to understand, maybe because they are exposed to it through Hollywood? Could be :)

A few people I've spoken to actually admitted they prefer British English since it's what they've been taught all their life, and they're used to it..

It could be a matter of personal preference :)

Anonymous said...

Maybe you could be of help:

Caro Beppe,
scrivo per un motivo diverso dal solito. Decida lei se è il caso di pubblicare questa lettera o meno; probabilmente mi potrebbe essere anche d'aiuto lei direttamente senza coinvolgere altra gente. Come sa probabilmente (ho scritto più volte alla sua rubrica) ho lavorato parecchio tempo negli Stati Uniti. Per questo motivo sono stata contattata da una famiglia italiana per una richiesta di aiuto. Una signora il 7 novembre ha un appuntamento in Arizona, Phoenix, per una visita medica. Non parla bene inglese e il medico della Barrow Neurosurgical Associates ha chiesto l'ausilio di un interprete. Io non conosco nessuno lì in Arizona; si tratterebbe solo di poche ore per aiutare questa signora.
Vi prego di contattarmi se potete essermi d'aiuto. Grazie ancora e mi scuso per aver usato la rubrica per uno scopo peronale. Grazie ancora,

Chiara d'Agostino,
Ecco qui, Chiara. Spero che qualche Italian in Arizona (ce ne sono) possa dare una mano. Saluti da Sydney, e in bocca al lupo.

Roam2Rome said...

WOW, I used to work there last year!!

It's one of the best Neuro Surgical Hospitals in the US and we had patients from all over the world, and I was an interpreter there! I wish I was still there...

They require that all their interpreters be certified to interpret in the language, and I'm certified for Medical Spanish...

But Barrows, like most hospitals, has a medical interpreter phone system, they turn on the speaker phone and within seconds they'll have an Italian medical interpreter who is Native Italian speaker... and it wont cost her anything more.

I'll write to her :)

Jeanne said...

Love and hugs and smiles across the miles......
Everywhere I go everyone knows I am Canadian by my "accent"
Love you

Roam2Rome said...

Hi Jeanne,

I was thinking about this, too :)

There's also Canadian English, Australian English...

Spoken differences, many!

Formal writing differences, not that many...

Devil Mood said...

Did you know that there was time when people thought that in time the english spoken in America would be completely different from the one spoken in Europe because of the distance.
I think it's actually the opposite now because of all the interaction that the media and internet allow people to make everyday.

Same thing happens in Brazil and Portugal - some books that we think are written in the same language are actually 'translated', I would say adapted when their cross the Atlantic from one side to the other. But I'd say the difference in the case of the portuguese is bigger than with the english.

mental mosaic said...

Great post! I visited England when I was a teen, and people often said, 'Speak American for me!' They especially loved it if I put on a southern accent for them (I used to live down south, so it was easy.)

As an Italian language newbie, I truly admire your bilingual abilities. In fact, I secretly daydream of doing some translation work myself someday - although I've got a loooooooooooong way to go at this point!

Re: Audra's comment - My Italian fiance says that, for him, certain British accents are the easiest to understand. You know the 'posh' accent, for instance.

As for me, I find that never before have I noticed or cared so much about 'people who mumble' versus 'people who don't mumble.' But when I meet an Italian mumbler, it's really tough for me at this point.

Kataroma said...

English and American are the same language - just with some different words. I think Italians are crazy for considering them to be different languages. It's like comparing Rome Italian to Venice Italian - different accents, some different words but the same language (not talking dialects here.)

I don't know why they learn that US and UK English is so different at school. Maybe a way for the (mostly not fluent in English and almost never mother tongue) English teachers in high schools to sound more like 'experts'?

qualcosa di bello said...

on our travels in toscana we lodged with a woman who spoke impeccable british-english. imagine my surprise to find that she was native italian, but worked as an english teacher in secondary school. she explained what you wrote to me & i was flabbergasted! qui sara`?

amanda said...

This is a very interesting theme. I am English and I worked for many years with a native New Yorker who was also Jewish, and although there were many fascinating idosyncrasies in our vocabulary, I think we always felt we speaking the same 'language'.

La delirante said...

Oh my goodness! I can't believe it there is a dictionary american/'s like these people who think that in Latin America we don't speak Spanish and that they only speak the "correct" Spanish in gets into my nerves... :)

KC said...

I've never seen one of those Italian-American dictionaries! Damn, I used to use their apparent nonexistence as artillery in my war against the two language myth the Italians love so much.

My obgyn loves to remind me that I don't speak English. He likes to try to speak English, and when I finally figure out what he means because he so bad at it, I correct him and then he tells says, "what do you know, you can't speak English! (Very annoying thing for a former university professor to hear!)

I always try to explain to anyone insisting on this that the differences are mainly in pronunciation and some vocabulary. I think that the differences are greater depending on the level of the conversation or writing. The lower it is the more differences there will be. I actually wonder if that has something to do with the Italians' misconception. Many Italians I've known who claim to speak English try to use slang and speak very informally- gonna, wanna, gotta, etc. Very strange.

Audra, my dh also says he prefers American accents because they're clearer to him.