Tag Archives: English

Why do people mangle the language?

confusedAt the recent Australian STC conference, Neil James was asked why people write Manglish, or mangled English. I very much like what he had to say.

(As quoted in Sarah Maddox’s blog, ffeathers. Emphasis mine.)

  • At school, we imbibe the notion that complex writing is better writing. Waffle gets reasonable marks, provided it’s elegant waffle.
  • Early in our careers in the professional and technical workplace, mastering and using the technical jargon of our field gives us a stronger feeling of belonging.
  • When we learn the tech vocabulary of a particular industry, it’s difficult to adjust to communicating with a lay audience.
  • Institutional culture reinforces the language patterns. Large organisations move slowly. It’s hard to change their processes. When you do successfully introduce change, the organisation moves steadily along the new path.
  • Language is used as an expression of power. Sometimes, people deliberately use jargon to protect their financial interests or to manipulate public opinion. An example is from the airline industry, when people use the term “loss of separation” of two planes, which means the two planes collided.

What do you think? Have you experienced a “loss of separation” with some mangled English lately? What might’ve caused it, do you think?

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Shocked at how languages evolve? No way!

As a native speaker of English, I’m often impressed by how much influence our language has throughout the world, especially in business and technology.

Other times I’m not so much impressed as embarrassed.

If you ride the subway into downtown Stockholm you might see this advertisement:
Advertisement in Swedish, with the English expression
That’s right. No way, the flippant, emphatic expression of denial, has made its way into the Swedish vernacular. I shudder to think what might be next.

Yet I shouldn’t shudder, and I certainly shouldn’t be surprised. Languages have been influencing and enriching each other for millenia. Case in point: knowing English and a bit of German, I had no trouble finding the subway station in Stockholm. I just followed the signs to Tunnelbanan.

Now that no way has entered the Swedish language, I’m willing to bet that — unless it soon falls out of vogue — it’ll evolve new shades of meaning in Swedish that it never had in English. Just like smorgasbord has evolved a metaphorical meaning in English — it now refers to any large and diverse collection — that it doesn’t have in Swedish.

Having gotten over my initial surprise and embarrassment, I realize that the Swedish no way is just another example of the eternal interplay between languages. It’s a reminder that language is dynamic, that it often goes in directions surprising and whimsical. It’s a fascinating and marvelous process. And if anyone thinks it’ll ever stop, I have two words for you:

No way!