Tag Archives: language

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!

Easy translation: a double-edged sword?

Google Translate word lens feature

Image source: Google

Big news from Google Translate: you can now point your smartphone camera at French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, or Spanish text — and immediately get an English translation. (Thanks to Danielle Villegas — @TechCommGeekMom — for pointing me to the original article by Pete Pachal on Mashable.)

As Pachal writes, “Star Trek‘s universal translator is here, and it’s on your phone.”

It’s very cool, and incredibly useful.

However, as someone who used a slide rule before pocket calculators came into vogue, I have a question.

Just as calculators (and then personal computers) eroded people’s skill at doing long division, will easy translation software make people less likely to learn foreign languages? If I can navigate around Lisbon or Moscow using my smartphone, will I bother to learn anything at all of Portuguese or Russian?

And if that’s true, won’t something be lost? After all, learning a language is more than just learning vocabulary and syntax. It’s gaining a bit of insight into the culture that produced the language, and it’s opening up a way for me to connect with people in that culture.

So, hooray for easy translation software. In the short run it’ll certainly make our lives easier. But will it prove to be a double-edged sword?

Tell me what you think in the comments.