Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Language Barrier

by Anna Jones Buttimore

My fourth book, working title Honeymoon, has been accepted for publication by Cedar Fort, a publisher I haven’t worked with before. I’m very excited by that, and flattered that they suggested that my book didn’t need to be edited. However, not sharing their confidence (or wanting to take the entire blame for any mistakes) I sent it to my much-admired and trusted freelance editor anyway. I’m very glad I did. She corrected many errors and clarified many sections and generally improved it considerably. But something else she did was to point out words that my primarily American readership wouldn’t understand.

I have now spent, I think, about 3 months in total in the USA and had thought I knew all the language differences, but apparently not. Among the words I had to change were “coach” (which I changed to “bus”, even though a coach is a more luxurious form of transport than a public bus), “tower block” (“high-rise building”), “sunbed” (“lounger”), “lay-by” (“parking area”) and several others I couldn’t find another word for, including resort and central reservation.

The fact is, special relationship notwithstanding, Britain and America are very different, even in their use of the same language. The culture and outlook are entirely different. We Brits don’t do enthusiasm, effusiveness, emotion or earnestness. Americans don’t seem to do sarcasm or self-deprecation, at least not to the same level.

I have often reflected that in a UK LDS ward on Fast and Testimony Sunday you can always tell the converts. Members who have grown up in the church (generally surrounded by American missionaries) know that it is acceptable, even expected, if tears of emotion flow as they bear their testimony. Converts have been raised with the British rule that any display of emotion is unacceptable. They will not cry on the stand, and turn away, embarrassed and awkward, when others do.

It’s interesting too that there are problems which arise in the church here in the UK because most of the lesson manuals and materials we use come straight from Salt Lake and are written, to all intents and purposes, in American. My funniest memory is of a Sunday School teacher reading a story about some pioneers. The manual said that they “rode all the way to Salt Lake City standing up”. Our teacher looked in wonder at his class and explained that these pioneers had made a huge sacrifice in travelling to Zion “all the way on their horses, but standing up on the horses!” We were all agog. Why wouldn’t they sit on the horses? How difficult and uncomfortable that journey must have been! Later, of course, I discovered that in America the verb “to ride” can also apply to trains and buses and other forms of transport. In the UK, it always refers to a horse, or occasionally a bicycle, but never any other form of transport. We might travel by train, or take the train, or go by train, but we never ride a train. (That would probably suggest you were straddled on the roof, which is an interesting concept in itself.)

I love America, though. I really miss the openness and honesty, the friendliness and the optimism. I miss wide open spaces, free drinks refills and ranch dressing. Yesterday my family and I visited the first Taco Bell to open in the UK, about half-an-hour from our home. It was part of a food court in the second-biggest mall in Britain, so there were plenty of other places to choose from, but none of them had a queue (line). Everyone, it seemed, was in the queue at Taco Bell because it is the only Mexican food outlet in the country. And other little bits of America seem to be arriving. On the way to the mall we passed a hoarding (billboard) advertising Moutain Dew, although I’ve yet to see it in the shops. And on the way out of the mall we passed a stand selling gelato, something I first discovered in Utah in April. It looks as though America is coming here! (Yes, I know gelato is Italian.)

That’s not to say I don’t need to go back after all, because I do. Clearly I need to spend much more time learning the language.

No comments: