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b2ap3_thumbnail_working-party.pngLike most industries, market research has its own particular jargon, and a lot of French market-research speak is cluttered with anglicisms, modified to a greater or lesser degree. As words get dragged across the planet, they undergo what I call the “Brussels effect”. An example will make this clear.

Many – oh, too many – years ago when I was a young virgin translator, a client chastised me for mistranslating groupe de travail by working-party... Shame on me. We’re not here to have fun. “It’s working-group” they told me. And, true enough, it wasn’t. The correct term (in those days) was indeed working-party, but Euro-babble, Globish or just plain lowest-common-denominatorism had screamed for simplification to harmonize it with other European languages, as in German Arbeitsgruppe, Italian gruppo di lavoro, Portuguese grupo de trabalho, and so on. And today, perhaps, working-group it may well be.

The French make quite a to do about their language’s gradual disappearance from international exchange (brazen advertisement coming up: see my soon-to-be-forthcoming book French out of France) while belly-aching just as loudly about the decline in grammar, spelling, etc., among the population at large. At the same time, they fail perhaps to appreciate that that which maintains a certain static complexity of language disappears when the language become widely used. This is the inevitable result of a language evolving into a lingua franca. Now, French wants to have its brioche, as well as eat it. And while they may legitimately complain about their sloppy writing, it is nothing to the carnage visited upon that most sacred of tongues, namely English.

One of French’s most egregious examples of market-research speak is their use of “learnings”. Firstly, typically, it is the present participle of the verb to learn (and not a noun), and rarely used before the mid-20th century. Secondly, to many English speakers, its plural offends the ear, but presumably not the one that’s perfectly used to teachings or hearings. In fact its pedigree goes as far back as Shakespeare who used it in Cymbeline (1611) and even Caxton (1483) in his translation of Geoffrey IV de la Tour Landry’s Livre pour l’enseignement de ses filles (“The Book of the Knight in the Tower”), written for the education of his daughters. So if it’s good enough for the head-splitting cavaliers of the Hundred Years War, it’s good enough for the hair-splitters of 600 years later…

Language changes. Is it for the better or for the worse? I don’t know, but neither Brits nor the French would be speaking what we do today if we’d always been perfect. Our languages have become what they are due in part to thousands, millions, of careless mistakes and sloppy writing.

But it doesn’t mean you have to :o)

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b2ap3_thumbnail_UnlockVision.pngAfter 9 months of grand promises, #UnlockVision will close. #Creditors #Debts #Unpaids #BenMitchell

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b2ap3_thumbnail_UnlockVision.pngAprès 9 mois de belles promesses, #UnlockVision fermera. #Créanciers #Dettes #Impayées #BenMitchell

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The English nickname for the French as we all know is Frog or Froggy. It is intended to be a humorous take on their tendency to eat things the average Brit would prefer not to. Their name for us is Rosbif (roastbeef) and perhaps also reflects the stereotype Englishman bloated with meat, cholesterol, gout and wine of George Cruikshank, James Gillray and other. But these are national stereotypes and therefore different.

But why English “turkey” (the bird) and French “dinde”? It all dates back to the bird’s discovery in America and Mexico the 16th century, following various routes back to Europe. And given the multiple rabbit holes available the present article will be necessarily short and lacking in depth.

In brief, the turkey was believed (wrongly) to be a guineafowl, and these were believed to come from Turkey, so from Turkey bird to turkey was no great leap. Why then the French dinde, or poulle d’Inde, chicken of India? All the more so since they already had one of these dating back at least as far as 1380. The then poulle d’Ynde was the guinea fowl and Ynde was used to designate Abyssinia where it did come from. By 1600 dinde referred to the turkey and the guinea fowl was renamed from the Portuguese pintada (for “painted” bird) as pintade and the Portuguese itself shifted to galinha-d’angola, but I digress.

So far we have two “origins”: Turkey and India. Let’s assume that “India” is that vague otherwhereness which might be influenced from east or west, but doesn’t actually reach the country we know now. Why then the Scandinavian “Kalkun”esque names: Kalkun (Danish, Norwegian, Votic…), Kalkunlane (Estonian), Kalkkuna (Finnish), Kalkon (Swedish), Kalkoen (Dutch) and Kalakutas (Lithuanian)? Because they presumably adopted it from mid-16th-C German Indianisch / Kalekuttisch / Welsch hün (the latter exporting to Pennsylvania Dutch as welschhinkel or foreign chicken!), before they dropped it themselves and, after a brief flirt with turkische henne, opted for Truthuhn, said to come from the trut-trut call hens use to call their chicks (ditto put for its other name of Pute, but I remain sceptical about both these explanations), the resulting muddle of which possibly influenced Latvian’s Tītars where Latvian linguists hint it might have gone the way of “turcēni” but was waylaid. No comment. And what about the bizarre Bavarian Kaudara? Your guess is as good as mine. However, the hint was there: Kalkun < Kalekutt < কলিকাতা, or, for those who’ve forgotten their Bengali, Kôlikata or Calcutta. Which is not where they come from.

Nor do they come from Peru, which is what the Brazilians call it. The Spanish take a different tack: pavo, derived from Latin Pavus, meaning peacock, which it ain’t.

So roughly speaking, we have the northern part of Europe calling it Calcutta, an area of historically non-Protestant influence using India – Polish indyk, Russian индейка (indeyka), Georgian ინდაურ (indaur), Breton: yar-indez (Indian chicken); Catalan: gall dindi salvatge (wild Indian chicken); Basque: indioilo (Indian chicken); Sicilian: tacchinu (whatever that means, but possibly related to the Emiliano-Romagnolo tòch) or jaddu d'India (Indian cock), Armenian: Հնդկահավեր (Hndkahaver, where the first three letters seem to represent India), Sardinian dindu – and only one Turkey.

Only? There’s Welsh and Gaelic, obviously, with Twrci and Turcaí, and then the bloody Scots have to come up with Bubbly-jock, followed dubiously by Bosnian ćurka (pronounced kurka, are they on the fence?) and Czech krocan (have they fallen off?) which aren’t really convincing either way. But there is one more: Hindi-speakers call it तुर्की (turkī) and, of course, Turks call it hindi

To the homelands then: Mexico (and Ignoring north America with its hundreds of Indian languages vying for confusion: Navajo tązhii, Cherokee ᎬᎾ [pronounced gvna, as if you hadn’t guessed], Cheyenne Ma'xêhë'ne…) with the Nāhuatl language where it’s called huehxōlōtl and, incidentally, producing the Mexican name guajolote. Were things that easy… anyone looking at the name will automatically think of axolotls, as well they should, because I suspect we have a whammy coming up… Axōlōtl is traditionally understood to come from atl meaning water and xolotl meaning monster but since we (they) also have Xōlōtl, a god of miscellaneous manifestations including that of duality, the “monster” might simply be the “otherness” of its surprising metamorphosis from aquatic larval form to terrestrial adult land salamander... Back to the beast: huehxōlōtl. Related to the god Xōlōtl or not? His name has many associations: twin, dog, slave, double ear of corn, from one of his dodgy disguises at a critical point in creation; he was hunchbacked, god of fire and lightning, protector of albinos and hairless dogs, occasional axolotl himself and also a hint of a bat. What to make of the name though? Let’s imagine that the term xōlōtl does represent some combination of duality, monstrosity, deformity, let’s also imagine a familiarity with turkey sexuality. During the breeding season, the snood, the fleshy flap of tissue on top of the beak will engorge with blood and swell like a penis. Could this, along with the saggy “chin” or wattle (which might or might not look like a double ear of corn) be the monstrous duality? Another track is an alternative (plural) of the turkey’s name: huehhuehxōlōtl, and since huehue can also mean "old", maybe it’s simple the mass of wrinkles that represents old age?

I don’t know, and I’ll probably never find out. So don’t take this too seriously, it was just for fun.

One more: Ligurian: bibbin… Where on earth did they get that one?

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Think back to your French verbs and how to say you don’t <insert verb here> something. Je ne sais pas, je ne veux pas, etc. Anyone learning French sooner or later comes across alternatives replacing pas under various circumstances: je ne vois personne, for I see nobody, je ne pense guère for I hardly think. This, as I explain in my French out of France, is a result of what is known as the Jesperson Cycle, a switch in negativization which, in both Old French and Old English, began around about the year 1000.

In the good old days, verbs were negated by putting a ne in front of it. This was done in both French and English, for example:
• French: jeo ne dije ne dis pasje dis pas
• English: ic ne secgeI ne seye not → I say not (English has taken yet another step, borrowing the “do” verb from Welsh, but that’s a tale for another night, children)

However, the ne often weakened and a curious addition was glommed onto the end as a stronger, reiterating negation (and not a double negative: language is not math). Over several hundred years, the initial ne weakened further still until the second negation remained the only one. Interestingly, the second negation was not originally negative, but positive, or “something”. Some examples will explain the transformation. While French pas, literally step, in je ne marche pas may need a bit of arm-twisting to be understood as I [can]not walk a[nother] step, others are more obvious: je ne bois goutte, or I can’t drink another drop; je ne mange mie, or I can’t eat another crumb; and je ne vois point, or I don’t see at all (i.e. the tiniest dot). Some terms are borrowed from other languages, such as guère, as in guère utilisé, or not used much, from Frankish *waigaro, lots, and rien, nothing, from Latin res < rem, a thing.

The Jesperson Cycle, affecting languages such as Old Norse, Finnish, ancient Greek and others, is but one fascinating example of language shift over time, and what is “wrong” today is interesting for its implications tomorrow. Oddly, various languages have been simplifying for centuries, raising the question of why they were complicated in the first place, but highlighting what would seem to be a need for fluid, effective and economical communication in the more international and/or “advanced” societies.

So the anality of French insisting that we should use the ne when nobody does unless someone is looking has its legitimate reasons, but they are anal, as anal as the French Academy insisting that since prieure and supérieure derive from Latin comparatives, neologisms such as auteure or professeure should be proscribed. This is as idiotic as saying we shouldn’t say “sofa” because Turkish sofa originally designated a raised stone or wooden platform covered with cushions and such and they don’t sell them at Ikea.

Language is one of humanity’s richest mish-mashes, built piecemeal over centuries by everyday pignorami, a collection of accidental noises forced into a haphazard and often ambiguous communication system but one oftentimes striving for sense and logic. Some, English, Mandarin and Swahili, have simplified considerably compared to their peers to account for mass influxes into the relevant language pool of adult and language-hybrid offspring.

Basically, complicated or “esoteric” languages – and no prizes for guessing which one I might be referring to here – are harder to learn as adults, or even for children without regular and easy access to materials than simpler or “exoteric” ones.

English should be compulsory learning for all European children from a very young age, and all other languages should be abolished from the European Parliament.

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