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American English in Britain

Just when I thought I had figured out British accents, I encountered yet another linguistic challenge in the UK: the abundant lexicological differences between the American English that I grew up with, and the vocabulary that Brits actually use in their day-to-day lives.

Most commonplace words are fairly easy to figure out: lift, loo, biscuit, rubbish, parcel, jam… no problem there. But some might be a a bit trickier. So, without further ado, here are some book illustrations depicting memorable awkward situations 1 . Expat Gone Foreign, tXc comics, language comics, British English, American English, language learning, Britain

For instance, Brits refer to pants as “trousers”. If you find yourself in a clothing store and indicate that you don’t wear pants, they’ll think that you are THAT weirdo who goes through life without ever using underwear.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc comics, language comics, British English, American English, language learning, Britain

There was also the time when a colleague invited me to a party after work, and immediately thereafter asked if I had a rubber. Of course he meant eraser, not the birth control item. I’m glad someone clarified this to me and no one had to be reported to human resources…

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc comics, language comics, British English, American English, language learning, Britain

If someone offers you a meal from their boot, don’t be grossed out. They mean their car trunk 2.

Truth be told, learning these lexical differences turned out to be an amusing experience. What I didn’t find that amusing was the self-righteous attitude of linguistic supremacy that some Brits hold towards British English.

My colleagues, polite as they might have been, always felt the need to point out my spelling “mistakes”. An acquaintance gave me a list of British shows in the hope that I would “get rid of that horrifying American accent”. Some even told me that, whenever they heard someone speaking American English, they automatically deem them to be uneducated folks 3.

But here’s the thing: thinking that your version of the language is the quintessence, the most lustrous and the only one acceptable is like saying that X is the best food or Y is the best book ever written. There are tons of delicious meals, thousands of inspiring books and multiple versions of any given language, each as fascinating and enriching as the next. Diversity is key.

I wonder if it’s an island thing.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, British Isles, United Kingdom, Britain, Drawing map, I love maps, living abroad comics,

Do you have a preferred version of English? Do certain accents have positive or negative connotations for you? Leave a comment!

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If you liked this article, click here to decipher the cultural enigma of British politeness.

The Finno-Ugric Enigma

When you arrive in a new country and speak none of its language, you might find yourself in somewhat awkward situations. This is basically what happened to me on my first day in Finland: the Finno-Ugric enigma of non-anthropomorphic signs in restrooms.

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When I first arrived in Finland, “sauna” and “perkele” were the only words of Finnish that I knew. Of course everyone in Finland speaks English, but that didn’t stop me from getting myself into embarrassing situations. Up until then, not knowing the local language hadn’t posed any problems in getting around Europe 4.

I could always resort to the few Romance and Germanic languages that I already spoke to figure out the situation. Lost in an Italian town? Mix Spanish and Latin. Interacting in Denmark or Sweden? Pull out German. To my surprise, the althochdeutsch 2 literature courses really came in handy when deciphering the Morgunblaðið in Iceland.

Finnish however, belongs to the Finno-Ugric linguistic family, along with Estonian and Hungarian. How do you crack a language when there are no similarities or linguistic strings to pull from? I knew all the letters, but their combinations didn’t make any sense to me. How do you navigate life when you can’t even read? I felt almost illiterate, but also genuinely intrigued by the Finno-Ugric enigma. And it was then, in a coffee shop in Turku, that I decided to learn Finnish, the beautiful language of the bazillion cases and insane grammar categories. ♡

What about you? Why did you decide to learn a particular foreign language? Leave me a comment!

If you are into Finnish, check out Poronkusema and the Finnish Linguistic Landscape.

Tú, usted, vosotros

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Uve van Haven, Vos, tú, usted, vosotros, Spanish pronouns, pronombres personales español

Tú, usted, vosotros, vos. You, you, you, you. No wonder native English speakers attempting to speak Spanish may want to flip tables. When it comes to delving into a foreign language, the toughest bits to grasp are the ones that your L1 3 conceptualizes in a different manner. In this case, the English pronoun <you> correlates with several variables in Spanish 2. That’s quite the challenge for a native English speaker to comprehend, let alone use correctly in speech. So, when do you use which one? Let the Linguiputians 3 explain:

Expat Gone Foreign, tú vosotros usted vos, Spanish, español, language comics, historic linguistics, Latin, español

Are you talking to your friend or acquaintance? Use . Are there more than one? Use vosotros. Are you addressing your boss, an elderly person, a big fish, or an aristocrat with a monocle wearing a wig? Use the formal and reverential usted 4.

If you are unsure about whether to use tú and usted, pay attention to the people around you and how they address each other. When in doubt, just use usted at all times unless you are talking to a child. Better to be safe than sorry, amirite?

You might be thinking: hold on, if tú has the plural vosotros, what happens if you talk to more than one monocle-enthusiast, wig-wearing aristocrat? I’m glad you asked.

Expat Gone Foreign, tú vosotros usted vos, Spanish, español, language comics, historic linguistics, Latin, español

In this case, we ought to use ustedes, the plural form of usted. In addition, if you address multiple female friends or acquaintances, pick vosotras – as opposed to the plural masculine pronoun vosotros.Expat Gone Foreign, tú vosotros usted vos, Spanish, español, language comics, historic linguistics, Latin, español

“Waaaah! The Linguiputians are making my head hurt!” – I know, too much information. Let’s recap before we move on to the fun part:

Expat Gone Foreign, tú vosotros usted vos, Spanish, español, language comics, historic linguistics, Latin, español

Whereas English is quite happy with its functional and simplistic <you>, Spanish seems to be a master hoarder of personal pronouns. But how did we get here? Well, it all goes back to the original language.

Expat Gone Foreign, tú vosotros usted vos, Spanish, español, language comics, historic linguistics, Latin, español

Latin had two personal pronouns for the second person: <tu> and <vos> 5. The pronoun <tu> worked in the same manner as the modern-day Spanish tú 6, and <vos> had two usages: plural 7 and reverential 8 – pretty much like the current French <vous>. Quaint, uh?

The Castilian folks inherited these two pronouns from Latin, and used them happily throughout the Middle Ages. However, a few things happened to vos. First, having only one word for both “y’all” and “Your Highness” was somewhat ambiguous, so they came up with vosotros (vos + otros) 9 in the 13th century. So, at this point we had:

Expat Gone Foreign, tú vosotros usted vos, Spanish, español, language comics, historic linguistics, Latin, español

Additionally, vos – originally reserved to monarchs and nobles – became an ubiquitous trend. Everyone was tweeting about it: #LinguisticChange, #ImVosToo. Everyone wanted to be a vos. It became so overused among peasants and their family members that, in the 17th century, the pronoun had lost its deferential usage. It was basically a “you” to address your king, lord, trusted blacksmith, spouse, fellow farmer, dad, sister, uncle, lover, cattle and stray dog 10.

Expat Gone Foreign, tú vosotros usted vos, Spanish, español, language comics, historic linguistics, español, Linguiputians

Monarchs and overlords weren’t pleased. They needed to flaunt their power and wanted a linguistic device that separated themselves from their subordinates. That’s when the plebs came up with deferential formulae such as “vuestra reverencia” 11, “vuestra señoría” 12 or “vuestra merced” 13 in order to keep their masters happy.

As it always goes, artifacts we manipulate the most, wear out faster 14. These formulae were not an exception. Their phonetic surface morphed after years of prolonged, recurrent usage. It went down more or less like this:

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Uve van Haven, Vos, tú, usted, vosotros, Spanish pronouns, pronombres personales español

Whereas most of these formulae were rendered obsolete, “vuestra merced” turned into usted, the reverential pronoun that made its way to present-day Spanish 15. That’s how Peninsular Spanish ended up with tú, vosotros and usted, and the pronoun family lived happily every after.

Expat Gone Foreign, tú vosotros usted vos, Spanish, español, language comics, historic linguistics, Latin, español

Oh, right. Not only did vos lose its deferential value, but it also became quite derogatory in its final stages, and left to address folks of inferior status. Vos wasn’t cool anymore 16. By the 18th century, it had vanished into thin air.

Expat Gone Foreign, tú vosotros usted vos, Spanish, español, language comics, historic linguistics, Latin, español

Sorry, my bad. Vos was no longer around in the Iberian Peninsula because it had become a globetrotter of sorts. It joined the Spaniards who crossed the Atlantic during the 15th and 16th centuries. But vos didn’t travel around the vast continent all at once, nor did it stick everywhere it went. Some regions embraced it, some leaned towards tú, and some kept both.

And that’s why vos is nowadays alive and kicking in no less than seventeen Latin American countries. Vos is predominant in some regions (e.g. Argentina, Nicaragua), absent in others (e.g. Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico), and some have a the three-tiered system – vos-tú-usted – that reflects the degrees of respect and familiarity (e.g. Honduras, Chile) 17.

And that’s also why – in my opinion – Spanish is one of the richest, most vibrant and fascinating languages on this rich, vibrant and linguistically fascinating planet of ours.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Linguiputians, Vos, tú, usted, vosotros, Spanish pronouns, pronombres personales español

The Linguiputians

What do avocados and testicles have in common? Who were the angry Berserkers? Why do some Spanish-speaking countries use tú and others vos? It’s showtime for The Linguiputians 18. Coming soon!

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, language comics, etymology, Linguiputians, Lilliputians

The Geordie Accent

Before relocating to Britain, I truly believed that getting around would be a piece of cake, mostly because I already spoke English – or so I thought. Then the Geordie accent happened. From being greeted with “Alreet wor kid?” to deciphering my roommates’ conversations, the accent in Newcastle certainly posed a few challenges that I hadn’t anticipated.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Geordie, Newcastle, British accents, language comics, linguistic diversity

[Translation]
– “I’m heading to [my] bed, I’m really exhausted, mate.”
– “You are kidding, man! We are going down town tonight to get wasted!

In addition, there’s an interesting phenomenon when it comes to accent diversity in this country. Brits happen to change their accents depending on who they are talking to. John Doe could be talking to their colleagues in RP 2, switch to Cockney when he phones that friend from London and later on chat up his neighbors in Geordie.  Linguistic chameleons at their finest.

This skill certainly makes communication much easier, since most Brits will rapidly switch to RP when they notice that you are not from town. Besides the occasional befuddlement when Geordies interact with one another, you’ll be just fine getting around.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, expat comics, expat humor, uk, tea time

If you liked this strip, check out British Sinks.