Linguistic seductions 3: The subtle incursion of English

That the English language is found all over the world is not new. What is new, however, is the amount of infusion of English linguistic phenomena in other languages and cultures. Here are two examples, one from Slovak and the other from  Italian, of the extent of English spelling and pronunciation conventions taking over native conventions.

The Slovak case

One would expect, in a globalized world, the existence of Chinese restaurants in Slovak cities (Slovak Republic, not Slovenia). So it is no surprise that there are a number of them. Since I did not have the good fortune to taste their fares, I cannot comment on their quality. But I can make observations on the linguistic form of the names of their dishes on the menus. The most striking aspect of Chinese names of dishes is that they are spelled using English orthographic conventions, i.e., as if they were to be pronounced by an English speaker, not by a Slovak speaker. Here are just two specific examples: 1) ch as [č] not a [x]: chop suey,  (polievka so) Sichuanskej (zeleniny). 2) c as [k] not as [ts]: curry.The following conclusions can be reached about this subtle incursions of English here: either 1. everyone in the world is expected to know the conventions of English spelling or 2. the owners of Chinese restaurants in Slovakia all think Latin-based writing is pronounced like English or 3. restaurant owners, all foreigners, pander to non-Slovak, possibly English-speaking tourists.

The Italian case

The next step in this incursion of English is exemplified in Italian, where Latin expressions are pronounced as if they were English, specifically, sine die (Latin for “an indefinite day”) pronounced by a TV commentator as [sain day], as if these were English words. The other example is more interesting, it comes from an oral examination in architecture, where an Italian student kept saying [absaid] for the Italian word abside (apse, an architectural term), thinking it was an English word therefore pronouncing it as such, even though clearly it is an Italian word.

The most interesting fact about these incursions of English into Slovak and Italian is that the hegemony of English does not seem to have a linguistic policy propelling it and it is not supported by governments of English-speaking countries. Non-natives living in non-English speaking lands express their admiration of what they perceive as Anglo-prestige through emulation of anything and everything English, even in cases where it clearly is not English.






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