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English Language & Linguistics
Idioms - English As She Is Spoke
An idiom is
a form of words characteristic of a language.
Incidentally, let's not forget that translating from one language to another is always an approximation as the cultural meanings of words are rarely the same.
The ability to use idiomatic language is a sign of fluency. Equally, the use of the idioms of one language while attempting to speak another is not only a sign of lack of fluency but a source of humour for the native speaker.
There can be no clearer example of this than the book English As She Is Spoke (1883) by the Portuguese Pedro Carolino, described in a foreword by Mark Twain as
" written in serious good faith and deep earnestness, by an honest and upright idiot who believed he knew something of the English language..."
"It is widely believed that Carolino could not speak English, and that a French-English dictionary was used to translate an earlier Portuguese-French phrase book"
The result is hilarious incompetent yet understandable "English." It is also worth reminding ourselves that any non-native speaker (and a few who are native) is vulnerable to confusing idioms when attempting another language. We can mock this author only because he pretends to be an English speaker and publishes a phrase book.
We shall only give a few more examples here :
a take is better than two you have (a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?)
the dog than bark not bite (the dog that barks does not bite)
he go to four feet (he is crawling / on all fours)
Unidiomatic translations into English are not exclusive to 19th century phrase book authors. In the Italian "Guida Delle Aree Interne Del Piceno" written by the Comunita Montana dei Sibillini and provided with précis translated into English, French and German, there are many examples where the translation has taken phrases and sentence structure too literally. For example:
As these extracts are from a précis only the lengthy original is available in Italian, however it seems likely that the translator reaching for an Italian-English dictionary selected Romance vocabulary rather than Germanic wherever there was a choice.