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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

My Dear

Today, my dear, we are going to speak about language.

Or specifically, my dear. It's a phrase you will notice when you work/live here, and may be used to a complete stranger. In fact, I pulled one friend up and she retorted she was Asian, that this was Asian English and she was going to use it.

To a native speaker it sounds over familiar, close to my darling - not something you would say to a lover, but to your family. Even then it sounds wrong. My dear sounds old fashioned, or condescending - if we used it, it would be to achieve a certain effect, either self-mocking or patronising. Personally, I am more likely to use the word dear with an Oh in front - normally in front of my mother-in-law when I can't say anything stronger!

But it has become part of the language here, a variant of a language which is, after all, spoken by more non-native speakers than by native speakers. It is used to be friendly, often during the first meeting, though it may still jar with a native speaker.

There are a lot of odd phrases here, many of them imported and picked up from India - not surprisingly, as there are more Indians than Qataris here. One I always love is an old fashioned phrase which must have been preserved in India long after it was lost in England. "May I know your good name, sir?"

Of course some things are just plain wrong, if we are allowed to say anything is wrong in this post modern world. I personally hate "open your shoes," mostly because my daughter has picked it up from someone or somewhere and always uses it. This error has come about, I believe, as it is a translation of what people say in many other languages.

I like, on the other hand, the over-use of the present continuous, which still seems to be a mostly Indian trait, with limited use among the Arabs here. There is nothing like a "I am liking this very much," accompanied by a friendly waggle of the head to warm your heart. (Presumably it was one of these chaps who came up with the Mac Donalds ad "I'm lovin' it".)

A lack of awareness of the subtlities of English can lead to embarassment - or even loss of appetite. I was put off by one menu when fried crab was spelt as fried crap, only to move on to the next cafe and discover that there was pregnant chicken on the menu. (Fortunately, it tasted very nice, especially when accompanied by Truckish coffee.)

It's not just menus where you can find such gems - at one building site there was a sign saying "Danger: Erection Going On."

But none of these errors really matter; the great thing is that people from all over the world and with many different tongues are able to communicate - and native speakers of English like me are very lucky that it is our language being spoken. So at the end of the day, as long as you can get your meaning across, it is all "Same Same".

Want to communicate with the locals? Check out our Beginners Guide to Arabic.

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