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Friday, 12 July 2013

Of Eurish and Croatian English

One of the things I treasure from Ljubljana is a pair of small pictures of a memorial to the visit to Ljubljana made by James Joyce in 1904.

He was a young man then, but some of his ideas would have been starting to gel.

Ulysses  was some years away, Finnegans Wake was two decades away, but the Eurish that he used to make polyglot puns in the Wake must have been all around him.  Few signs of this remain,  but on Platform 6 in Ljubljana's main station, if you are ever there, look on the right as you come up the stairs.

Eurish is still alive and well when it comes to communicating in Europe.  Most travellers know the English 'WC' in its German form of 'Vay-tsay', and we all know twah-let, the bastardised form of the French form of 'toilet'.  The other night, I stepped out of the dining hall, seeking the loo, bog, khazi or dunny.  I met another bloke who looked a bit nonplussed, as though he was trying to walk with his legs crossed.

"Vay-tsay?" I essayed.  "Twah-let," he replied.  I was no closer to identifying his nationality, but we we aligned.  We shruggeed to each other and divided to halve the load.  It occurred to me to wonder what his nationality was: one night in Bergamo in Italy, a man approached me with a question in Italian, of which I had a sparse few words, back in 1986: I have a few more now, but I still have a minimal grasp of syntax.

"Francesi?", I essayed.  He nodded and lapsed into French as poor as mine and we limped along, then my son asked mje what we were discussing.  "He is asking me where the xxx is..."

Before I could enlarge on this, slightly amazed American tones asked "You speak English?" and the rest of our chat was concluded in our respective versions of that tongue

Anyhow, back to the comfort search: I found the target room, and running through my assortment of Eurish terms,  I selected the one most likely to compute.  "Aha!", I cried in triumph.  It worked, we relieved ourselves, nodded mutely to each other at the wash-basin, and moved off on our own paths.  Eurish still works, but it is nowhere as potent a communication tool as English is in the modern world.

In retrospect, he may have been an English speaker, but I doubt it.

Today, Joyce would have a far poorer command of Eurish, because the billboards all carry English sentences like "We love to go shopping!" and other short samples of English.  Television is full of programs in English, with Croatian subtitles, English is taught in schools, and because they speak English, all of the brighter young children have assured jobs, albeit in the service industries.

Still, in a few cases, the command is less than it ought to be. These excerpts from a holiday guide show what can go wrong:
"Trogir lies on a small island between the mainland and the island of Ciovo, connected by bridges.  It is connected with all towns in Dalmatia by Adriatic road. because of the position and nature of protection, Trogir is favourite harbor for boaters.

As they near the airport and highways, not one place, no port, nor an island are not far enough that it could be avoided....

Tourist committed town has a good range of accommodation in various hotels, apartments and private houses, adorned by beautiful sandy beaches...."
The Swiss were once renowned for this sort of thing, according to Gerard Hoffnung, but in the cities at least, they are well beyond that. Out in Heidiland, where we were yesterday, I needed every scrap of German that I could muster.

But that's another story, saved for another day.

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