How living abroad has changed my use of the English language #Expatlife

I’ve lived in non-English speaking countries for the vast majority of my adult life. [Warning: The use of the word adult here refers to an age over 18 and not to any level of maturity.] This has had an impact on my English in obvious ways. I try to enunciate properly and use less complicated words, although I may, on occasion, purposely use obscure words to rile up my husband. [See warning above about level of maturity.] But there are other ways in which my English has altered that may be less obvious to non-native English speakers. Here are three examples to give you a taste of what in the blooming bollocks I’m on about.

wisconsinWisconsin. It started as a joke. I was participating in a conference call while working for a law firm here in the Netherlands with an American law firm. At some point, the American lawyer said something about how great my English is. Instead of saying duh!, I responded: It’s because I’m from Wis-KAHN-suhn. For those of you scratching your heads in confusion, let me explain that those of us from the civilized parts of the state simply call it Wisconsin, not Wiskahnsuhn. For reasons I cannot explain, I thought saying Wis-KAHN-suhn was incredibly funny and just kept saying it after that initial conference call. At some point, I couldn’t pronounce the bloody state in any other way.

blog_slang-cartoonBritish slang. Despite the United States having a population that is nearly five times the population of the United Kingdom, you will run into a lot more Brits while living in Continental Europe than Americans. It’s only natural that being friends with the English and Scottish had a profound effect on my American English. And it’s just so fun! Who wouldn’t rather fall arse over tit instead of stumble? I may be the Empress of Potty Mouth, but I have to clean my language up when I’m around my family or face the wrath of my eldest sister. Of course, I’m a cheeky bugger and can’t help using British slang which may or may not cause my family to roll their eyes at me and ignore whatever bollocks is coming out of my mouth. I love taking the piss!

Y’all. My use of y’all started in the military. The U.S. Army is full of Southerners. (If you want to go full nerd, here are the statistics: In 2013, 44% of all military recruits came from the South region of the U.S. despite it having only 36% of the country’s 18-24 year-old civilian population.) Naturally, I started imitating the use of y’all from my Southern colleagues. (Are they still called colleagues when you spend all your time together doing one of two things: either suffering through hell or trying to outdrink each other?) After earning my freedom from the U.S. Army, I pretty much dropped the use of y’all. But you can’t keep a good catchphrase down. I spent years speaking Dutch and German and to a lesser extent French. Do you know what these languages have in common? A plural form of you. It now drives me bananas that English has no plural form of you (anymore). So, yep, I use y’all or you all. Whenever anyone calls me on it, I begin a nerdy explanation of the lack of a plural form of you in English. That teaches them!

How about the rest of you expats? Any strange English language habits you’ve picked up?

 

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