Friday, September 16, 2011

Lost in Translation

Chinese Co-Worker (CCW):  How come the room is dark?
Me:  So I can practice Chinese!
CCW:  Huh?
Me:  Ke yi kai .... uh, light?
CCW:  Aaaah, 可以开灯?
Me:  Yes!  That!  Exactly what I was saying.  Can I turn on the lights.
CCW:  It is actually "can I open the lights".
Me:  What?  Why would you OPEN the lights?  That makes no sense.
CCW:  Why would you "turn" the light?  Or, "on" the light?  Are you standing on it?
Me:  Listen now, I'm the native speaking English person around here.  Even if what I say isn't gooder than what you think it is that I should be saying, I'm still right.  Because, well, I'm the native speaker!  How do you like 'dem apples!
CCW:  You know, I studied English for over 12 years in school.  How much English did you study?
Me:  Uh, well, ummm... none.  But that's because I'm a native speaker!  I don't have to "study" it.  I just know it!
British Co-Worker (BCW):  Blimey!  Did you perchance happen ta catch the Rugby game last night?  The Canadian team played the Tongan team right out of the park!  There were some spectacular tries in the contest!
Me:  Whaaaaat?!
BCW:  Yea, it was totally ace!  Fortunately there wasn't any aggro after the pubs shut.
Me:  English!  Speak English man!
BCW:  Wha' da bloody hell is this tosser blathering on about?
CCW:  I have no idea.  Oh hey, can you turn on the light please?
BCW:  Cheerio.

Shortly after that conversation, I was still mulling over the differences between ON and OPEN'ing the light.  I suppose, that OPEN is the more correct term.

Hearkening back to my days as an Electrical Engineer Technologist, I remembered that electricity does in-fact "flow" ... and in that, by OPENing the light, you are allowing the electricity to flow to the light.  The light switch is like a dam being opened and closed.

And ON is a positional verb... noun... adjective... adverb?!  adnoun?!!?!... word type thingy.  Maybe I should have studied English in school.  But a car can be ON the road.  A box can be ON the table.  I can be ON my chair.  I can even be ON to something... hmmmmm... ON.  Funny how we use it.

As for TURNing, I can TURN left, I can TURN right.  I can TURN down the volume, or TURN up the volume.  In either case, TURNing is changing a direction... or course... or state?

But to TURN ON the light...  hmmmm...

No, I can't say it is wrong, mostly because it has been drilled into my head that THIS is the way we say/do things.  My light is TURNed ON.  But it is neither ON something, nor has it's location been changed.  State?  Maybe... I guess the light was previously OFF.  OFF... why is my light OFF?  If it was OFF, maybe it FELL OFF the wall, and I need to put it back ON the wall.  ARGGGH!  Now I'm confused!

The light ON or OFF could describe the physical location... and then OPEN or CLOSEd could describe the electrical state of the light.  This would be both accurate and easy to understand.

Sooooo, I guess my co-worker was right!  DANG IT!  I hate that!

Oh, wait!  WAIT!!!  :-) In terms of circuitry, circuits are either OPENed (ie: non-closed loop, meaning no power flows which means the device is OFF) or CLOSEd (ie:  closed loop, meaning power can flow and device is ON).  So, if my LIGHT circuit was OPEN, then NO POWER could FLOW and the light would be OFF!  Er, CLOSED?  Uhhhh... DARK!  My light would be DARK!  BUT, if I CLOSED the light circuit, then electricity could flow and the light could TURN ON!  Or, OPEN!  errrr... uh... it could be BRIGHT!  Either way, I have to OPEN the switch to CLOSE the circuit so that the light can TURN ON.

*siiiiigh*  I'm so confused.  Where was I?  Oh, right.  So my co-worker WAS still wrong!

I'm sure that there are a million things I do which to me makes sense to me, like turning on a light,  These are just ingrained things I've learned from my up bringing, past experiences and family, etc.  Our adopted children may have very different views on such things.  I'm sure my daughter watches me every day going "I just don't understand him at all."

In fact, there are many times where I feel like I'm telling Ping to TURN ON the light and she is trying desperately to tell me that it is already OPEN.
Maybe I my love/parenting "language" was different than what
she was used to.
Thankfully, my kids are smarter than me.  They must have caught onto this ages ago.  Because Ping, now every morning, crawls into our bed, and snuggles up with me.  Wraps my arm around her, and then goes back to sleep.  That kind of father/daughter closeness was lost in translation when we first met.  But I'm so glad that she is starting to understand what I'm trying to say... and I'm enjoying trying to figure her out too.


  1. lies in the netherlandsSeptember 16, 2011 at 5:42 PM

    As a none native speaker I am happy you finally figured out ENGLISH MAKES NO SENSE! And is quite hard to learn. I loved your British English by the way (which is proper English like I've learned in school). So how is your Dutch these days? :)

    Great post. We all dance around in the dark I guess..... But at least we are dancing!

  2. I wonder if the turn on/turn off the light harkens back to gas lights. You would turn a knob so the gas would flow so the lamp would light. Can't help you with "on." On has MANY meanings and many uses in the English language. Heck, living on a border town I know there are differences between US English and Canadian English. I know the French-speaking population in our area say "open the light." Maybe back from the days of opening the cover on a gas lantern??? Technology changes, but sometimes we keep using the same words.

    I'm very glad your daughter is figuring you out....or just learning to accept you as you are. Sometimes we never truly figure another person out, we just learn to appreciate them as they are. :)

  3. I grew up with my grandparents talking about "closing" or "shutting" the lights... I eventually decided it had to do with the valves on gaslights... or did it...? Hmm...

    And as far as different versions of English go... let's jus say there's a reason you can buy a Webster's English Dictionary OR a Webster's American Dictionary in most U.S. bookstores and leave it at that! (And hey, you can speak Dutch? Didja know it's siblings with Old English?)

    Whatever... the morning hugs & cuddles with Pin prove that some things are better expressed nonverbally. Enjoy. :-)