Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Standard English

One of my (many incredibly petty) gripes is in the process of being taken care of. A bill, introduced by MK Amnon Cohen of Shas (of all people), seeking to introduce standardised spellings for place names on road signs passed its first reading in the Knesset this week.

The variety of ways in which signposts are spelled are often amusing but frequently confusing. If you're looking for a Kibbutz and find a Qibbutz instead, chances are that you won't pass it by, but until relatively recently, when going from Jerusalem to the airport, you'd have been forgiven for wondering what "Natbag"* was, as you zoomed by, shortly to arrive in Tel Aviv.

In a country where most of the population is at most 1 or 2 generations removed from immigrants, it is perhaps unsurprising that there are so many variations as each immigrant brings different ideas on spelling in their cultural baggage. What is logical for the native speaker of one language, may be incomprehensible to a person with a different mother tongue. These culturally based differences of spelling are both understandable and quaint and one could possibly argue the case that they should be preserved as they reflect on the nature of the make up of Israel's society.

What is more difficult to understand however is how it was decided that the translation for "חוף" and "קניון" should be directly transliterated as "Hof" and "Kanyon" rather than translated into "beach" and "shopping centre". It is safe to say that this probably wasn't decided in a committee with an English speaker on board and was probably not the subject of much though at all. I'm sure that any Francophiles who have stumbled across this piece will be querying why "beach" rather than "plage" but English is the most accepted international language and short of having each sign in 20 different languages, it represents the solution which is going to receive the widest consensus as well as being the most useful to the most people.

In a country that relies on tourism, it's pleasing to hear that someone has had a thought on how to make it easier to get around for non-Hebrew speakers and even better to know that not everything that comes out of the Knesset is designed to make our life harder. Now all they have to do is decide on which spellings to use - easier said than done when 2 Jews have 3 opinions (at least)....


* Natbag, the commonly used abbreviation for Namal Teúfa Ben Gurion or Ben Gurion Air Port is clearly nonsensical to someone unfamiliar with Hebrew slang.


Zoe Strickman said...

Good. I found the varied spellings frustrating when I was there.

gils said...

Can they work on menu's in restaurants next - I encountered 'Noudels' instead of 'Noodles' and 'Fride' instead of 'Fried' in the Thai Baguette take-away menu.

A said...

It all dates back to the British (when doesn't it). English was one of the official languages here until 1948, and it has retained its influence albeit unofficially these days. The strange spellings like Qesariya (Caesarea) and Qibbutz was all part of a deliberate policy some years ago to get away from British roots and emphasise our Middle Eastern roots.

Gilly said...

Gils - another one of my pet peeves - sweet potteto soup followed by apel puy.

A - those Brits - so much to blame them for!

Anonymous said...

Almost impossible to do of course.

Where do you use translations versus transliterations (Jerusalem vs Yerushalayim)

Plus the places where you have widely accepted but illogical transliterations eg kibbutz (why the double b ?) making it inconsistent.

Qibbuz et al were the ugly result of a previous (probably misguided) attempt to use standardized transliterations.

bind said...

Meir Shitreet separated at birth from Big Ron
Spotters badge for me Clive.

ifyouwillit said...

The "special spelling" found all over the country definatly confuses many - Natbag being a perfect example!

I find it ammusing when Israeli businesses try to entice English speakers by using Hebrew letters to spell English words, such as בוקסטור or my favorite, הוט צ'יקן had me stumped for ages till I worked out what they sold!

Michael Lawrence said...

How about a sign pointing to מושבה גירמנית on Derech Chevron which is translated to Moshava Germanit?

Tourist might just manage to get the 'German' part of it at least.

Saint George Street in East Jerusalem here is written as Sant Gorg.

tafka PP said...

Amen. Do you thing they'll go for standardising menu translations as well? Much as I get a kick out of ordering a pint of "Bear"...

Adrian said...

I live near Ramat David. The new road signs now have this in English as 'Ramat Dawid'


Nushyman said...

How about ordering Gefilte Fish made from Crap
Or Chiken on a Sewer?

In Little Italy smoking is prohibited and transgrassers will be prosecuted. (not sure what you are allowed to smoke there or not)

... Amen to changing the spellings - I would like that job