A slight incongruity

It was at a Spanish bus station. They have an impressive new English language announcement system.  The female announcer has a good voice and sounds like a native speaker. There was a slight incongruity though, in that the language used was not native English. Passengers were asked to “always keep under control your baggage and hand baggage”.  Now, I do not normally blog about incorrect translations but it was the mismatch between the accent and the use of language that interested me. For a start the word order was unnatural for a native speaker who would have put baggage after ‘keep’ and before ‘under control’ as in the following examples: keep the cheese in the fridge, keep your dog under control. The second example illustrates the second error – a false friend. The Spanish “controlar” can mean control but it can also mean keep tabs on. The English word control does not mean keep tabs on in the same sense. We often see the sign “Dogs must be kept under control” or “Please keep dogs under control”. This means that if the dog does not walk to heal and respond to commands it should be kept on the lead so that it does not run off and annoy people and other animals. People may also be asked to keep their children under control if they are noisy, climbing on seats and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Baggage on the other hand does not run off, make a noise or annoy people; neither does it respond to commands. The bus station does not want people to tell their bags to sit quietly, it wants them to keep their bags with them at all times. Usually we hear: “keep your bags with you at all times” or “do not leave your bags unattended”. Of course we understand what the announcement meant because we are all only too familiar with these announcements at all transport hubs and especially the airport. It is therefore unlikely that anyone would tell their bag to sit quietly while they went off for a drink and try to argue that the English announcement said nothing about keeping bags with you at all times. Even if they did, they would be given short shrift. From a commercial point of view, however, you have to question the sense in paying for a real English voice but not paying for a proper translation.

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