This site has the “four essential travel phrases” in “307 languages plus 33 additional dialects.”

The phrases we thought every traveller should know are:
Where is my room?
Where is the beach?
Where is the bar?
Don’t touch me there!

I expected this to be as careless of accuracy as other such “funny phrase in many tongues” projects, but I was mistaken; the worst I’ve found to complain of so far is that in the Yiddish the word for beach should (I think) be breg yam rather than just yam (which means ‘sea’); the Russian has accent marks over the words (never used except in children’s primers), but that’s a pretty minor fault. There are zillions of languages and dialects, many little-known and each scrupulously provided with its own script (Yiddish is given three, modern and traditional printed and cursive/handwritten), and it’s a lot of fun. (Needless to say, you have to allow them some leeway when translating “Where is the bar?” into ancient languages!)
Via Mithridates.

As lagniappe, here’s a UTF-8 sampler that will allow you to see how versatile your browser is. Mine isn’t displaying runes, Bengali, Mongolian script, or Tibetan, but handles everything else (including Georgian, Armenian, and Tamil) admirably.


  1. They missed “Where is the bathroom”: (Mandarin “Cesuo nali?”

  2. True, but if you’ve got a beach, you’ve got nature’s own bathroom, and of course a bar should have some sort of facilities (even if, as at an Inishmaan pub I once got staggering drunk at, the facilities were a swampy patch of ground out back).

  3. Call me grumpy (or dissolute), but “touch me there” seems far more essential a phrase than its negation.
    But I took a quick look at the site, and it’s jolly.

  4. Oh, and the Yoruba for “don’t touch me there” should be “ma f’owo kan mi ni be yen”- “don’t touch me in that place”- rather than “don’t touch that place” as they have it.
    But it’s that kind of minor quibble that goes to show just exactly what a fine job they’ve done.

  5. Swapping between browsers, I can display everything in the sampler except Ogham. (Konqueror has inadequate font substitution and Mozilla won’t render Indic conjuncts correctly, so it’s never quite perfect.)
    Speaking of UTF-8, the first site is also notable for the Gallery of Unicode Fonts, of which I am a frequent visitor.

  6. I thought that the Mandarin was a little bit “correct” and not colloquial. I may be wrong, though.

  7. Well, you want to be correct if you’re telling someone not to touch you there. If, following elck, you want them to touch you there, you might risk a more colloquial phrasing.

  8. LanguageHat, the Russian words have accent marks because this list of phrases is supposed to be for tourists! It’s quite common for textbooks and phrasebooks to mark the accent; most of my Russian textbooks have accent marks through the beginner and intermediate levels.

  9. Well, if you’re providing transliterations with accents, you don’t need them on the Cyrillic, and they look hideous to me. But I take your point.

  10. Alex Smaliy says

    And even if you do see accent marks printed (as, for example, to distinguish зáмок from зaмóк), they certainly don’t show up in handwriting. That would be equivalent to a writer from the New Yorker using the diaeresis in casual notes. Neat site, though.

  11. Michael Farris says

    The Polish looks a little too literal to me and ‘bar’ would not normally be understood as a place to drink (more a place to eat) though I’m not sure what would be better? The English ‘pub’ (pronounced ‘pap) is thankfully going out of usage, but I’m not sure if knajpa is that much better.

  12. Socio-cultural context does have some importance, after all, at least if we are talking about actual, practical use of a language.
    In most parts of China, a single Western male asking for a jiuba 酒吧 does not sound less ambiguous than if he were asking for the nearest anmosuo (massage parlour) or lifadian (“barber shop”). There is a reason why the word has been translated as “café” in every one of the three “Northern French” dialects (Picard, chtimi, rouchi). “Bar” is quite common in contemporary French, and the words kafeiguan and kafeiting also do correspond to a reality in Chinese cities nowadays (even more so in Taiwan, what with the Starbucks, Ikari and Mr. Brown’s at every corner).
    I agree with John Emerson that a question about the toilets would be much more useful, since many eating places (including nice-looking restaurants in Beijing) don’t have their own (you’ll have to go the public ones or, if you enjoy the male privilege, some wall nearby). I prefer the more polite xishoujian, though.
    A more important problem with the Chinese pages is the inadequacy between the characters and the romanizations. To limit myself to a single example, on the Yue/Cantonese page, only the last sentence is written correctly, i.e. with the phonetic transcription corresponding to the Chinese characters. In the first sentence, 的 should be transcribed dig or dik, but that would be “written” Cantonese. Ge is indeed the correct colloquial form, but there is a “special” character for it (口 radical + 既).
    I have a few other quibbles with Chinese and Greek, but I’d better stop here. As far as I can tell, that list is a lot better than, for instance, the “vegetarian” one you linked to back in the days. Most problems are actually inherent to the genre (also, they have Lojban, but no Pontic? Just kidding).

  13. About the Unicode page: does anyone see spirits and tones in the Greek sample from Odysseus Elytis (first section: “Poetry”)? I only get the “acute” accent, and it bothers me, because Elytis was a firm partisan of the polytonic system (I happen to agree with him on this, but I actually enjoy much more Cavafy and Seferis).

  14. (Just to make it clear, the question was rhetorical.)

  15. I have long maintained that the three essential phrases all tourists should learn are:
    1) Where is the bathroom?
    2) How much does that cost?
    3) You can’t do this to me, I’m an American citizen!
    Number 3 sounds especially dramatic echoing down the barrel of an Kalashnikov.

  16. Sigh. “an Kalashnikov” –> “a Kalashnikov”

  17. About the Unicode page: does anyone see spirits and tones in the Greek sample from Odysseus Elytis (first section: “Poetry”)?

    No, they aren’t there (or on the linked site, either). Polytonic Greek is possible in Unicode, though. Look towards the bottom of this page. Fewer people will be able to render it correctly, though (for various reasons, but most often the font employed doesn’t contain the precomposed polytonic characters and the browser can’t adequately substitute for them).
    I expect the author of the sampler page would include a polytonic version if you cared to submit one.

  18. Tensor, another one: “pathetic”, not “dramatic”.

  19. The Yiddish is wrong, though they do get an award for a nice try. At least they recognize it’s written in Hebrew letters.

  20. Are other things wrong besides “yam”?

  21. Good, good. The Icelandic version has a typo: room is ‘herbergi’, not ‘herbegi’, and “Ekki snerta mig hérna!” means “Don’t touch me here!”, which to me seems to imply a location in space, (“Don’t touch me here (on the mountain/in the dining room/in Italy…)” rather than a body part… But that’s really just being picky.
    I think “sove værelse” should be one word in Danish. And I’m quite sure in Norwegian (Nynorsk) it should be ‘hvor’, not ‘kvor’, although it’s kinda pronounced that way. And rommet, not romet.
    Not too sure about the word order in the last one either, but I’ve only once been to Norway so I don’t know :p
    But speaking of herbergi:
    Herberge (NO) = Hostel
    Herbergi(IS) = Rum (NO) = Room
    Rúm (IS) = Seng (NO) = Bed
    Sæng (IS) = Dyne (NO) = Sheets (for sleeping under)
    Dýna (IS) = Madrass (NO) = Mattress.
    One of those things… Wonder when in history this got skewered.

  22. LanguageHat,
    Alright… The Min Nan chinese phrases require some correcting. It is generally called Hokkien in Singapore, “fujian hua ” in China. To Westerners, I think it is better if its referred to as the Taiwanese Dialect.
    (I do not have the chinese font. I am therefore typing only in transliteration. Note that 1 beside the word indicates a clear tone, 2 indicates the rising tone, 3 indicates the falling and then rising tone, and 4 indicates the dropping tone)
    Where is my room?
    gwa4 eh3 bang3 geng1 di3 tou4 lou4
    Where is the beach?
    hai2 bin1 di3 tou4 lou4
    Where is the bar?
    ki4 dou4 lou4 lim1 jiu4/bar di3 dou4 lou4
    Don’t touch me there?
    Mai4 pang4 wa4 hi4 dao1
    I’m from Singapore. Only older people speak this dialect. It is the largest dialect group. Teenagers might speak the dialect but do not often use it. Do not act in a way implying that a Singaporean does not know English, as this might offend them. All Singaporeans are english educated. If in fancy hotels, the language spoken is ALWAYS english, regardless of whether the customer is local or not.
    I’m really sorry to say… but Hokkien is one of the most uncouth of dialects. You might often hear swearing in this dialect, which I would not care to translate. If somebody in Singapore swears at you in hokkien, you might like to say…
    “Gwa4 eh3 hiao4 tia1 di4 kong2 si4 mi4, mai4 kua4 wa4 si3 ang moh”
    DOn’t assume I don’t understand you just because I’m a westerner.
    OKAY! one last thing!!! The local fruit in Singapore.. the Durian.. erm. is considered a delicacy. haha.. TRY IT…
    yeah.. anyway i hope that helps. its always nice to share a little about your own country. 😉

  23. Thanks, Sean!

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