How will native speakers say about strange English?

  1. If you English is artificial (When I am using valid words but anyone is not use such words).
  2. If you English is wooden (When I am using very obsolete words).
  3. If you English is direct copy of other language construction (i.e. I am talking in English using constructs/grammar specific for Polish - i.e. Polish will say in English Where you go should Where are you do, I not work should say I do not work - i.e. English say in Polish Is it true? should what it true>/_Czy to prawda?_ or white horse leg should be in leg of white hourse/_noga białego konia_).

What are else commonly used expressions of wrong language usage in English?

  • 3
    Instead of is artificial, I think we'd be more likely to sounds unnatural, or maybe even sounds foreign. Other words I can think of include off (as in, "that sounds off to me") and awkward. In particular, awkward is sometimes used by editors to indicate that a sentence or phrase needs rewording; see awk in this table. – J.R. May 6 '13 at 3:27
  • 1
    @J.R. I agree, I think I probably would use 'artificial' if I either thought someone was being, say, extra-polite if they don't like someone, etc.; also, in cases of computer-generated speech. – shelleybutterfly Apr 9 '14 at 17:40

Here are the terms I have heard/used as a native American English speaker, mostly 'newscaster' English but I also picked up a lot of southern dialect from my mother's side of the family (Texan), and various English English I've picked up from various places:

I am restating your examples to make sure I understood; for #2, I wasn't entirely sure since the two words used mean different things, and there isn't much additional description... Let me know if I misunderstood anything, or missed anything.

(suggested answers in bold italics and linked to definitions in Merriam-Webster Online (MWO) or Wikipedia; any quoted definitions can be assumed to be from the nearby quoted source, and I was cross-checking with the references throughout; no plagiarism intended. :D)

one might use foreign or foreign-sounding rather generically for items 1 and 3;

a generic term probably usable for any of the three types you mention, could be out-of-place (see the notes after definition 12.); or, perhaps simply strange (or strange-sounding) or, maybe, that it sounds funny (in the sense of strange, rather than humorous, although depending on the situation, perhaps humorous as well);

there are some other similar words like 'off' 'unnatural' 'odd' 'weird' (I'm sure I'll be repeating words mentioned in some of the other answers since I've spent so long posting xD) which are also fairly generic terms, and I think would apply broadly. and, of course, you could just say it's 'incorrect' or 'wrong'. (didn't give translations for these since none of them strike me as specifically language related...)

as for some more specific words:

  1. for when someone uses words that are technically correct, but that perhaps sound strange in the context used (e.g. would not be used by a native speaker) such as a word that:

    a. has a slightly different meaning than the intended one, due to shades of difference between synonyms, I can't think of a specific word, although many of the above would apply, as mentioned:

    • example: "I saw a noted actress today!" (meaning famous)

    b. you might say something has a wrong connotation (i.e. such as using a pejorative when not intended by the speaker):

  2. 'obsolete' could mean a few things:

    when using very a very old word or speech, I would probably say that it was archaic; as in:

    a. using an out-of-place archaic word that is correct only in one or a few select instances, but is otherwise no longer productive:

    • example: 'thou' can be used in the phrase "holier-than-thou", and in biblical quotes from the King James Version, e.g., "Thou shalt not kill.", but 'Did thou really kill your teacher because of that test?!' would sound strange.

    b. using an out-of-date meaning of a word that is still in use:

    • example: "Jane was quick last year, but she had a miscarriage." (instead of pregnant)


    you might say someone sounds like they 'come from' or are 'straight out of' or 'are stuck in' a time period if they use speech that is dated, such as:

    a. from a particular time period or period(s) but not currently in common use; dated or outdated seem to apply:

    • example: 'Man, that cat was really square.' (would sound like you're straight out of the 40's :D)

    b. or, old-fashioned or outmoded words or speech patterns; more informally, perhaps old-timey:

    • example: 'Shall we go out for a night of dancing?' (instead of 'Do you want to go dancing tonight?'); or 'I shall most definitely see that movie!' (instead of 'I will most definitely see that movie!')

    as for wooden speech, this would be speech that is "awkward or stiff : not having or showing any emotion, energy, etc.")

    • which would include a person's demeanor, tone, etc. and is harder to give an example for. One type of example could be avoiding contractions I think, but this covers quite a bit of territory.
    • another word might be stilted; which is a synonym for awkward "especially because of being too formal", MWO also gives pompous lofty formal and (again) stiff.
    • purple is another word along these lines; or fancy, however fancy would not necessarily be negative. encountered in writing, it's called purple prose
    • along these same lines would be speech that is flowery or elegant; this usually wouldn't have such a negative connotation, however;
  3. as for a word meaning, specifically, errors due to someone directly translating their language when it's not appropriate, I'm not sure if I can think of a specific word that would apply in all cases, but I see a few cases/possibilities:

    a. when the listener finds the speech to be pleasant or attractive in some way, they might be said to find the speech exotic (e.g. 'I think that French girl really sounds exotic!.')

    b. for the examples you give such as "Where you go?" or "I not work." I would probably use one of the more generic words I gave up top; foreign or foreign-sounding is probably what I would choose in these cases...

    b. and finally, there's when someone tries to directly translate an idiom of their language into another. I'm not sure that there is a specific word; in cases where there's absolutely no relation between the direct translation and the meaning, you might say it's incomprehensible although that is a more generic term for any language you can't understand.

    (I think your example about the white horse leg might be an idiom; although I didn't recognize it. The direct translation I would choose would likely be 'the white horse's leg', although 'the leg of the white horse' might work as well; although that could end up sounding stilted depending on context.)

Well, I think that's everything I have to offer on this; hope it helps!

I personally recommend using Merriam-Webster online when trying to learn English; it has great things like 'Usage' paragraphs on controversial uses of words, synonym paragraphs comparing and contrasting different shades of meaning and connotation between various words meaning approximately the same thing (see for example, famous which I used in examples above), notes on dialectical usage, including notating differences between American and British english, and I know there are those that disagree but I find it to have concise, easy-to-understand definitions, and (although possibly due to having used it since I was very young) I find it easier to navigate.

Also, I'm not sure if the online edition has this but I know the editions I have owned have a pronunciation guide that is interesting: rather than directly referencing phonemes like in IPA, it gives them in relation to other words, with the intent that the sounds be referenced relative to speakers with similar accents. I see the benefits of IPA also, but it kind of neat how you can capture so many different accents and pronunciations using a single key this way.

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Literal (or directed) translation, is the rendering of text from one language to another "word-for-word".

According to that Wikipedia article, "literal translations" may be known as cribs, ponies, or trots in contexts where they're deliberately prepared as an intermediate aid to a writer charged with creating a more accurate and fluent rendition. But that's presumably specialist publishing terminology.

Informally we usually just call the output a bad translation if it either...

a: doesn't correctly reflect the original meaning (It shrieks to clear one self out of the road with the waist intact apparently means The important thing is to get away alive in the Swedish original).

b: doesn't reflect the grammar of the target language (as in All your base are belong to us).

I don't know of any term specifically identifying cases where the translation uses archaic/obsolete words.

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Note: All the words in bold are adjectives, unless otherwise noted.

There are many ways to say someone's language is generally non-fluent: awkward, strange, odd, unnatural*, off (in a sense of that word possibly derived from the phrase "off kilter"), and even weird. Those are all fairly weak statements. Someone could understand perfectly what you meant and still comment that it sounded [any one of those terms]. It would just mean that it seemed unnatural to them, in a way that even a fellow native English speaker might if they were speaking more formally than the listener was used to.

*Artificial is less likely than 'unusual' to be used to describe non-fluent language by a native English speaker, but it'd probably be understood since they're used synonymously in so many contexts. 'Artificial' can alternatively be used to describe a statement seen as being forced, not genuine, or not "from the heart".

The strongest statements about someone's English would be to call it things like incoherent, unintelligible, or gibberish (noun). If someone calls your English any of those things, they didn't understand what you said at all, possibly including that they didn't recognize the individual words. Another strong statement would be that it's nonsensical, but I think the chances that the listener understood the words, just not the sentences, would be higher for that term than the preceding ones.

A translation done one word at a time with the order remaining as it was in the source language would probably best be called a word-for-word translation. Sometimes they'll be called a direct or literal translation, but those terms are ambiguous; they're often used to describe somewhat more competent translations that are still seen as being relatively mechanical. Note that those adjectives have that meaning only when used to describe a translation, not language. (If you asked someone whether your language sounded word-for-word, they might reply that you were being non-sensical. :-p )

As a native (American) English speaker, I can only think of a couple words or phrases to describe specific kinds of non-fluency:

  1. Language that uses very old or obsolete words or grammatical constructs is said to be archaic.
  2. Language that's overly formal is stiff.

Note: None of the words mentioned here apply only to the language of people for whom English is a second language. Any term that applied to some bit of speech/writing by a non-native English speaker would apply equally to any identical bit of speech/writing that came from a native English speaker.

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When it's technically grammatically correct but is not how a native speaker would say it, we could say it's off (usually that it "sounds off"), clunky, clumsy, unnatural, or indeed any synonym for weird.

Your example wooden is used when the language is clumsy, stilted or awkward. It tends to refer to phrasing rather than specific vocabulary choices.

You could also say literal translation. When a literal translation is used on an idiomatic phrase and the result makes no sense, we say it doesn't translate or doesn't translate well.

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  • 2
    hmm, in linguistics, a 'pidgin' is a simplified form of communication between people with two or more native tongues, generally when one or more populations come into contact with one another for trade (the name coming from the original Chinese-English pidgin and then being generalized.) (that's more-or-less from memory of things I've read & double-checked in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pidgin) [compare 'Creole'] It's possible I'm mistaken, but I'm pretty sure that it's not just used in general for the thing the OP is asking about, e.g. language that comes directly from another. – shelleybutterfly Apr 9 '14 at 13:10
  • @shelleybutterfly +1 I agree. But I upvoted for the term I learned. it's mainly used in trading and there the purpose is making both the parties understand what they mean. – Maulik V Apr 9 '14 at 13:19
  • @shelleybutterfly I said it can be used in the situation where you're directly translating and using native grammar, although it's a broader term than that. You may well be right that there needs to be further restrictions on when it can be used; can you try to be more specific so I can improve my answer? (I already linked to the Wikipedia article.) – starsplusplus Apr 9 '14 at 13:46
  • well, English is flexible, so you can use nouns as descriptive concepts in multiple ways. 'sounds like a pidgin'; or perhaps 'pidgin-like'; or 'pidgin-sounding'; or, 'like pidgin-English.' informally? maybe even 'pidgin-y' or 'pidgin-ized' :) but the thing is, I have never heard it used that way (and don't think it's in common usage). so, as an example of how flexible you can be when using terms in a novel way in English, it's great. however, for answering someone learning English, asking the question 'How would I say this in English?'? I just don't think 'pidgin' is very useful. – shelleybutterfly Apr 9 '14 at 17:14
  • oh, and @Maulik, I wasn't saying it to try to get you to take away your +1, that's everyone's own decision and If you found the answer useful, then I don't see a problem with +1ing. and starsplusplus I'm not trying to be horribly negative, nor do I think it's a bad answer: I think clunky is a very good word for some of what the OP was giving as examples. I don't even think pidgin is out of place in the discussion, nor did I necessarily think you should change the answer. I wanted to make sure that there was at least a flag saying 'careful, this isn't a common usage.' :) - all with love ❤ – shelleybutterfly Apr 9 '14 at 17:22

Being a non-native speaker, I have heard this the most! :) No offense please.

I'm just trying to give my inputs as native speakers addressed me and my language (English) directly. So, I guess, I have observed and witnessed it. Please note that this question is too broad and there could be many ways to tell that as FumbleFingers and Terry says. But again, I'm telling what I am being told/advised when I was (am!) learning English!

Also, one very important thing that may put some light on this question. In some examples, it better goes in context of using sentences in English than English as the language, the whole language. For example, you don't literally translate sentences from your regional language to English will convey the message better as compared to your English is literal translation of your regional language -but that's my opinion.

But firstly, I'm considering the word your instead of you in all your examples. Now the sentences....

a) Your English does not sound natural (when I'm using valid words but somehow due to syntax issue or sentence arrangement, it does not look natural to a native speaker. On the other hand, it looks absolutely okay as it's practiced in our region). Example: From where did you do your Bachelors? -here, all words used are valid but it's unnatural for tha natives.

b) You use archaic words in your English or Your English is archaic English. Example: And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.

c) Don't literally translate sentences from your regional language to build English sentences (This is what I was talking about in the second paragraph of this answer). Example: चाय पीते पीते बात कर रहे थे! (Hindi) We were talking drinking drinking tea.

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I will answer with what I have heard people call such speach.

Native English speakers may call speach stilted or awkward if the wording is valid but unusual.

If obsolete words and expressions are used, native speakers will frequently claim that the speach is overly formal.

If you use foreign grammatical constructs and idioms, native speakers will call your speach broken English or wrong. Some will make such claims even if the speach is grammatically correct and has precedent in English literature.

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