Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Amazing Race 24, Episode 8

Rome (Italy) - Bagnoregio (Italy) - Orvieto (Italy)

Last week the contestants on The Amazing Race 24 had to do arithmetic in Roman numerals -- not a challenge that's likely to confront real world travellers.(There are two different ways of writing each of the decimal digits, "European" and "Arabic", as I explain with illustrations in The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World. But the digits are arranged the same way in each of these systems. Only some of the numerals are different.

This week one member of each team of racers had to transcribe an illuminated manuscript in Latin calligraphy. That's obviously not a realistic travel challenge either, but it does test an underappreciated skill that real world travelers often need: the ability to read an unfamiliar text written in an unknown language and in an unfamiliar style of penmanship.

Suppose you ask someone to write down a name or address. In your native language, or one you've studied, you can probably use contextual clues to guess some of the letters that aren't quite clear. In a completely unknown language, reading someone else's writing is much harder.

As more and more of our reading and even casual writing is done digitally, we get much less practice reading other people's handwriting. To make matters worse, there are substantial national and cultural variations in styles of penmanship even within the world of languages written in the Latin alphabet. Ask four people whose native languages are American English, French, Thai, and Chinese to write the same paragraph in English, and I would bet on being able to correctly identify from the penmanship which text was written by whom -- even though each of the writing samples is in English and I know no Thai or Chinese..

Letters have slightly different typical shapes in different countries and Latinate languages, as do numerals. As I note in The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World:

Seven and one cause problems. Continental Europeans cross their sevens and write their ones with a bold upstroke, or exaggerated serif, to the left of the top of the main stroke. North Americans don't cross their sevens and often write their ones as a single, unadorned vertical line. North Americans often mistake a Continental European one for an uncrossed seven; Continental Europeans often mistake a North American one for an upper-case letter I, or can't make anything of it at all. It's safest to cross your sevens and write your ones with a minimal but visible upstroke.

If a foreigner asks you to write something down for them, it's best to print in block letters rather than writing in script. And whenever you get a chance, try to look at the handwriting of people from different countries, to get a sense of different styles of non-English penmanship.

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 20 April 2014, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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