Please Wait to be Seated

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Sign at a hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, spotted by Marc Sarrel:

Marc writes:

I particularly like that each language seems to have been written by a different person.  Crowd sourced if you will.  Grass roots.  The mix of languages is also nice:  three Alaska Native languages, one Asian, and four European.  Apart from simply wanting to share such a wonderful find, I was hoping that Language Log readers might comment on the difficulty of translating this common English sentence. The hostess offered that she's received comments from other guests that not all of translations are as idiomatic as they might be.

And I like that each language is helpfully identified at the end, apparently by the person who did the translation.

Conjecture

Since the seven translations and original English sentence are arranged in a fairly orderly fashion and the whole composition is framed and behind glass (notice the reflection from the street outside), I hypothesize that the different versions may be the work of the hotel staff.  In my travels around the world, when I visit hotels, restaurants, and coffee / tea shops in distant places, I've often been amazed by how cosmopolitan the personnel of such establishments are.



23 Comments

  1. Mike M said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 10:26 am

    The Polish is missing a letter, it should be 'Kierownik sali wskaże wam stolik, dziękuję'

  2. Walter Heukels said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 10:34 am

    I was already doing this exercise in my head when looking at the picture, and I have to admit I can't think of an idiomatic equivalent or even anything close to it in my native Dutch.

  3. Fernando Colina said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 10:46 am

    The Spanish contains a non-existent word, "attendar". Perhaps the writer wanted to say, "Por favor espere a ser atendido," which would be perfectly correct.

  4. Drew Smith said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 11:06 am

    If Russian is being categorized here as only a European language, I might take issue with that, since it's also an Asian language. And in the context of Alaska, categorizing it as Asian might make a bit more sense, given the proximity of Asian Russia to Alaska.

  5. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 11:16 am

    @Drew Smith: Well, Alaska was Russian at one point. I'm not sure what to make of that, though; English is counted as European, after all.

    BTW, the Polish was not written by a native speaker. The diacritics are missing throughout, not only the final letter in wskaże.

  6. Alessio said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 11:22 am

    Although given that at least the Spanish translation doesn't sound very native, the crowd-sourcing theory seems difficult to maintain.

  7. Richard said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 11:25 am

    @Drew Smith: Russian is more closely related to other European languages than other Asian languages. Also, Spanish and English are considered to be European here, even though the majority of speakers coming through Alaska are unlikely to be European. Now, if you want to question the arbitrary division between Asia and Europe in general, I'd be on board.

  8. Jonathan Silk said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 2:22 pm

    @ Walter Heukels
    I would have thought something like: Hier wachten aub.
    No?

  9. Victor Mair said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 3:24 pm

    The English is succinct and efficient. Just five words, one of which ("Please") is purely for the sake of courtesy and not really necessary (it could easily be omitted without loss of semantic content). Yet not only does it tell you that you should wait, but why you should wait.

    Cf.:

    Stylistic preferences in English and Chinese
    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=39693

    French vs. English
    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=20367

  10. BasJ said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 4:50 pm

    @Jarek Weckwerth: you may have missed the horizontal stroke through the diagonal of the z in "wskaż(e)", which is an alternative way of writing the dotted z.

  11. Bart said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 4:54 pm

    Dutch: Zitplaats afwachten aub.
    More succinct than the English.

  12. Eri said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 6:54 pm

    The Russian writing actually says: "please wait until you get jailed". Посадят does mean "being seated", however, it is not used in restaurant setting for the same reason: the meaning "be out in jail" is much more common…

  13. Patrick said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 7:19 pm

    I don't like how each language name is written in English. I just don't know why they did that.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 7:23 pm

    It was very sensible and reasonable and thoughtful for them to have done that — for the edification of the English speakers who will read the sign, which would be the overwhelming majority of all the people who eat in that restaurant.

  15. Stéphane L said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 10:22 pm

    In my native (Québec) French, one common expression for this occasion is "Laissez-nous le plaisir de vous assigner une table" (Let us the pleasure of assigning you a table). The only succinct expression I can think of is "Merci d'attendre ici" (Thank you for waiting here), which in context would be clear.

  16. John Swindle said,

    August 25, 2018 @ 11:58 pm

    I'm glad they chose "Please wait to be seated" instead of the alternative "Please wait to be seated by our hostess."

  17. Philip Taylor said,

    August 26, 2018 @ 1:50 pm

    Stéphane, although not an exact translation, could not "laissez-nous" nalso (and perhaps better) be rendered as "allow us" in this context ?

  18. David Marjanović said,

    August 26, 2018 @ 2:32 pm

    The Polish is missing a letter, it should be 'Kierownik sali wskaże wam stolik, dziękuję'

    Also, I'm surprised they went for "I thank" instead of "we thank" (dziękujemy).

    I was already doing this exercise in my head when looking at the picture, and I have to admit I can't think of an idiomatic equivalent or even anything close to it in my native Dutch.

    That's because waiting to be seated is a very American thing. :-|

    Dutch: Zitplaats afwachten aub.

    Could that be misinterpreted as "please wait till a seat becomes empty, then seat yourself there"? That's totally how I'd interpret anything with Sitzplatz abwarten.

  19. cliff arroyo said,

    August 27, 2018 @ 11:11 am

    "That's because waiting to be seated is a very American thing. :-|"

    I've seen signs like that in Poland that were much shorter but I'm completely blanking on what they say… But people don't necessarily pay attention to them and seat themselves anyway (or tell the waitperson where they want to sit).

    Both proszę (please) and dziękuję (first person singular verb forms) are often used in signage and public announcements when one might logically expect a plural. I just assume it's part of semantic bleaching where the politeness function is more important than the exact form being used.

  20. Mango said,

    August 27, 2018 @ 2:48 pm

    No specialist here to comment on the native languages of Alaska?

  21. Andrew Usher said,

    August 27, 2018 @ 8:05 pm

    David Marjanovic:
    The English phrase could also have that meaning (though 'please' would likely not be used then), but idiom prevails.

  22. cliff arroyo said,

    August 28, 2018 @ 9:52 am

    I just happened to see such a sign here in Poland today, but it said "Prosimy poczekać na obsługę"
    Literally "We ask (you) to wait for service" or more idiomatically "Please wait to be served".

  23. BZ said,

    August 28, 2018 @ 3:17 pm

    I was trying to figure out what was wrong with the Russian (other than the implication of jailing) and how to fix it, because it felt like something subtle was wrong no matter how I worded this. Then I sent it to Google Translate: "Пожалуйста, подождите, Вас проводят на ваше место" (please wait, you will be shown to your seat). That suggests to me that not only was my sense of unfixable subtle wrongness true, translating this phrase is a common enough problem that Google provides a completely correct, yet completely different translation. On the other hand, googling the Russian phrase returns essentially no results (I assume WordHippo, the only hit, is using Google Translate). The part without "please wait" does get a few hits.

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