Sometimes language mistakes are so standardized that non-native speakers actually think they are correct. A fine example of this is “no problemo” used by many Americans to mean “no hay problema” in Spanish. Fortunately, the mutation is close enough to the original phrase that it doesn’t cause confusion.
But what if the mistake were significant enough to totally baffle the native listener? That’s exactly what happened to me at a coffee shop in Taipei last weekend!
To set the scene, I was at the counter ordering a cup of tea in Chinese. I’m pretty confident and well-practiced when it comes to using my Chinese skills to procure tea. There isn’t much that can go wrong in this simple transaction. I make my request, and the barista asks me questions like, “For here to go?” “Do you want sugar with that?” Etc.
Everything was going along swimmingly in Chinese until the barista asked, “妳要ello嗎？” (Do you want ello?) Nobody had ever asked me about “ello” before and I had never heard this word. But there are countless Chinese words I don’t know, so I cocked my head and asked, “Ello是什麼？” (What is ello?) The barista held up a paper cup. I must have looked even more confused. He held up another, smaller paper cup and asked, “M嗎？” (M?)
That was the clue that tipped me off and my confusion broke into a quiet chuckle. I smiled and said, “Ello就好了。” (Ello is just fine.)
He was asking if I wanted a size medium (M) or large (L) cup!
For some strange reason unbeknownst to me, Taiwanese people routinely pronounce the letter L like ello. No letter in English is pronounced with more than a single syllable, except W (because it just wouldn’t be English without exceptions, right?)
So where did this erroneous pronunciation for L come from? I am soliciting any tips or leads as to WHY this mistake persists in Taiwan in such a ubiquitous way. Please help me crack the case by leaving your theories, suggestions, ideas, clues, speculations, insights and funny ello stories in the comments below.
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