Will people get confused when they see 'Some of our customers speak Spanish, English, and German'?

11

1

Our cakes are very popular for foreign visitors.
Some of them speak Spanish, Some speak English, and some speak German.

Now, I want to make the second sentence neat and more easy to read, so I am writing it this way:

Some of our customers speak Spanish, English, and German.

But I am afraid that the new sentence will make people think that these customers speak three languages, (i.e. Spanish, English and German).
Can you give me some advice please?

kitty

Posted 2016-05-30T15:44:45.637

Reputation: 5 774

2In formal logic, the and would mean that some of your visitors speak all three languages. Simply use or and it means that some of your customers speak one or more of those languages. – Polygnome – 2016-05-30T18:27:08.780

6"Our cakes are .... Some of them speak ...." Yeah, talking cakes that speak three languages would certainly be popular for foreign visitors! ;-) – alephzero – 2016-05-30T18:34:47.507

1When repeating like this, you can shorten the third one if you have to: Some of our customers speak Spanish, some speak English, and some, German. – J.R. – 2016-05-30T22:46:26.430

It is guaranteed that people will get confused. – Ross Millikan – 2016-05-31T03:38:33.490

Answers

10

Just replacing and with or removes the ambiguity:

Our cakes are very popular among foreign visitors.
Some of our customers speak Spanish, English, or German.

"Or" would be interpreted in this case to mean "at least one of …".

However, that still doesn't make these two sentences well constructed. I have a hard time figuring out what connection you are trying to draw between linguistic ability and food preferences. I suggest combining all of the facts into one statement:

Our cakes are especially popular among our Spanish-, English-, and German-speaking customers.

That makes it clearer that you are categorizing your customers by inferring their place of origin through their language. Or, if you wish to to use a simpler and less specific expression, you could, in some contexts, say "western" to mean roughly European / Australian / North American / South American. (There's no point in being exact, since you are just expressing general preferences anyway.)

Our cakes are especially popular with our western customers.

200_success

Posted 2016-05-30T15:44:45.637

Reputation: 7 829

4

Our cakes are very popular for foreign visitors. Some of them speak Spanish, [s]ome speak English, and some speak German.

Yes, the revised sentence (Some of our customers speak Spanish, English, and German) can be ambiguous. The most natural way to interpret the sentence is that it means

Some of our customers speak all three languages.

However, your original sentence is not difficult or cluttered. Repetition of structure is sometimes good; it allows the reader to anticipate what's ahead in the sentence. It is like taking the hand of the reader and guiding them. So it's not bad.

Note also that with foreign visitors is more idiomatic. See the sentences at Cambridge dictionary.

Alan Carmack

Posted 2016-05-30T15:44:45.637

Reputation: 11 630

2Because the cakes are the subject of your first sentence, it makes the second sentence sound like you're saying the cakes speak different languages... – Catija – 2016-05-30T22:42:42.893

4

  1. I will replace the preposition for with among (or possibly with) which sounds a little more natural.

Our cakes are very popular among foreign visitors.

  1. Your original sentence doesn't have any problem except that you are repeating the same word.

They speak English, German and Spanish to name a few.

It doesn't necessarily mean one visitor speaks all three languages. It means you have visitors from all over Europe. Considering the fact that many Europeans (especially travelers) are bi or tri-lingual, I don't think you need to worry about the possibility that the sentence could mean they speak three languages.

user24743

Posted 2016-05-30T15:44:45.637

Reputation:

2I think "with" would be better than "among." Sounds more natural. – theonlygusti – 2016-05-30T22:22:15.123

The sentence does claim, that they speak all of those three languages. However, as natural languages are a mess, most people wouldn't interpret this sentence in this correct fashion and instead, falsely, interpret it as intended. On the other hand, I suspect that most people who are aware of the correct interpretation, won't be confused, because this is a very common mistake and common sense indicates the indented meaning. – Stefan Mesken – 2016-05-31T04:00:45.223