Archive for Found in translation

Accidental filmic poetry

Tonight we're rewatching The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in honor of Ennio Morricone, the composer of its iconic score, who died today. Deediedeedledee nwah nwah nwaaaaahhh

And I've just had a thought about the title that turns on the quite different interpretations of the-Adj constructions in English and Italian, which I mainly know about from this paper by Hagit Borer and Isabelle Roy .

In English, "the Adj" generally only allows a generic reading, and often refers to the class of humans characterized by the adjective, as in the poor, the rich, etc. In Italian (and French, Spanish, etc.) this isn't the case; the construction, although based on the same syntax, can also receive a particular referential singular interpretation. Borer and Roy ascribe this to the presence of identifying number and gender features on the determiner in those languages.

In the original Italian title of the movie, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo ('The good.masc.sg, The ugly.masc.sg, the bad.masc.sg.) these 'The-Adj' sequences are referential; they refer to the three main characters Blondie, Angel Eyes and Tuco. The Italian title is more or less equivalent to English "The good guy, the bad guy and the ugly guy". 

In English, though, the grammatical structure of the title can only get the generic reading. The use of these forms in the film to refer to three protagonists, then, bestows an archetypal quality on those characters; they're metonymically interpreted as instantiating the whole classes of good people, bad people and ugly people respectively. And the kind of mythic force it imparts somehow fits so perfectly with the grandiose yet tongue-in-cheek quality of the whole film, to me it's really a fundamental part of its impact, humor and appeal.

My question is, do you think Leone and the scriptwriters understood this property of the English translation? Or did they read their English calque of the Italian grammatical structure just as they would have read the Italian? The Italian title, in fact, with its masculine singular marking, cannot be understood in the same way as the English is. To represent the English interpretation in Italian, apparently, the plural would be needed: i belli, i brutti, i cattivi. My guess is that neither the writers nor the director realized that the title read so differently in English. 

 According to Wikipedia, the Italian title was a last-minute suggestion of screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni, and the title for the English version was determined by the studio after some alternatives were bandied about and rejected. I wonder if someone at United Artists recognized the different reading, and the epic quality it imparted, when they were discussing the choice!

Thanks to Roberta d'Alessandro and other Facebook linguists for Italian judgments and discussion!

 

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The opacity of a bilingual, biscriptal Taiwanese headline

From a Taiwanese website

Dūnmù jiànduì fángyì chūbāo! Mǎ Yīngjiǔ cue Cài Yīngwén dàoqiàn wǎng bào 1450 xiǎngfǎ

敦睦艦隊防疫出包!馬英九cue蔡英文道歉 網曝1450想法

For someone who is not intimately acquainted with the political and linguistic scenes in Taiwan, it is hard to make sense of this headline.

Here are the easy parts:

jiànduì 艦隊 ("fleet")

fángyì 防疫 ("epidemic prevention; anti-epidemic")

Mǎ Yīngjiǔ 馬英九 ("Ma Ying-jeou", former President of Taiwan [Republic of China], 2008-2016)

Cài Yīngwén 蔡英文 ("Tsai Ying-wen", current President of Taiwan [Republic of China], 2016-)

dàoqiàn 道歉 ("apologize")

wǎng bào 網曝 ("internet exposure; expose on the internet")

xiǎngfǎ 想法 ("ideas; thoughts; opinions; views; beliefs")

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WeChat COVID-19 ditty

[This is a guest post by David Moser]

This little Stück of piecemeal wordplay has been making the rounds on WeChat. It seems to be an amalgam of several little coronavirus memes that had appeared in isolation.

gélí rénquán méile 隔离人权没了
bù gélí rén quán méile 不隔离人全没了
tiānshàng biānfú, dìshàng Chuānpǔ 天上蝙蝠,地上川普
yīgè yǒudú, yīgè méipǔ 一个有毒,一个没谱
bù dài kǒuzhào nǐ shìshì 不戴口罩你试试
shìshì jiù shìshì 试试就逝世

A rather literal translation might go as follows:

隔离人权没了 With the quarantine, there are no human rights.
不隔离人全没了 Without the quarantine, the humans will be all gone.
天上蝙蝠,地上川普 In the sky are bats, on the earth there's Trump.
一个有毒,一个没谱 One has a virus, the other has no clue/no plan.
不戴口罩你试试 Just try not wearing a face mask.
试试就逝世 If you try it, you'll die.

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Portuglish

[This is a guest post by Thomas Lee Mair]

I'm sending an excerpt from a novel I just finished. This might amuse you the way the Chinglish signs do.

The excerpt is from The Grammarians, a novel by Cathleen Schine, which the NYT listed as one of the 10 best novels of 2019. The novel tracks the lives of a set of twins, Laurel and Daphne, who love words and grammar. The other characters mentioned in this excerpt are Arthur (their father) and Don (Arthur's brother and the twins' uncle).

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"Revlon" in Chinese

We've been through a lot of atrocious Chinglish (check the archives under "Lost in translation"), so we should acknowledge, and even revel in, translational equivalents that are outstandingly good.

It suddenly occurs to me that the Chinese translation of the American cosmetic brand Revlon is so beautiful that it deserves to be highlighted here:

lù huá nóng 露華濃 ("dew [that is] splendid [and] dense")

On the one hand, "Luhuanong" serves as a sound transcription of "Revlon".  On the other hand, the translation of these three syllables provides an apt meaning for the brand name.

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Everybody Hörts

In Berlin for the kick-off meeting of DoReCo, I've noticed a lot of multi-lingual wordplay.

The punning radio-station advertisement in the picture is a good example. It combines the 1993 R.E.M. song "Everybody hurts" with an appropriate if non-existent form of the German word hören to imply that "everybody listens" to their station, because, as the song says,

Sometimes everything is wrong
Now it's time to sing along
When your day is night alone (Hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go (Hold on)
If you think you've had too much
Of this life, well, hang on

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: “bear arms” (part 2)

Part 1 is here. An introduction and guide to my series of posts "Corpora and the Second Amendment" is available here. The corpus data that is discussed can be downloaded here. That link will take you to a shared folder in Dropbox. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen.

Update:  Concordance-line references have been changed to reflect revisions to the spreadsheet from which the lines were copied, as have figures for the total number of concordance lines and for the various subtotals that are given.

New URL for COFEA and COEME: https://lawcorpus.byu.edu.

In this post and the next one, I will discuss the corpus data for bear arms.

This post will focus on the data that I think is consistent (or at least arguably consistent) with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of bear arms in District of Columbia v. Heller, and the next one will deal with the data that I think is inconsistent with the Heller interpretation.

As I discussed in my last post, the court in Heller held that the “natural meaning” of bear arms in the late 18th century (i.e., its “ordinary meaning” (i.e., what it ordinarily meant)) was “wear, bear, or carry upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.” As I read the data, very little of it is consistent with that interpretation.

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"Rondle it!"

I recently became aware of a viral new meme in China, but didn't know what it meant or even how to pronounce it.  The characters are 盘他, which superficially, literally would seem to mean "plate him / her / it".  Of course, that doesn't make sense, so 盘他 flummoxed me for quite a while.

Since the expression seemed so alien and odd, I thought that maybe the second character had a special topolectal pronunciation and would have pronounced the whole expression as pán tuō, but that was just a wild guess, and it wasn't long before I learned that the term should be pronounced "pán tā", the usual way for those two characters.

I still didn't know what "pán tā 盘他" meant.

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Exploit Africa

Happy and healthy year of the Pig!

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"Whoever does not eat, who can't understand life"

Two images of Chinese takeaway packages in Beijing from Teresa Norman:

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Babies Dismount

Anne Henochowicz spotted this sign in a shopping mall in Central, Hong Kong:

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Please vomit here

Here we go again.  With the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coming up, China aims to eliminate Chinglish, and all sorts of negative examples are adduced.  We've covered scores of them on Language Log, but here's one I hadn't seen before:

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Go Believe

Zeyao Wu sent in this sign on a restaurant:

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