Archive for Lost 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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With precision and elegance

From Victor Steinbok:

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Accuracy of sheep meat

A large-enough-to-read image is here.

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Resurrection in Herzliya

News sources around the world reported recently on a tragedy — "Officials: Chinese Ambassador to Israel Found Dead in Home", Associated Press 5/17/2020:

JERUSALEM — The Chinese ambassador to Israel was found dead in his home north of Tel Aviv on Sunday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.

Israeli Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the ambassador's death was believed to be from natural causes.

Du Wei, 58, was appointed envoy in February in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. He previously served as China’s envoy to Ukraine. He was found dead at the ambassador's official residence in Herzliya.

But if you read it on Israel Hayom (or other Hebrew sources) via Google Translate, you'll get a different picture:

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"Be careful of the truth"

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Fractured Japanese-to-English translation on amazon.com

From Paul Shore:

I don't know whether the item below, an Amazon translation of an Amazon customer review, is Language-Log-worthy; but I thought that at the very least you might be amused by its sublime anti-logic.  The January 1, 2017 review, written by "横川いずみ", is of Freedom Betrayed, Herbert Hoover's massive, radical critique of U.S. foreign relations from the thirties to the fifties, which wasn't published until 2011, roughly a half-century after Hoover completed it.  In the heading, 横川いずみ rates the book five stars out of five and "[v]ery good".  The Japanese original of the review text is as follows:

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"62 years ago I was killed at a midwifery clinic"

[This is a guest post by Cyrus Shaoul]

I am a long time LL reader and I came across an interesting machine translation error today.

When my Japanese friend sent me this sentence:

62年前のこの日に慶應義塾大学病院で命を授かりました。

I was flummoxed by the verb 授かる [VHM:  sazukaru {"be gifted / endowed with (an award / title); to be blessed (e.g., with a child); be granted / taught; to be given something of great value / a treasure, by deities or someone of higher social class"}] at the end of the sentence, so I asked Google Translate for help and lo and behold, it said:

"On this day, 62 years ago, I died at Keio University Hospital."

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Facebook Guang Guang Guang Guang translate loop

From Jeff DeMarco:

I hit the translation button for this Facebook post and this is what I got!

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Arrogant squid of North Texas

Joe Tello sent me this funny sign:

The line of Chinese at the top says "àomàn yóu 傲慢鱿" ("arrogant squid").  That's puzzling enough by itself, but I actually found the English to be even more mystifying.  It seems to be telling us that this place is in the East Location of the Southwest District of North Texas.  When I try to figure out on a map of Texas where that would put it, my imagination fails me.

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Don't eat the carpet

Sign in an Indian airport:

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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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The source of "cum-ex"?

"It May Be the Biggest Tax Heist Ever. And Europe Wants Justice." NYT 1/23/2020:

Martin Shields and Paul Mora met in 2004, at the London office of Merrill Lynch. […]

Today, the men stand accused of participating in what Le Monde has called “the robbery of the century,” and what one academic declared “the biggest tax theft in the history of Europe.” From 2006 to 2011, these two and hundreds of bankers, lawyers and investors made off with a staggering $60 billion, all of it siphoned from the state coffers of European countries.

The scheme was built around “cum-ex trading” (from the Latin for “with-without”): a monetary maneuver to avoid double taxation of investment profits that plays out like high finance’s answer to a David Copperfield stage illusion. Through careful timing, and the coordination of a dozen different transactions, cum-ex trades produced two refunds for dividend tax paid on one basket of stocks.

One basket of stocks. Abracadabra. Two refunds.

You can learn more about this from the source at  cumex-files.com. But since this is Language Log rather than Evil Bankers Log, I'm going to focus on the claim that "cum-ex" is from the Latin for "with-without".

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President Shithole

J. Edward Moreno, "Facebook apologizes after Chinese president's name translated into vulgar phrase", The Hill (1/18/20) — with screen capture in Burmese and English.

Poppy McPherson, "Facebook says technical error caused vulgar translation of Chinese leader's name", Reuters (1/18/20):

YANGON (Reuters) – Facebook Inc (FB.O) on Saturday blamed a technical error for Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s name appearing as “Mr Shithole” in posts on its platform when translated into English from Burmese, apologizing for any offense caused.

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