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Noticia de un secuestro … The possessive of it … UK Swearing 23rd of March, 2006 POST·MERIDIEM 06:28

Just finished Gabriel García Márquez’ News of a Kidnapping,  in translation to English and received as a birthday present from my sisters. Colombian society of the time seemed really dysfunctional to me from it; there was massive, constant media coverage of the abducted journalists and political hangers-on, while hundreds of people were being murdered unremarked every day, with minimal media coverage and sometimes even minimal official cataloguing of what corpses turned up where.

Also interesting was the overall melodrama of the main players, and that the translator shares her approach with that of one of my work colleagues; that is, look at the sentence to be translated, write down the first thing that comes to mind in the target language, if it’s grammatically correct, then it’ll do. No real desire to write idiomatically in the target language, despite being a native speaker of it.

Jon Snow says this, from the Snowmail daily newsletter, http://​www.​channel4.​com/​news/​snowmail/​wednesday.​html (I imagine it’ll go away next week):

“However green this budget may claim to be, it’s sheer weight in processed paper, which I note is not recycled, is hardly a good curtain raiser.” 

Now, Jon Snow is one of the most articulate, literate, considered, English-speakers in the world, and he got “its” wrong. I submit that we should (or more exactly, the major publishing houses should) move to “it’s” for the possessive of “it,” just as we have “one’s” for the possessive of “one.”

This paper (PDF) is really interesting; commissioned by the BBC, it describes British attitudes to various swear words in the media. From the executive summary:

“Participants say they have noticed an increase in the use of swearing and offensive language in daily life. It was generally disliked, but participants did not feel there was much they could do about it outside their home. However, their acceptance of ‘strong’ language did not signal an approval of it.”
I wonder how long the trend towards more acceptance of swear words will last in the UK; I suspect as more and more people react really strongly to “nigger” and “Paki” they will get used more in some circles because of their force, and this will rouse further feelings against them, leading to a puritanical circle that will take in other swear words. Or is it even possible for a swear word to take on force that it’s lost in the past again? Paper via Ron Hardin in sci.lang.

Word of the day: шароби апелсин means “orange juice” according to one of my phrasebooks; апелсин is identical in sound to the Swedish and Russian word for “orange,” however, and I suspect there is a much more Persian word for the fruit that doesn’t come ultimately from Germanic.

Shiomori … Moldovan skin-headedness … O soglia mia 22nd of March, 2006 POST·MERIDIEM 02:35

Joel at Far Outliers gives us details on a Japanese custom, 塩盛り, pronounced shiomori and meaning “salt helpings”, which involves piles of salt on either side of the door to a restaurant. Now, the most widely known reason for these was to ward off evil spirits; but Joel’s informant gives a more practical one, involving oxcarts, oxens with a liking for salt and impulse stops for food on the part of the drivers. It’s kind of comforting to me to see a sensible basis for at least one of these religious-idiosyncracies-of-the-East stories.

http://​en.​wikipedia.​org/​wiki/​Moldova#Relations_with_European_Union is something I find really weird:

On May 1, 2004 many EU enthusiasts waving the EU flags found their flags confiscated by police and some were arrested under the clause of “anti-nationalism.” 

Looks like some elements of the government there have neuroses on this issue. Pro-EU is only anti-nationalism for the terminally skin-headded and violent.

Word of the day: „die Seezunge“  is German for “sole,” the fish. Comically, yes, it means “sea tongue.”

Last comment from Aidan Kehoe on the 25th of March at 14:38
Ach, Emma, if the graduate student updates and news from Montréal are intended to be difficult, you’re doing a very poor job of it :-) . But then I write what appears on this site, so maybe my judgement is skewed ...

[Three older comments for this entry.]

Bad mental health … Collaborative online translation 21st of March, 2006 POST·MERIDIEM 01:21

I have the impression that Robbie Williams is ridiculously open in his lyrics; there is no reason to sing “the pause button’s broke on my video” unless you’ve actually been wanking so much that that happened, there is no credibility or coolness or admiration to be gained from the admission. Which means that this (from his last album) says he’s actually in a bad mental place:

You see the trouble with you
There’s no trouble with you
So when you say that you love me
That stops me loving you

Ah well, I’m sure the money and ridiculous numbers of people who like him, admire him, and the women who find him attractive outweigh that and mean his life’s on balance good.

I am really interested in whether the US Forces’ “open source translation” effort will have much success: http://​itre.​cis.​upenn.​edu/​~myl/​languagelog/​archives/​002941.​html I suspect the numbers are against them; very few people with good fluency in Arabic support the Iraq war enough to voluntarily help their efforts.

Word of the day: Қолин means “carpet” in Tajik.

Why losing a foreign accent can be worthwhile … Water. 20th of March, 2006 ANTE·MERIDIEM 11:26

I feel like recycling myself today :-) . This is from a comment on http://​positiveanymore.​blogspot.​com/​2006/​03/​american-insecurity.​html , where Ben says that he thinks English speakers have a positive prejudice to people speaking English with a non-native accent:

I’m not from the US, but English is my first language, and I don’t really share the positive attitude you describe to noticeable non-native accents in English. I mean, in general, talking to and dealing with someone through English who has a noticeable non-native accent is not something I have a problem with, I can express myself clearly enough, and I’ve had exposure to enough foreign accents that comprehension is almost never a problem. (One exception is when word stress goes awry, which can make things incomprehensible.)

But when talking to someone with a native-speaker accent, and the effect is more intense when I encounter someone with the accent I grew up with, I’m a little more relaxed, I’m more certain that I can make pop culture references non-native speakers won’t get, that I can use obscure but apt words, that I can predict with a fair degree of accuracy their sense of humour. And this becomes self-fulfilling; someone with no need to understand what a given 80s TV show was about is unlikely to learn about it, or refer to it on their own, a detail that would immediately mark them as comfortable with the local culture.

I noticed in the French-speaking world that as my accent got better the reaction of people on hearing me speak changed; expressions of uncertainty as to whether I had understood something disappeared, people joked more, I laughed more. And my comprehension hadn’t got noticeably better, just my accent.

This contrasts with my experience in Germany—pronouncing things well and clearly doesn’t make things that much easier and doesn’t seem to make the people I’m speaking with noticeably more comfortable. This is, I imagine, because German phonology is less complex than that of English or French, and getting the accent right is one of the first things people learning it as a second language do.

Another thing that may go towards explaining the difference in reaction in Germany is that German orthography is pretty reasonable while both English orthography and that of French are batѕhіt insane, so there is less chance of getting the small details wrong—say, [sɔleɪː] for « soleil » or [sampatik] for « sympathique » as the woman in Pink Martini puts it—for people who learn the written form of a word first, something more common among second-language learners than among first language learners.

Addendum: Ben replies to me there that “ultimately, what [I’m] pointing out is that a speaker is only truly comfortable in his or her native language, and that comfort is contagious, and I think this is true.” Which underlines the disadvantage of writing scads of text on a topic of limited general interest; people don’t read it :-) .

Word of the day: Об is Tajik for “water.”

Last comment from Aidan Kehoe on the 21st of March at 13:32
I suspect one’s reaction to a given accent (or just to a drawl) depends on one’s background, and that’s why people with drawls are not running, say, Australia. That said, you’ll notice there’s a New Englander with a drawl running the US ...

[One older comment for this entry.]

Portsmouth, translating … Living the cliché … FRVCTVS 18th of March, 2006 POST·MERIDIEM 01:25

Two things that made me laugh yesterday—firstly, from a British soldier via the Umm Qasr Wikipedia article, in response to a comparison of the city with Southampton:

“There’s no beer, no prostitutes and people are shooting at us. It’s more like Portsmouth.” 

Secondly, from Narasimhan Raghavan, on translating and quoting prices for it:

‘Some clients may try this ploy: “This is a job after your heart and it is actually an art. Trying to haggle is just cheapening this art, don’t you think so?” Allow no one to pull the wool over your eyes. The client is solely interested in reducing his costs. To such clients I gently say, “Sir, you are a sensitive soul and it does credit to you, I am content to be an admirer of mammon”.’ 

I did, finally, the expat St. Patrick’s day thing and went drinking yesterday evening, and I really enjoyed it. From which I take that conscientiously avoiding being a cliché for the sake of avoiding being a cliché is not a terribly good idea. Who knew?

Word of the day: Мева means “fruit” in Tajik, „das Obst“, plural „Obst“ means it in German, and la fruta  means it in Spanish. I note the contrast in gender in the latter with French, and also that el fruto  exists in Spanish, as you would expect given the Latin word.

St. Paddy’s day … Color que tiene la nieve, or an expression 17th of March, 2006 POST·MERIDIEM 01:54

Happy St. Patrick’s day, world! As so often before, Mrs. Tilton has the celebratory details other places don’t; this year, a pointer to a Beckett play, “not entirely mercifully undense”, and some happily insane comics. See http://​www.​6thinternational.​org/​2006/​03/​dye_the_beer_mo.​html

It is to my mild shock that I learn from the Real Academia Española that blanco, bianco, and indeed blanche are all derived from “blank.” Of course, the meaning of the word in Germanic has changed in the millennium and a half or so since it was borrowed—probably part of the same overall shift in colour terms that resulted in “bleach” and “black,” more or less antonyms in modern usage, having a single root. But still; about as unexpected as the [qazr] in Iraq’s single deep water port, أم قصر, being related to the “caster” of Lancaster.

Word of the day: Касалхона is Tajik for “hospital”; it’s closer to German’s „Krankenhaus“ in its construction, meaning as it does “sick house.”

Last comment from Aidan Kehoe on the 18th of March at 11:16

Yeah, I like it—the world has been historically more integrated than you would think.

I came across the link between the two placenames in The Spectator, but it seems to have disappeared from their archives and from their search engine. This Usenet message mentions the root of the Arabic word; the first OED entry for "chester" describes the English.

[One older comment for this entry.]

Musing on work … Burma … Alright, my son? 16th of March, 2006 ANTE·MERIDIEM 12:10

Tá mé in ann Fhraincís níos fearr a scríobh ná mo comharsan. I mo thuairim, tá sé sin an-ait ar fad; tá an fear as príomhchathair an Fhrainc, agus is Éireannach mé féin. Níos mó, tá mé gach lá ag caint as Gearmánais, agus níl aiméar ar bith agam caint as Fhraincís.

Joel of Far Outliers has, as so often, an interesting post up: http://​faroutliers.​blogspot.​com/​2006/​03/​burmas-martial-legacy.​html . It’s about Burma, its effective militaristic tendencies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and an ungrounded British reluctance to recruit the ethnic Burmese as soldiers thereafter. This offers perhaps a partial insight into why the country turned in on itself after independence, in contrast to Pakistan and India and how they engaged energetically with the wider world; no exposure to Western modes of thinking via the army. Of course, there were lots of other avenues of deep engagement with the West available in the Raj; cf. http://​en.​wikipedia.​org/​wiki/​Muhammad_Iqbal , http://​en.​wikipedia.​org/​wiki/​Muhammad_Ali_Jinnah , Gandhi (who was a barrister, remember), but I suspect this ungrounded reluctance reflected how the British on a wider level approached the Burmese.

Word of the day: «Писаҷон, писарам» means “my son,” and is used as a form of address (a vocative) in Tajik, much like Cockneys do. “A mhic” is Irish for the same thing.