COPS AND MULTILINGUALISM.

At first I was intrigued when I saw the link to the latest issue (Vol. 11, No. 1) of the journal Reconstruction (at wood s lot), since its theme was “Multilingual Realities in Translation.” Then I got discouraged when I turned to the Introduction and saw the epigraph “No theorization, inasmuch as it is produced in a language, will be able to dominate the Babelian performance” (by, of course, Jacques Derrida) and the first sentence “The idea of this issue is to consider the possibility of Babelian performances in the context of scholarly mediations on multilingual realities in translation,” and I almost gave up when the first two articles turned out to be “Decotitles, the Animated Discourse of Fox’s Recent Anglophonic Internationalism” (by DT Kofoed) and “Call Center Cultures and the Transnationalization of Affective Labor” (by John Muthyala). No offense if dense theory and phrases like “the Transnationalization of Affective Labor” are your meat and drink, but they’re not mine. But “Facing off: French and English in Bon Cop, Bad Cop” by Heather Macdougall sounded interesting enough to check out, and aside from the obligatory nod to Theory (“a fixed dichotomy separated by an empty void”—an empty void? what other kind could there be?), there’s some interesting background on a truly bilingual movie, apparently “the highest-grossing domestically-produced film in Canadian history”:

Patrick Huard, an established Québecois actor, first thought of the concept for a bilingual film when he was presenting at the Genies, the Canadian film awards. Relating the incident to Playback magazine, he explains,
The French-Canadians and the English were laughing at the same jokes, and I wasn’t prepared for that. I was doing a joke on the French, and the English would laugh. And the other way around. […] I was surprised, and realized that maybe there’s something that we have in common. The one thing we can laugh about together is our differences. That’s when I had a flash for Bon Cop.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop is a Canadian version [of the formulaic odd-couple cop movie] that employs Canada’s most obvious cultural dichotomy, language, to provide a contrast between the two principal characters. David Bouchard is a hot-tempered Montreal cop who chain-smokes, drives too fast, and is always one wrong move away from being suspended; Martin Ward, by contrast, is a Toronto officer with an exemplary record, an ambition to get a desk job, and a healthy diet low in cholesterol. The two are forced to work together when a murder victim is found on the Ontario-Quebec border. …

The issue of subtitling was dealt with in Canada by making available two versions: one print that subtitled the English dialogue in French, and a second that subtitled the French in English. Interestingly, no version was struck to include subtitles in both languages thereby allowing the film to be seen by monolinguals from both communities in the same theatre. (While it was not possible in theatrical screenings, the DVD version allows bilingual viewers to switch off the subtitles completely, but again there is no option to have both languages appear in the subtitles). Separate advertising materials were also prepared in the two official languages. Both theatrical trailers emphasized the linguistic subject matter of the film, although there is a notable difference in the approach of the two versions. The English trailer, which ran under the tagline “Shoot first, translate later,” contained scenes of David speaking French-accented English and only one, clearly facetious, line of subtitled French dialogue. It would be possible, then—and perhaps this was the goal of the trailer editors—for English audiences to assume that the film would be about French Canadians without actually being in French. By contrast, the French trailer contains an almost equal number of lines in French and English, and included the slightly more conciliatory tag line “Pour une fois, les deux solitudes vont se parler … peut-être”. The marketing strategy hints at a greater acceptance of bilingualism among the French-speaking population than among the Anglophone community; this difference between the two groups is also supported within the text of the film, albeit in a more nuanced way.

There’s a detailed discussion of the use of language in the movie, with extended quotes and a blessed minimum of Theory.

Comments

  1. It’s a wonderful movie! Well worth acquiring or borrowing by whatever means. The swearing lesson (described in paragraph 27) is the funniest language-lesson scene in cinema since “Life of Brian”‘s “Romans Go Home!” bit.

  2. It was worth wading through the article and posting about it to get a recommendation like that. Thanks, and I’ll add it to my list!

  3. dearieme says:

    Which book is the most important ever by virtue of having been translated? Presumably either the Bible or Euclid’s Elements?

  4. Interesting question, but you’d have to define what you meant by “important.” The Bible and Euclid are important in different ways, and Shakespeare in still another.

  5. You’d also have to say what you meant by “translation”: Newton Principia?

  6. And if “by virtue of” means it acquired significance through translation, then something like The Book of Mormon might rank.

  7. There seems to be some uncertainty here about the meanings of the terms. Here’s an experimental thought, consideration of which may help to clear things up: “Which is the most virtuous book whose insignificance is important only in the sense that it was never translated ?”.

  8. From paragraph 27 of the article: Originally charged with obstructing justice, the man was acquitted by Judge Pierre Bouchard who ruled that “while generally recognized as wrong, impolite and coarse, the words ‘fuck you’ do not at all constitute a blasphemy, since a blasphemy by definition invokes God or sacred things”
    The swearing vocabulary available to anglophone Canadians is pretty much the same as in other parts of the English-speaking world, focusing largely on the nether regions and what can be done with them. In Quebec, by contrast, it’s mostly church-centered: calice! (chalice) and tabernacle! are the traditional favorites.
    Years ago I noticed that French speakers from France and French speakers from Quebec differ in their pronunciation of English “the.” The former say “ze” while the latter say “de”.
    The poems of William Henry Drummond, which way back we all studied in Ontario high schools (they’re probably not PC today), portray the English of the typical Quebecois of an earlier period. Following is the first verse of “De Habitant:”
    De place I get born, me, is up on de reever
    Near foot of de rapide dat’s call Cheval Blanc
    Beeg mountain behin’ it, so high you can’t climb it
    An’ whole place she’s mebbe two honder arpent.

    We used to joke about a French-Canadian ordering breakfast in a diner:
    “I’m horder two heggs, side by each, sunny face out, wid a pair o’ toas.’”

  9. In contrast probably to a lot of PCers, I find that a little round of funny-furriner-speak is OK. After all, neither 1) funny-speak nor 2) the humor about it, will ever go away. And 3) the furriners do it too about us, for good reason. Only those need a good slap upside the head (Ohrfeige) who mock people in their face about the way they speak.
    Some people, in particular some comedians, have a knack for imitating furrin-speak that I envy. You’d think by now I could imitate a German speaking English, or t’other way around, but I can’t – not convincingly, anyway, no more than I can imitate dialects of English. It would be nice party trick, but you can’t have everything.

  10. Trond Engen says:

    Why limit yourself to “never translated”? Surely, the most insignificant virtuous book would be one never written at all. Here’s one:
    Systemic Failures
    Reconciling economics, comparative politics and game theory.
    On the limits of validity of economic theories and the rationality of preferring the wrong one at any time.
    Of course, it may happen to have been written in Ainu or Aymara or Inuktitut and never translated, in which case I won’t have a point.

  11. My own “Learn not to Think Like an Economist” hasn’t been written yet, but Google tells me that I own the title.

  12. It’s a cultural thing, as usual. Norwegians hate to have their English corrected; they seem to think they’re losing face, and consequently they almost never will correct a foreigner’s Norwegian unless you beg them (happily, Trond’s an exception). Germans on the other hand won’t let you get more than a greeting out before they start correcting your tysk. I think Britons overdo the corrections a bit; only trying to be helpful, but nobody enjoys being patronised.

  13. More on William Henry Drummond:
    There’s a poetry contest established in his name in, of all places, Cobalt, Ontario, which I mentioned in a comment to the LH post about inspiring bookstores a few weeks ago.
    What is it with physicians and language anyway? W.C. Minor and the OED, Roget and his thesaurus, and now Drummond, who, according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, was not only a physician, but also a professor of hygiene and of medical jurisprudence.

  14. brucewareallen says:

    Youtube has the language lesson clip here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9U72QVCgh_Q

  15. What is it with physicians and language anyway? W.C. Minor and the OED, Roget and his thesaurus, and now Drummond, who, according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, was not only a physician, but also a professor of hygiene and of medical jurisprudence.
    Perhaps physicians had more time on their hands in those days. There wasn’t that much to know, for one thing. Patients died before the docs could get into the swing of a good long diagnosis with lots of lab work. Also, they may have overcharged – or offered their services primarily to the rich. There weren’t that many doctors per cap either, I think, so each got a bigger slice of the take.

  16. “Finally, it is interesting that the only character in this scene who is completely unilingual is the one who in real life would most assuredly be bilingual: the chief of the Ontario Provincial Police.”
    Somehow I am not sure about this – although there is a sizeable francophone minority in Northern Ontario, there is not a track record of important public figures in Ontario needing to speak French. Given the background of Julian Fantino for instance, hard to believe he would speak fluent French.

  17. dearieme says:

    ‘but you’d have to define what you meant by “important”‘: no, that would convert a pleasingly mindless discussion about a unresolvable issue into a serious argument.
    Anyway, I’m rejecting the Principia on the grounds that it was just a retranslation, since Sir I (as he then wasn’t?) thought of it in English, and translated it into Latin only for publication to the international intellectual trade. Or so I assume. Much like his tranlation of the maths from calculus to Euclidian geometry.

  18. dearieme says:

    How do I set about claiming ownership of the title “Learn to not Think Like an Economist”?

  19. Just post it on the internet under your name. At the moment, Google searches for the phrase find me and only me. Once your posts of the phrase exceed mine in number, I will concede ownership.

  20. Actually, it’s “Learn NOT to think like an economist”, a much better sentence.

  21. Britons overdo the corrections a bit; only trying to be helpful, but nobody enjoys being patronised.

    Depends on the Briton. I never could get anyone to correct me on my bad habits.

  22. That’s cause you don’t have any, Sili.

  23. The other side of Dearie’s question is which important books have been neglected* as a result of bad translation.
    *You could also ask “misinterpreted”, but I’m trying to avoid the Bible answer.

  24. dearieme says:

    Oh, John, it’s a different book. Yours is about avoiding thinking like an economist. My title alleges that economists don’t think at all, and implies that the book will teach the reader how to emulate that lucrative state. Plain different.
    Forthcoming companion publication: How to ot sprint like a Trtoise: lessos from the Animal Kingdom. Observe the fashionable colon-using title.

  25. You don’t seem to have any problems with your colon, but you want to get your n key looked at.

  26. dearieme says:

    I’ve looked at it, Ive eve glared at it, but it performs o better.

  27. “Some people, in particular some comedians, have a knack for imitating furrin-speak that I envy.”
    Stu, Margaret Cho does the definitive Immigrant Mama accent. You might also enjoy Kim Jung-il’s rendition of “I’m so Ronelry” in Team America”.
    “It’s a cultural thing, as usual. Norwegians hate to have their English corrected; they seem to think they’re losing face, and consequently they almost never will correct a foreigner’s Norwegian unless you beg them (happily, Trond’s an exception).”
    And anyway, which standard would they crrect you to?
    “Germans on the other hand won’t let you get more than a greeting out before they start correcting your tysk.”
    I had heard about this before I statred living in Germany, and expected this to annoy me, but it never came across as anything but helpful, and quite welcome in fact. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s a neat trick.

  28. What is annoying is when they correct your English, which happened to me in Ireland (a German was there studying Old Irish).

  29. And by “correct” I mean “attempt to correct,” since my English was perfectly correct, it just wasn’t what he had been taught.

  30. Trond Engen says:

    It’s a cultural thing, as usual. Norwegians hate to have their English corrected; they seem to think they’re losing face, and consequently they almost never will correct a foreigner’s Norwegian unless you beg them (happily, Trond’s an exception).
    Exception to what? I appreciate hving my English corrected, but I don’t think I correct foreigners’ Norwegian much. When I corrected your å må the other day I saw it more as a theorethical point of grammar, possibly obscure to a foreigner, than an example of foreigner’s speech.
    And anyway, which standard would they crrect you to?
    Norwegian isn’t quite the mess that some seem to think*. There’s grammar to obey, idiomaticity, and meaning of words — the usual traps in any language. Admittedly, there’s a spectre of loose orthographic norms, partly including morphology, but even here there’s an expectance of relative consistency. I’d have no problem correcting a foreigner according to any one of those based on the rest of his speech (or writing). I might actually give him a number of choices and an explanation.
    *) I’ve said on some occasions that modern Bokmål is a mess, but that’s when judged for consistency based on historical principles. But the same may be said of English. Synchronically, it’s just what it is.

  31. There’s a gigantic qualitative difference between your English and my Norwegian, and, what with no one else helping me out, I appreciate your Norwegian corrections. Å må is a good example of what often happens: I knew it was å måtte, but once I’ve (so to speak) committed to an error like that I tend to repeat it rather than using the correct version.

  32. Perhaps Crump could hire his daughter to coach him, and pay her in horses and goats.

  33. Guillermo del Toro’s first feature film, Cronos (1993), is bilingual English/Spanish. All the anglophone actors speak English, all the hispanophone actors speak Spanish, and presiding over them all, in his final film role, the great Irish-Mexican actor Claudio Brook, speaking and acting beautifully in both. It’s just about a 50/50 split, and most of the dialog in both languages is very plain and simple. Since many Americans and Mexicans have some familiarity (but not fluency) with each other’s languages, the effect is equally disorienting from either direction.
    I haven’t seen this in ages. Now I know what I’m going to watch tonight.

  34. Sounds like a good film.
    My daughter would rather I just didn’t embarrass her by speaking gratuitously in Norwegian.

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