DESSINE-MOI QUOI?

Harry Eyres has an interesting Financial Times review of a couple of new versions of Le Petit Prince; what I wish to call your attention to here is this bit:

But for translators, the questions and problems are not so speculative but eminently practical. How, for example, do you translate that famous opening request by the Little Prince, which in French consists of the words: “S’il vous plaît … dessine-moi un mouton.”
It sounds simple but mouton in French can mean either sheep or lamb. Sarah Ardizzone and Ros Schwartz, in her beautifully judged Collector’s Library version, come to different conclusions for excellent reasons. Schwartz opts for lamb because “‘Please … draw me a sheep’ … was not something I could imagine a child saying spontaneously.” Ardizzone takes the opposite view: “I actually like the plosive, slightly cartoony sound of ‘sheep’. I didn’t want any echoes of ‘lamb of God’ in what is already a spiritually charged text.” Ardizzone’s sheep had another advantage: it enabled her to translate the Pilot’s exasperated “Il me broute avec son mouton celui-là” (literally, “He gets on my nerves with that sheep/lamb of his”) as the brilliant “I wish he’d stop bleating on about his sheep.”

But surely mouton can mean only ‘sheep’; ‘lamb’ is agneau. Or am I wrong? (Thanks, Paul!)

Comments

  1. Haun Saussy says:

    The FT author is probably misremembering the standard example of semantic relativity: that in French “mouton” can mean either “sheep” or “mutton” but in English one has to choose one or the other. It would have been a good idea to find a reviewer who knows French.

  2. Mais revenons à nos moutons… The narrator later adds that he has drawn a very small sheep for the Little Prince (“Je t’ai donné un tout petit mouton“), which would also seem to argue against the translation as “lamb.” I think you are right that “mouton” generally means “sheep” and not “lamb.” Anyway, is the supposed verisimilitude of “draw me a lamb” as a child’s utterance any kind of justification for a translation choice?

  3. Wouldn’t the actually hard to translate part be the instant change (and very childlike in French) from vous to tu between the two phrases ?

  4. Well, if I remember rightly, there is a place where the little prince rejects a drawing because it is a “ram”, not a “sheep”. This alone argues for a different semantic coverage for mouton from English ‘sheep’.

  5. The relevant sentence is:
    -Tu vois bien… ce n’est pas un mouton, c’est un bélier. Il a des cornes..
    Does this mean that moutons can’t have horns?

  6. bathrobe, I think we should consider that this is a child speaking, from whom we do not expect the precision of an adult farmer. It seems to me that the little prince is using mouton where a farmer would use brébis (female sheep, according to Petit Robert), in distinction from bélier. I have read brébis in French novels where I assumed it meant sheep of both sexes, but maybe I was wrong to assume that, since I’m a city boy.

  7. Haun Saussy: the standard example of semantic relativity: that in French “mouton” can mean either “sheep” or “mutton” but in English one has to choose one or the other.
    THE standard example ?? “Semantic relativity” is but a fancy term for an extremely commonplace feature of all languages I know, a feature that has nothing to do with translating. When you hear an utterance /X/, or read “X”, then implicit OR explicit context is required to determine what /X/ or “X” probably means – subject to reconsideration as the communication proceeds.
    At the very least, you go on the standard implicit assumption that the speaker is using only one language, and that you know which one it is. You may assume it’s English, say, but – especially on this blog – words or expressions from other languages may have been introduced. In such mixed situations, the speaker may or may not have pronounced “X” so that you realize that he has introduced “the” French word /X/ in the middle of (say) an English sentence. Similarly, the writer may have used italics for “X” to jolt your working assumptions in the direction intended.
    In spoken Tex-Mex (the written kind usually appears only on posters), sometimes the speaker uses Spanish sentences, sometimes English ones, and sometimes in the middle of a sentence in one language an expression from the other one turns up. Two Tex-Mex speakers have no trouble understanding each other, but there are still assumptions at work: what sounds like English at a given instant is English, what sounds like Spanish is Spanish. There is not more or less difficulty here as compared with a situation in which both persons use one language. Just different types of potential ambiguity.
    It is a little misleading to write: in French “mouton” can mean either “sheep” or “mutton”, as if this were an exhaustive disjunction. Mouton (as a written or spoken token) can “mean” many things, among them “sheep” and “mutton”, just as “sheep” and “mutton” can mean many things. Ambiguity does not arise only when translating. Consider the example given here: Revenons à nos moutons could be a jokey sentence said by one shepherd to another, as they pull their pants back on before emerging from the brushwood to get back to work. Here moutons mean “sheep” AND “the current topic”, which it doesn’t in the usual revenons à nos moutons.
    I myself feel that it doesn’t make much difference whether dessine-moi un mouton is translated with “lamb” or “sheep”, so long as the English version is internally consistent, and the French one is as well,and you have a good story. But this is a matter of understanding and choice, not of ontological precision. Words don’t “mean” anything “by themselves” – that is an illusion fostered by dictionaries. Words are either understood as intended, or misunderstood as not intended, or misunderstood as intended, or not understood at all.

  8. It’s true that it’s a child speaking. I am curious whether “ce n’est pas un mouton, c’est un bélier” sounds as strange to French ears as “that’s not a sheep, it’s a ram” does to English (American, etc.) ones.
    The idea that “words are either understood as intended, or misunderstood as not intended, or misunderstood as intended, or not understood at all” is a good starting point, but any theory of semantics that stops at that level of generalisation isn’t a terribly sophisticated one. In English it may be ok for a child to say “it’s not a sheep, it’s a ram”. In Chinese it’s ridiculous, because Chinese for ‘sheep’ is 羊 yáng; Chinese for ‘ram’ is 公羊 gōngyáng (‘male sheep’). That is why people try to come up with theories of semantics, because, unless you can show whether the semantics of that sentence is consonant with the semantics of words to do with sheep in French, simply saying that ‘it’s a child speaking’ doesn’t explain that much.

  9. The idea that “words are either understood as intended, or misunderstood as not intended, or misunderstood as intended, or not understood at all” is a good starting point, but any theory of semantics that stops at that level of generalisation isn’t a terribly sophisticated one
    It was not meant to be a theory of semantics at all, much less a sophisticated one. It just seems to me that it is a better starting point for understanding understanding – in particular, for addressing translation issues – than one apparently based on some kind of representational theory of meaning.
    simply saying that ‘it’s a child speaking’ doesn’t explain that much.
    This was not intended to explain anything. I was simply pointing out that the semantics of a child are not those of an adult. And that therefore, when rendering in another language what the child says, it is silly to indulge in judicious semantic distinctions regarding the sex and age of animals, distinctions that usually only an adult will know to make. The child clearly doesn’t know much about these things, and that is exactly the charm of what he says in French.
    Even in Chinese it must be possible to convey the innocent mistakes of a child. That is what this is all about – not individual words, but all the other stuff that is relegated to second place as “context” in single-lexeme, dictionary-bound approaches to translation.

  10. Siganus Sutor says:

    Bathrobe: I am curious whether “ce n’est pas un mouton, c’est un bélier” sounds as strange to French ears
    It does sound strange to my (Martian) ears at least. For me mouton is the generic term for Ovis aries. You can have un bélier (uncastrated male), une brebis (female) or un agneau (juvenile) and I would tend to lump all these under the name mouton, just like I would do with cheval (horse), whether it’s un étalon, une jument, un poulain or une pouliche.
    However, when you look at the etymology of the word, you see that it is supposed to come from the Gaulish word *multo (cognate with Welsh mollt, Gaelic molt or Breton maout) meaning “castrated male”. So in that sense un mouton would be like un bœuf, which is a castrated taureau (bull). But I would tend to say that in common language les moutons are all of them, male or female, castrated or not, young or old.
    A mouton can also be a civil engineering device used to hammer piles in the ground. Interestingly enough, one of the words used in English for this device is ram, i.e. bélier, whereas in French un bélier is the medieval hammering ram, i.e. the device thrown horizontally against walls or doors to break them down.
     
     
    Mary had a sheep
    With the sheep she went to sleep
    The sheep turned out to be a ram
    And Mary had a little lamb

  11. Folks here appear to be treating what the Little Prince says as if Dorothy Casaubon’s husband had said it.

  12. Grumbly: since I’m a city boy
    I hope the city boy has already tasted brebis cheese, from the Pyrenees for instance, since this is pure délice.
    On Mars there is a disease that is called mal mouton (literally “sheep disease”), I have no idea why. Its French name is oreillons and its English name is mumps. (Khnum knows why this disease is so often in the plural form.)

  13. Fromage de brébis in all forms has the key to my apartment !
    As for sheep diseases, for some reason the Petit Robert lists a bunch of them under mouton:

    Maladies du mouton (charbon, clavelée, fourchet, muguet, piétin, tournis…)

  14. why this disease is so often in the plural form
    Because most people have more than one cheek, and more than one ear ?

  15. Also, where there are several discrete, visible tokens of something unusual, the plural seems natural: measles, crabs, hives, warts, boils, chilblains … Generalized problems without discrete, visible tokens, or only one, have singular-form names: fever, cold, belly-ache, ear-ache (often affects only one ear), pain in the ass etc.

  16. @G_Stu
    Note that, according to the OED, ‘pox’ has it both ways– it’s an alteration of ‘pocks’, so the plural of ‘pock’ became a singular collective.

  17. MattF: maybe “pocks” became a singular collective because there were too many sores to count – their number is lesion, as ’twere.

  18. “Il me broute avec son mouton celui-là” (literally, “He gets on my nerves with that sheep/lamb of his”)
    I find that brouter means “graze on a tether”. So the image is of getting worn down by repetition – the Little Prince is tethered to the idea of moutons, and has nibbled down to the ground everything around that subject.

  19. The vous/tu issue came up in the recent re-publication of the Esperanto translation of La Eta Princo. Francisko Lorrain wrote about it recently on page 10 of La Riverego (appearing in Esperanto and French):
    http://www.esperanto.qc.ca/files/riverego/La%20Riverego%20101.pdf
    I saw a presentation by Francisko a few months ago and the new edition is beautiful, with imagery newly redigitized from the original artwork. It turns out that in most editions, due to the cost of color printing versus b/w, they often ended up moving illustrations away from the text they were actually supposed to be paired with. The new edition fixes a bunch of these things — and offers a $10 reward to anyone who finds a typo. 🙂

  20. “Sketch me a lamb” would carry an echo of “skittery” which is how new lambs are.
    The contrast with “ram” would come over better if the Little Prince (who the hell is this chap, by the way; am I meant to have heard of him?) had asked for a drawing of a ewe – which is how farmers in my youth referred to those adult female sheep that comprised much of their flocks. (Well, “yowes” actually, but ewes in English.)

  21. Good opening for a surrealist novel: “If you please… design me a mutton!” (Odd coincidence, the top Google hit for this phrase AOTW is the Wikipedia entry for “Haddocks-eyes”.)

  22. their number is lesion
    Ha!

  23. Little boys with button eyes, silly cows with mutton eyes, old whores with beady eyes.

  24. Grumbly: brouter technically may mean grazing on a tether, but I understand it just as grazing, with the sense of head down to the ground, teeth almost touching the ground, nibbling non-stop.
    Incidentally, a French animated film of Le Petit Prince has just been released. This Figaro piece includes an image of the scene of drawing a mouton – and it’s definitely a sheep, if a cutesy one.

  25. measles, crabs, hives,
    mumps, marthambles
    a cough, but the hiccoughs
    not to mention non-medical conditions such as the creeps, the willies, and the heebie-jeebies,

  26. s/non-medical conditions/punk-rock bands/

  27. Heh. There are bad and good willies, as you well know.

  28. Paul: I understand it just as grazing, with the sense of head down to the ground, teeth almost touching the ground, nibbling non-stop.
    Is this what “grazing” actually consists in, at least in sheep if not in cows ? I’d always thought of “grazing” as an intermittent, casual activity. If not, is there an English word for this kind of power-nibbling ?

  29. This has been bugging me all morning: what does “beautifully judged” mean in the context of that review? That the reviewer judges it to be beautiful? That the translation shows beautiful judgement? Can’t quite get my head around that phrase.

  30. It’s indirect self-praise, just a classier-sounding version of a common template: “that was a beautiful pass” (football), “a beautiful putt” (golf) etc. It means here that somebody achieved a result by taking all the aesthetically fashionable aspects into account, and was judicious, clever, fair and impressively well-informed about it. Exactly those things the person prides himself on who is ascribing these attributes and abilities to someone else’s “beautifully judged” product.

  31. mouton in French can mean either sheep or lamb
    So embarrassing to get confused like that in the Financial Times. But he’s right in the sense that lamb in English now means sheep meat, or what used to be called mutton. What happened to mutton? Why can’t you buy mutton any more? Do they kill all the sheep while they’re still lambs because mutton is tougher and cheaper? Or is mutton still sold, but now it’s just called “lamb”?

  32. Ros Schwartz says:

    If I may explain why I chose ‘lamb’ rather than sheep, below is an extract from a conversation between myself and Sarah Ardizzone, translator of Joan Sfar’s graphic novel version of The Little Prince. The full article is published in ‘In Other Words’, available from the British Centre for Literary Translation: http://www.bclt.org.uk/index.php/publications
    RS: The little prince’s signature phrase ‘S’il vous plait … dessine-moi un mouton’, again so light and airy in French, risked sounding clunky in English: ‘Please… draw me a sheep’. Not something I could imagine a child saying spontaneously. The book’s illustrations show not a sheep, but a lamb. Of course. Children talk about little lambs. Mary had a little lamb. Little lamb alliterates. I checked with a French native-speaker colleague who concurred with my intuition that the little prince meant a lamb (as evidenced by the images and his comments on the narrator’s artistic efforts (‘That one’s too old. I want a lamb that will live for a long time.’)
    Ros Schwartz

  33. Mutton is certainly not lamb. I don’t think it’s sold or eaten much in the US, though I’m sure you could get it if you were prepared to look around for a while.

  34. Grumbly: My dictionaries give brouter as “to browse, nibble” [browse evidently in the pre-Internet sense, I have old dictionaries] and nibbling is the sense I have of it. I see your sense of grazing as intermittent, but I think it can extend to extended nibbling ….
    I can actually visualize “brouter” better than I can explain, from watching the sheep wandering in our orchard in Normandy.

  35. Ros Schwartz: (‘That one’s too old. I want a lamb that will live for a long time.’)
    Is that agneau in the original, please? I don’t have a copy to hand.

  36. No, it’s “mouton” throughout. Original here.

  37. Is that agneau in the original, please?
    No: “Celui-là est trop vieux. Je veux un mouton qui vive longtemps.”
    The word agneau does not appear in the text.

  38. The Modesto Kid has a powerful quick draw!

  39. Ros: I checked with a French native-speaker colleague who concurred with my intuition that the little prince meant a lamb
    Yes, but what the little prince actually says is mouton. Did your native speaker not pick up on the “charming mistakes”, as I called them above, that the prince appears to be making ? Another such charming mistake being ce n’est pas un mouton, c’est un bélier ? Is this about training the little prince to speak correctly, if only in English ? What about the rendering of personality and atmosphere as it is in the French original ?

  40. Interestingly, the Trésor de la langue française informatisé has that Le Petit Prince passage as its only quotation for this sense:

    En partic. Mâle châtré élevé pour sa chair par opposition au bélier reproducteur.

    (“spec. Castrated male raised for its flesh, as opposed to the breeding ram.”)

    Unlike the OED, the TLFi doesn’t typically include large numbers of quotations; but one imagines they must have felt confident of their interpretation here, else they would have chosen a different quotation.

    English mutton has the same specialized sense; the OED has “spec. A castrated ram; a wether. Obs.“.

  41. draw me a little sheep

  42. Hat: you’re right.
    I have some small experience as a translator between French and English, and I am utterly baffled: how on earth could anyone think that MOUTON, under *any* circumstances, should be translated as LAMB? English LAMB and French AGNEAU correspond quite closely to one another (except that French AGNEAU refers to a male lamb, with AGNELLE being the word for a female lamb), as do MOUTON and SHEEP/MUTTON.
    What makes this error in translation much more serious to my mind is the fact that lambs (unlike sheep) are a very powerful symbol, in Christianity, of innocence/purity. To an anglophone reader the request (“draw me a lamb”) would thus carry a powerful symbolic meaning utterly lacking in the original.

  43. Etienne: English LAMB and French AGNEAU correspond quite closely to one another.
    Ros: I checked with a French native-speaker colleague who concurred with my intuition that the little prince meant a lamb
    If we are going wander down Grumbly’s garden path here and discuss childish errors, I find it somewhat doubtful that an English-speaking child would make the mistake of calling a sheep a ‘lamb’. Bulls, cows, steers, ewes, rams, and wethers might all be lumped together as ‘cows’ and ‘sheep’ respectively, but not calves and lambs. Perhaps a four or five year old child might get them mixed up, but it’s perfectly clear that the Little Prince is not a five-year-old child (although his actual age is unfathomable). So the idea that the French native speaker agreed with, that a French child might erroneously call a lamb a ‘sheep’, doesn’t to me, at least, seem to be something that would normally happen in English.
    Where is marie-lucie when you need her?

  44. It’s a curious thing that the taurine animal has no name in English: we have calves, heifers, oxen, cows, and bulls, but no generic name, perhaps because these creatures have no common purpose or destiny in human hands.
    For the meanings of lamb, hogget, and muttonas articles of food in different countries, see Wikipedia.

  45. It’s a curious thing that the taurine animal has no name in English
    There is a superordinate term of sorts, but only in the plural: cattle.

  46. John Cowan: the taurine animal has no name in English: we have calves, heifers, oxen, cows, and bulls, but no generic name
    Isn’t “cattle” such a name ?
    Bathrobe: If we are going wander down Grumbly’s garden path here and discuss childish errors, I find it somewhat doubtful that an English-speaking child would make the mistake of calling a sheep a ‘lamb’. … So the idea that the French native speaker agreed with, that a French child might erroneously call a lamb a ‘sheep’, doesn’t to me, at least, seem to be something that would normally happen in English.
    I find it peculiar that no one understands what I am saying here. Everybody who responds at all is focusing on my finger, instead of what it’s pointing at. So let me spell out my take on this mouton business in the little prince story:
    1. The little prince is presented as naive and innocent, but also as rather stubborn – just like any child. And yet he is not merely a child. This is one of the things that people have found interesting about the story. (I myself find it rather cringe-making in parts, but would probably still be willing to read it to a child)
    2. A manifestation of that naive stubbornness is his recurrence to mouton at every opportunity. The Pilot expresses his exasperation with this childish behavior when he says Il me broute avec son mouton celui-là.
    3. The little prince has a fixed idea of what mouton means, and it’s not what an adult means by it. This is familiar from young children. A young child just learning to speak can (for instance) seize on the word “cat” for the family’s house pet, and then also call the family’s dog “cat”. The parents will try to correct him, but it may be a while before the child is willing to adapt.
    4. In line with his fixed idea, the little prince says things like Ce n’est pas un mouton, c’est un bélier, which make no sense to an adult, yet they apparently do to him. Such a phenomenon is also familiar to parents.
    Summary: as we all know, The Little Prince is a story with bits of parable and realism for both children and adults. It is not intended as a story about correct semantics, or as a statistical report on the actual behavior of French children. As for the mouton word: in line with my remark 3. above, I think that in an English version of the story almost any childishly mistaken word would do, so long as it allows for a plausible follow-up in the later childish mistakes such as n’est pas un mouton, c’est un bélier. My feeling is that “sheep” serves perfectly well. And “that’s not a sheep, that’s a ram” is also just fine as a follow-up.
    To my way of thinking, those contributors here who consult dictionaries and worry about “verisimilitude” are displaying a stubborn adult misprision of a child’s mind. It is an exact counterpart of the little prince’s misprision of mouton. This Pilot is inclined to mutter: Ils me broutent avec leurs lexèmes, ceux-là.

  47. LH asked: But surely mouton can mean only ‘sheep’; ‘lamb’ is agneau. Or am I wrong?
    People are discussing the semantics of ‘sheep’, which is entirely relevant to the thread.
    Grumbly’s point that “almost any childishly mistaken word would do, so long as it allows for a plausible follow-up” is fine, and is a reasonable explanation of the little prince’s linguistic behaviour, but it’s no grounds for dismissing discussions on the semantics of sheep in French, English or any other language. Nor is it grounds for dismissing discussions of how this particular behaviour might be rendered in English or any other language.

  48. he’s right in the sense that lamb in English now means sheep meat, or what used to be called mutton
    So the old jibe about women dressed way too young for their age is now obsolete? That is: “mutton dressed up as lamb”.

  49. Actually, Grumbly’s comment that “almost any childishly mistaken word would do, so long as it allows for a plausible follow-up” suggests that ‘lamb’ is not a very good translation. Judging from the illustrations that Saint-Ex provides, the author had to make several attempts at drawing what he, as an adult, thought was a sheep (including a ram) before he finally hit on what the little prince wanted. Had the little prince used ‘lamb’, it’s hard to see why the airman would have drawn a ram, unless he was extremely dense.

  50. Bathrobe, I am not trying to “dismiss” any general discussions about the “semantics of sheep in any language”. My remarks have been addressed solely and exclusively to this mouton business in The Little Prince. My claim is that “general semantics” are less important here than the need to plausibly render a child’s mentality. Even if that requires flying in the face of philology.

  51. Had the little prince used ‘lamb’, it’s hard to see why the airman would have drawn a ram, unless he was extremely dense.
    Very good point !

  52. “mutton dressed up as lamb”
    In Germany and America many parents nowadays allow their 12-year-old daughters to tart themselves up with make-up, earrings, tight pants etc, and run around with their sexual characteristics on full display for critical assessment. It seems that “lamb dressed up as mutton” is just as widespread as “mutton dressed up as lamb”.

  53. Little lamb alliterates.
    I’d go with Ros Schwartz (thanks for dropping by): lamb doesn’t really break away from the semantics of the French original, but it does help to render in English the music and the meaning of Exupery’s story. Lamb-ram and little lamb-Little Prince work, sheep doesn’t. As for Sarah Ardizzone’s argument, ‘lamb of God’ would still be invoked whether the word lamb/agneau is used or not. The name Agnes is from Greek pure/chaste, but folk etymology still connects it to агнец Божий/lamb of God, doesn’t it?
    The classic Russian translation of Маленький принц by Nora Gal uses the word барашек (barashek – little lamb). It is masculine, a derivative of baran (ram), but could be used as affectionate diminutive in generic sense – little sheep, and allows the Prince to call the drawing with horns a баран (ram).

  54. Ros Schwartz says:

    Me again: a reminder that The Little Prince is illustrated (by Saint Exupery himself), and the text has to work with the images. Before discussing my choices out of context, please do look at the book and the illustrations (variations on drawings of a lamb). Translators spend months and weeks making strategic choices to give their work a coherent voice, and it is not particularly constructive for people who have not even read the translation to pick on one word without looking at the work as a whole. I’m happy to engage in discussion with people who have given this text as much thought as I have. Ros Schwartz

  55. As we say in snide (and we hope not understandable) comments when in France : mouton garni comme agneau….

  56. Lamb-ram and little lamb-Little Prince work, sheep doesn’t.
    Sashura, what is “work” supposed to mean here ? I’ll tell you what it means to me: not much. To say that something “works”, with reference to an aspect of a text, work of art etc, is to use a frothy, intellectual-cocktail-party locution that nobody needs. It is a pretend-objective equivalent of “I like it” or “awesome !”. It is so vague as to be useless.
    As for Sarah Ardizzone’s argument, ‘lamb of God’ would still be invoked whether the word lamb/agneau is used or not. The name Agnes is from Greek pure/chaste, but folk etymology still connects it to агнец Божий/lamb of God, doesn’t it?
    Apart from “agnostic” and “Spiro Agnew”, I can think of no familiar English word resembling “agneau”, so there is nothing for an English folk etymology to link “Agnes” to, in such a way that a lamb springs to mind. агнец Божий is unknown in Our Town.

  57. Ros: it is not particularly constructive for people who have not even read the translation to pick on one word without looking at the work as a whole
    That’s the beauty of publishing, and a major reason for writing books, in my opinion – you can say what you intend to say all in one piece, without having to deal with captious interruptions. A good side to language is that everybody understands it. A bad side is that, precisely because everyone understands it, everyone feels qualified to put their oar in.
    I myself have formed no opinion about the quality of your translation, since I haven’t looked at it as a whole. Above, I am just one more carp leaping in a general round of carping. I certainly wouldn’t lambast the whole book based merely on the mouton incident, no matter how sheepish I felt.
    This thread reminds me how exposed an author is when he publishes. I vainly hope to be spared from a carper such as myself, should I ever publish something.

  58. In the last few days I read that some publishers are thinking of setting up an optional, non-public peer-review forum for their authors. I like that idea. The experience would be like the enema that astronauts are given before blasting off. You get rid of the worst up front.

  59. I mean “in advance”. “Up front” is anatomically implausible.

  60. “‘Please … draw me a sheep’ … was not something I could imagine a child saying spontaneously”
    Semantic distinctions aside, that sentiment is ridiculous, or at best reflects a very different life experience from mine. I can only suppose Schwartz has limited exposure to children and children’s literature. A small child’s life is full of sheep from what I’ve seen – and very few lambs. In most of America, unless the child has grown up on a farm, “sheep” is the default word.

  61. Nobody’s mentioned that children learn about “counting sheep”, not “lambs”, in order to go to sleep. I didn’t really know what lamb and mutton were until I came to Germany and encountered Turkish butchers. As a child back in the ’50s, I had a confused notion that lambs bled a lot in church, and that Mary was possibly on her way there with the lamb to get it purified.

  62. Ms. Schwarz: You should bear in mind that this comment thread is not discussing your translation, which as you point out nobody here has read. (I like Katherine Woods’ translation a lot myself and am looking forward to reading yours, but I doubt I will do that while this comment thread is still active.) The discussion is more in regards to the paragraph LH cited from the FT article.

  63. there is nothing for an English folk etymology to link “Agnes” to, in such a way that a lamb springs to mind.
    not even Jane Fonda, the Agnes of God?
    Agnus Dei is unknown in Our Town?

  64. Ms. Schwarz: You should bear in mind that this comment thread is not discussing your translation, which as you point out nobody here has read.
    Yes, exactly, and I deeply appreciate your dropping by. Please don’t take all the carping amiss; we’d miss it if we couldn’t carp, but it’s just a symptom of our love of language and how it works. (And if Grumbly gets around to publishing something, I’ll let you know so you can have at him.)
    The classic Russian translation of Маленький принц by Nora Gal uses the word барашек (barashek – little lamb). It is masculine, a derivative of baran (ram), but could be used as affectionate diminutive in generic sense – little sheep, and allows the Prince to call the drawing with horns a баран (ram).
    Russian is obviously a far more suitable language than English in this respect!

  65. Menacle Gosaca says:

    As an experiment, I showed the drawing of a mouton in my copy of Le Petit Prince to my 5 1/2 year old and asked her to tell me what it was. Her response, to my surprise: “It’s a lamb.” I was quite sure she was going to call it a sheep.

  66. Agnus Dei is unknown in Our Town?
    Of course that is false. What I actually wrote is true, though: агнец Божий is unknown in Our Town. If you’re having difficulty understanding why that is so, read the italicized sentence out loud.

  67. Sashura: not even Jane Fonda, the Agnes of God?
    That’s not a folk etymology, but a play on words for the benefit of intellectuals. Are you suggesting that the little prince meant Jane Fonda when he said mouton ?

  68. Agnes Day is a microbiologist.

  69. Louis Muitton makes lambskin handbags.

  70. Leopards have lambent eyes. That surely has significant ramifications.

  71. Trond Engen says:

    The lyin’ shall lie down with the lamb. The lame and the leopard shall be healed. But can a leper chanse his spots?

  72. I wonder if I have finally lost the ability to make intelligent, amusing puns. Even my right ear has gone limp in recent years – when I try to park a cigarette there, it falls out.

  73. Falls out? Are you sticking it right in?

  74. When I was 10, I shook hands with Edward Ardizzone, a very small, very old man, (63), and the illustrator of some children’s books I owned. I think Sarah is his granddaughter.

  75. Siganus Sutor says:

    “Sheep is the most feminine sign of the Chinese zodiac.” Maybe, but we are currently in the year of the tiger, a tiger which might eat the sheep on the little prince’s planet. Or roses (cf. chapter VIII).
    Pa fer narien, banané Sapo ! ek banané tou dimoun !

  76. Falls out? Are you sticking it right in?
    What a great idea, empty – I’d never thought of that. I’m sure there’s still enough traction in my ear canal.

  77. It appears that in the US there is a clear legal distinction between mutton and lamb. We’re just not much in the habit of eating mutton.

  78. In most of America, unless the child has grown up on a farm, “sheep” is the default word.
    I am pretty sure that this varies a lot from family to family.
    the taurine animal
    Is that the same as “bovine”?
    “cow” almost sort of does the job here. It’s the only candidate for the singular of “cattle”. I could more readily imagine telling a child that a bull is a male cow than that a cow is a female bull.
    It is unnerving to learn that to the specialist a pig is not a porcine animal in general but a young one, or that “duck” does not cover drakes as well. One learns it and then pretty much ignores it, I find.
    On another note, I learn (from Century Dictionary by way of Wordnik) that one definition of “taurine” is
    Relating to the zodiacal sign Taurus; especially, belonging to the period of time (from about 4500 to 1900 b. c.) during which the sun was in Taurus at the vernal equinox: as, the taurine religions; the taurine myths.

  79. Sure — I remember learning in grade school that “cattle” is the plural form of “cow”, and then figuring out later on that that is not true.

  80. cattle is to cow as people is to person

  81. Lamb is less than a year old, hogget is 1-2 years old and mutton is older than that. But it depends where you live. In NZ it’s based on the teeth.
    In the US it’s almost impossible to get anything other than lamb. We buy our meat directly from the farm, and they don’t offer anything else.
    In Australia I checked out some supermarkets to see if they had mutton, but I didn’t see any.
    The Christmas feast in The Forsyte Saga featured saddle of mutton, so it wasn’t necessarily poor people’s food. At the time in the 1970s when the TV show was popular, there were some restaurants in the US that duplicated the Forsytes’ menu, so they must have obtained mutton from somewhere.
    Here is one source: http://www.inlocal.com/bl/Windswept-Farms-of-Kentucky
    I’m curious to try mutton after having read about it so much.
    At Indian restaurants “mutton” means goat meat.

  82. maidhc. At Indian restaurants “mutton” means goat meat
    That’s an interesting claim. Now that you mention it, I have noticed something peculiar about the way the word “mutton” turns up on menus in Indian restaurants in Germany, even when the menu is otherwise in German (menus are often in English). One would expect Lammfleisch or Schaffleisch if lamb or sheep is meant.
    However, one wouldn’t expect there to be a special form of “Indian English” spoken only in restaurants, particularly if there is only one special feature: the fact that “mutton” there means “goat meat”. Perhaps there is a convention of propriety observed by Indians speaking English in Indian restaurants, that requires avoiding explicit reference to goat meat ? Similarly, in conversation at the home of one’s maiden aunt, the meaning of “stool” is modified in order to avoid explicit reference to shit.
    I suspect that there are not many Germans or Americans who are accustomed to eating goat meat and would welcome its being offered on a menu. Unfortunately, non-expensive Indian restaurants in Germany are usually staffed with Indians who understand barely a few words of German and not many more of English, so I have pretty much given up asking questions such as “what is mutton ?”.
    In my modest experience, an additional reason not to ask questions of Indians, particularly those from southern areas such as Tamil Nadu, is that they do their best to respond to questions in such a way as not to disappoint the asker, or disconcert him. In other words, even when they haven’t understood a question they will smile encouragingly, and when the answer would reveal something unpleasant (such as “this code is full of errors”, or “I can’t understand the documentation”), they will smile sheepishly and suppress the truth. That’s how I learned to recognize Indian suppressio veri: the inappropriate smile, whether encouraging or sheepish, where I was expecting a straight answer.
    So it may be that, in Indian restaurants, “mutton” means “goat meat” to the staff because that’s the kind of meat it is, but for the sake of customers potentially disguested by the idea of goat meat the word “mutton”, with its suggestion of “lamb”, appears on the menu. In that way, no boat is rocked.

  83. I have read many claims about what different kinds of smiling mean in India, China and Japan – from happiness to embarassment. Also, that Japanese businessmen are hell-bent on avoiding too-specific contractual obligations, because they regard such arrangements as an insult to their integrity. This all sounds very implausible, and I wonder if it is true as presented. It would imply that it takes a very long time to get business done, and that you have no legal recourse when your partner turns out to have less integrity than he wanted you to believe he had.

  84. Ros: Before discussing my choices out of context, please do look at the book and the illustrations (variations on drawings of a lamb)
    Hat: Please don’t take all the carping amiss; we’d miss it if we couldn’t carp, but it’s just a symptom of our love of language and how it works. (And if Grumbly gets around to publishing something, I’ll let you know so you can have at him.)
    Actually, I think the lady was peeved at me, for good reason. If you look at the pictures you will find that they are all representations of lambs, including the ‘ram’, which is just a lamb with horns. So perhaps ‘lamb’ is appropriate. I’m still curious, of course. Does French mouton lend itself to being interpreted as a lamb? Or should we invert Grumbly’s observation on childish vocabulary quirks — that the aviator persisted in drawing a lamb because he assumed that a cute little prince would want a cute little lamb — the kind of assumption that only a stupid grownup would make?

  85. Paul: I can actually visualize “brouter” better than I can explain, from watching the sheep wandering in our orchard in Normandy.
    Last night, on the French version of arte TV, I saw a documentary on Mauretania. At one point a few free-ranging cattle and sheep were shown grazing on rather dry land. The commentator, who was using that superior kind of French that I think of as “Parisian intellectual”, used the words ils broutent to describe the scene. So the actual, even high-tone use of brouter does not require tethers to be present, just as you pointed out.

  86. Moutons sur arte. This clip was shown in the wee hours of the night in the ’90s.

  87. барашек (barashek – little lamb)
    I thought that meant a little ram, i.e. a diminutive but mature animal. Can barashek be used as a synonym of ягнёнок (yagnyonok)?

  88. I looked up “lamb” in an English-Russian dictionary and it said “ягнёнок, барашек,” so apparently the answer is yes.

  89. barashek/yagnyonok
    They are synonyms with overlapping, but different semantics. Barashek (pl.barashki) could be baby lamb and can mean sheep in general, yagnyonok (pl.yagnyata), a cognate of Latin agnus, is a baby lamb, but can’t be used in generic sense as sheep. Yagnyonok would be the word to use in metaphorical sense, of gentle, meek character, not barashek, as in Krylov’s fable The Wolf and the Lamb.
    Baráshek has a wider figurative usage in Russian. Barashki are foaming waves on a lake or at sea. In criminal slang it’s a bribe. Barashek is also the original (folk) Russian name for бекас (becass) – common snipe (Fr. bécassine des marais), because of the similarity of the mating song of the male bird to sheep’s bleating. I’ve seen them doing it – it’s something absolutley otherworldly, with the birds repeatedly flying up in an almost vertical line to 50-100 metres and then diving down to the ground. That’s when the bleating sound is produced by the tail feathers.

  90. A German word for that species of bird is Himmelziege [sky goat]

  91. Sashura – thanks, good explanation. “Barashek” is a more expressive word than “mouton”, clearly it’s time to read The Little Prince in the original Russian…

  92. Stu,
    a recording of the snipe mating sound close to how I remember it, but the some photos seem to be of a different bird, too light for a snipe (Gallinago Gallinago). They are waders, a large bird family with dozens of species.

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