Rev. William Fulco, a Jesuit priest and professor of ancient Mediterranean studies at Loyola Marymount University, was the lucky fellow who got the call to translate and subtitle Mel Gibson’s new flick. According to a Chicago Tribune story by Nathan Bierma:
Fulco left Greek out of “The Passion,” substituting Latin in occasional cases where Greek might have been used. He also made mostly imperceptible distinctions between the elegant Latin of Pilate and the crude Latin of soldiers, thanks to an X-rated source he found on his shelf.
“I tracked down some obscene graffiti from Roman army camps,” Fulco said. “Somebody who knows Latin really well, their ears will fall off. We didn’t subtitle those words.”
Fulco even confessed to some linguistic mischief.
“Here and there I put in playful things which nobody will know. There’s one scene where Caiaphas turns to his cohorts and says something in Aramaic. The subtitle says, ‘You take care of it.’ He’s actually saying, ‘Take care of my laundry.'”
Other linguistic tricks of Fulco’s serve a function in the script.
For example, he incorporated deliberate dialogue errors in the scenes where the Roman soldiers, speaking Aramaic, are shouting to Jewish crowds, who respond in Latin. To illustrate the groups’ inability to communicate with each other, each side speaks with incorrect pronunciations and word endings.
Later, “there’s an exchange where Pilate addresses Jesus in Aramaic, and Jesus answers in Latin. It’s kind of a nifty little symbolic thing: Jesus is going to beat him at his own game,” Fulco said. “One line [in that exchange] I kind of enjoyed is when Jesus says, ‘My power is given from above, otherwise my followers would not have allowed this.’ That’s [spoken in] the pluperfect subjunctive.”…
For the relatively few Middle Eastern Christians who still speak Aramaic, “The Passion” may sound riddled with mistakes—spurring Fulco to point out, “modern Aramaic dialects are as different [from ancient ones] as Chaucer and modern English.”
Still, now that the movie is in general release, Fulco fully expects to get an earful about his use of languages.
“We linguists are a crazy bunch,” he said. “The more obscure the language, the more people try to prove their territory worthwhile and say, by God, we’re going to sniff out errors.”
Well, yes, that’s true. And I guess the paragraph about “mistakes” may explain the lack of comprehension of Chaldean viewers. But one has to wonder about Fulco’s insurability now that he’s confessed to the liberties he took with this holiest of scripts (“It is as it was“). Cursing? Laundry? One has to wonder whether a bolt of lightning or an enraged Mel will get him first. (Via Mirabilis.ca.)