William Weaver and Translation.

Antony Shugaar has a good piece on the NY Times Opinionator site about his experiences in Milan in the ’80s, working for a super-fancy Italian art magazine where he met all sorts of interesting people, including the great translator William Weaver, who recently died. There are lots of nice details about translating Italian (“The Italian author refers to someone falling face-down onto the asphalt: the Italian reader knows that asphalt is what sidewalks are made of; streets are made of cobblestone or slabs of granite”), but what I want to feature here is this discussion of dealing with dialect:

I remember one specific comment on translation technique that was pure Weaver. The great white whale of Italian postwar literature is “Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana,” by Carlo Emilio Gadda. It’s a big, ungainly philosophical treatise of a murder mystery, interlarded with rich seams of dialect of all kinds: Roman, Neapolitan and various minor subdialects of the areas between those two cities. Gadda was an austere Milanese scholar, the opposite in personality and style of these overemphatic, swaggering, loud forms of speech. But Gadda was an acute observer and a gifted mimic. And the “Pasticciaccio” — “That Awful Mess,” in Weaver’s rendering — takes gleeful delight in lampooning, personifying and ultimately embracing these dialects, Italy’s equivalents of Brooklynese, Bronxese and perhaps Boston’s Southie accent.

“What did you do about the dialect?” I asked him, at one of our lunches. He laughed, and replied, “Oh, I just left it out!”

At first glance, it’s a little like translating “Moby-Dick” and leaving out all references to boats. But I understood. Weaver explains it better in his introduction to the English edition: “To translate Gadda’s Roman or Venetian into the language of Mississippi or the Aran Islands would be as absurd as translating the language of Faulkner’s Snopeses into Sicilian or Welsh.” Weaver asks the reader, therefore, “to imagine the speech of Gadda’s characters, translated here into straightforward spoken English, as taking place in dialect, or a mixture of dialects.” In other words, supply the boats yourself.

Makes sense to me. (Thanks, Bonnie!)

Comments

  1. John Cowan says:

    I think this is an abdication of the translator’s responsibility. It’s true that we have no such richness of dialects (whether true dialects of Italian, or separate languages of Italy) in English, but we do have a sharp distinction between standard and non-standard English. True that what counts as ordinary non-standard English varies from place to place, but a translator ought, in my view, to render the text into their own English, and the reader ought to make the further leap to their English.

    What is more, this is Weaver we are talking about, who manages (not perfectly, I grant) with Salvatore’s macaronic speech in The Name of the Rose. He is not, therefore, failing to supply the boats because he has no boats.

  2. I think this is an abdication of the translator’s responsibility.

    I (respectfully) disagree. I think it is a reasonable approach, given of course that it was explained up-front in the introduction so nobody is fooled. I’d probably still prefer a translation that did something about the dialects, but I’d prefer one that didn’t to none at all. (Others, especially Italophones, may of course feel differently — that no translation at all would be better than one missing a key element.)

    On the other hand, explicitly asking the reader to imagine the dialects strikes me as rather bad form. It’s like when an amateur musician nervously apologizing for lack of skill/practice/etc. before their performance: it sets the expectation that the work will be deficient, and implicitly charges the audience with the task of detecting those deficiencies rather than just relaxing and enjoying the show. (No-one wants to feel like the kind of unsophisticated rube who uncritically enjoys a show that even the creator thinks is bad.) Never explain, never apologize: do what you can and let the audience decide if they like it or not. Similarly, if Weaver felt that his approach was the right thing to do, he should have just explained it and left it at that, so that readers could enjoy the work without constantly wondering what they’re missing.

  3. I slightly wonder if I’m not the only one to feel inhibited about commenting, because once someone is introduced as “a great translator”, it rather poisons the well by diminishing everyone else’s qualifications to comment on the translation decisions. But – assuming WW’s statement wasn’t a self-effacing joke – I agree with John that it seems a cop-out. It isn’t as if every nuance of a dialect has to be translated, but there must be translatable commonalities to dialects that indicate some of their nature (as in English, where non-standard forms such as “ain’t” and “you wasn’t” are widely-perceived markers of social class and/or region).

  4. I feel Weaver should have made the attempt to convey the feeling of dialects, even by using just one dialect of English for all the Italian ones involved. That must be better than having the reader try to put in a dialect feeling – supply his own boats – where appropriate; that would greatly interrupt the flow of the book.

    To my mind it’s like Shakespeare in French, which as far as I know is always in modern French with no attempt at a flavour of 16th/17th century French (though Marie-Lucie may know of translations which do, and are still performed). The drama is certainly all still there, but one of the flavours – perhaps not an essential one, but still… – is missing.

    That said, I saw a brilliant MIdsummer Night’s Dream outdoors in the Shakespeare Garden in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, where the mortals spoke Shakespearean English and the fairies spoke modern French. It worked wonderfully, (The Shakespeare Garden is planted only with plants mentioned in his works.)

    Compare, from the first scene of Hamlet:

    FRANCISCO You come most carefully upon your hour.
    BERNARDO ‘Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco.
    FRANCISCO For this relief much thanks: ’tis bitter cold,
    And I am sick at heart.
    BERNARDO Have you had quiet guard?
    FRANCISCO Not a mouse stirring.
    BERNARDO Well, good night.
    If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
    The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.

    FRANCISCO. -Vous venez très exactement à votre heure. [You come very exactly on time]
    BERNARDO. – Minuit vient de sonner ; va te mettre au lit, Francisco.
    [It's just struck mignight; go to bed, Francisco]
    FRANCISCO. – Grand merci de venir ainsi me relever ! Le froid est aigre, et je suis transi jusqu’au coeur.
    [Many thanks for coming to relieve me. It's bitterly cold and I'm frozen to the bone {literally, to the heart}]
    BERNARDO. – Avez-vous eu une faction tranquille ?.
    [Have you had a quiet guard?]
    FRANCISCO. – Pas même une souris qui ait remué !
    [Not even a mouser stirring!]
    BERNARDO. – Allons, bonne nuit ! Si vous rencontrez Horatio et Marcellus, mes camarades de garde, dites-leur de se dépêcher.
    [Well, good night! If you see Horatio and Marcellus, who share the watch with me, tell them to hurry (or, to get a move on).]

    I apologize if my translations of the French don’t render it as a French person would hear it.

  5. It’s a difficult one. I have a good friend in his 30s, Portuguese family, born in Portugal, moved to New Jersey at 4, moved back to Portugal before university, has been in Europe since (university, army and work thereafter in Portugal, last seven years in Dublin). He’s culturally primarily European as a result, will say so himself, but because we speak English together and his accent is that of a native US speaker (though not as entertainingly NJ as when he first arrived in .ie!), I need to expend some mental effort to avoid thinking of him as American first. I’m sure an Italian in a novel speaking the English of the west of Ireland or of rural Australia would require the same effort.

    Similarly, I think the approach of ’Allo ’Allo (though played for laughs there, of course) and various post-WWII films set in WWII, with people having L2 accents (or analogous, e.g. ’Allo ’Allo has the English get the vowels wrong when speaking, to show that their French isn’t native—the series, though from the UK, is set in WWII France, and everyone is to be understood as speaking French most of the time) is *not* that distracting, because a German with a German accent or an Italian with an Italian accent is not out of the ordinary at all.

  6. I think this is an abdication of the translator’s responsibility. It’s true that we have no such richness of dialects

    The point has nothing to do with “richness of dialects” (English is actually quite rich in dialects, if not as flamboyantly so as Italian); it’s much more fundamental. The dialects of one language have nothing whatever to do with the dialects of another; no English dialect will even approximately reproduce the effect of, say, a Roman dialect to an Italian. It is a hopeless idea, and I respectfully invite those who disagree to 1) try it themselves, and/or 2) point to a translation where they think it’s successfully done. Because I’ve read a lot of translations where it’s been tried, starting with versions of Aristophanes where the Spartans were rendered as Scotsmen or American Southerners, and I have found all of them ludicrous.

  7. John Cowan says:

    I have found all of them ludicrous.

    Well, we must agree to disagree, then. I find the Arrowsmith and Parker translations of the Big A to be hilarious, and they are riddled with dialects. In one of his/their introductions, Parkersmith makes the point that the dialects are not genuine and not intended to be so: the Southerner/Spartans don’t talk like actual Southerners, but like comic stage Southerners, just as Aristophanes’ Dorians speak conventionalized stage-Dorian.

    I realize that pointing to something and saying “Isn’t this funny?” is a mug’s game; the temptation to reply “Not a bit” is almost irresistible. But I in turn can’t resist this bit of Parker’s version of The Acharnians, set at the Athenian assembly. (I posted the immediately preceding subscene here, misattributing it to Arrowsmith)

    HERALD

    SHAMBYSES, THE GREAT KING’S EYE!

    Enter the Eye of the King, Shambyses [Pseudabartas 'false Persian measure' in the original; the intro explains Shambyses as meant to express the "falseness and Persianness" of the character]. He wears Persian clothes and a mask which depicts an enormous eye above and a beard below. In spite of this — or perhaps because of it — he seems to have some difficulty in seeing: he keeps moving his head from side to side, walks slowly and unsteadily, and is escorted and supported by two attendants dressed as eunuchs.

    DIKAIOPOLIS

    Holy Herakles!

    Making a comparison between Shambyses’ eye and the eyes normally painted on the sides of Greek ships.

    By god, fellow, you certainly look shipshape.

    Shambyses, missing the lead of his eunuchs, gets tangled in his cloak and falls.

    Doubling the cape, eh?

    The eunuchs carefully point the bogus Persian toward the Executive Board [Prytaneis, Council of Fifty].

                                                 Well, safe harbor at last!

    Shambyses, dubious, stumbles and is saved only by clutching the Ambassador.

    That’s it, tie up to the dock.

    Dikaiopolis looks closely at the beard below the eye and flips it.

                                                Your porthole’s open.

    AMBASSADOR

    Very well, Shambyses. Inform us what the King commissioned you to tell the Athenians.

    SHAMBYSES
    Loudly and majestically

    ARTASHMEDLAP XARXES TWOGGLE SATRAP!

    Dead silence.

    AMBASSADOR

    Somewhat nervously, to Dikaiopolis

    Do you understand what he’s saying?

    DIKAIOPOLIS

                                                                  I’m no soothsayer.

    AMBASSADOR
    Relieved

    Well. He says the King will send us gold.
    —Come on, now, speak up clearly about the gold.

    SHAMBYSES

    WOAN GETTUM NO GOLDUM, GAPASSITY IONISH!

    DIKAIOPOLIS

    That was certainly clear! We’ve been had again.

    AMBASSADOR

    Well, what’s he saying?

    DIKAIOPOLIS
                                           What’s he saying? He calls
    the Ionians gap-assed idiots if they expect
    to get any gold from Persia.

    AMBASSADOR
    Desperately

                                                 No! He’s talking
    about the CAPACITY of all those bullion boxes!

    DIKAIOPOLIS

    Bullion, balls!
                            You cheap imposter! It’s over!
    Get out of here! I’ll grill this fellow myself.

    The Ambassador retires in evident confusion. Dikaiopolis plants himself squarely in front of Shambyses and waggles his fist in the face of the King’s Eye.

    Now look, you! A clear answer, with this in your face,
    or the Great King of Persia will have a bloodshot Eye:
    Does the Great King intend to send us gold?

    Shambyses shakes his head. The two eunuchs jerk their heads back.

    We’re being bamboozled by our ambassadors, then?

    Shambyses gives a single nod. The two eunuchs waggle their heads up and down.

    Look! These eunuchs nodded their heads in the Greek way.
    These aren’t Persians — this is local talent.

  8. John Cowan says:

    Arrgh, missing </a>. Hattic powers to the rescue!

  9. In his Buddenbrooks, John Woods gives a Bavarian character an American southern accent. I thought it was amusing and somewhat effective. Some of the North / South splits in Germany are or were like those in the U.S., the strong accent most prominently. The choice of accent was at least not arbitrary.

    Yet in some lines it was ludicrous, and did it not really solve the problem Weaver describes. I still had to reserve the idea in my imagination that the character’s accent was really something different. It was like he was the only actor in the movie whose lines were dubbed.

  10. It was like he was the only actor in the movie whose lines were dubbed.

    An excellent comparison, and one that nicely captures how I feel.

    As for Shambyses, yes, that’s funny, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with the topic, since it’s not a sustained rendition into dialect but two lines of mock Persian, an entirely different matter.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    Paul,

    The Shakespeare garden and theatre sound very interesting! I had never heard about it.

    On the other hand, I am sorry to disappoint you, but the French spoken by the two guards in Hamlet is heavily anglicized – practically a literal translation from English, almost as strange as in Astérix chez les Bretons. Of sourse the author of Astérix was deliberately striving for comic effect, but I wonder what kind of person did the Hamlet translation. Are the guards supposed to be comical? For instance, bitter in a bitter cold cannot be translated as aigre, which is normally used for an unpleasant taste, but never for temperature. Most of the other sentences are grammatically correct but not idiomatic. French people don’t talk about a mouse stirring, for instance, and if they did they would probably not use the word remuer. They might be transi, perhaps jusqu’aux os (to the bone), but not jusqu’au coeur (which I would only use in a psythological context).

    Not having the text of Hamlet in front of me, I am not sure whether the use of pronouns of address follows Shakespeare or not in the use of tu and vous for thou/thee and you. Here Bernardo first uses tu to Francisco, later vous. There was more leeway about this in older French, but In modern French you NEVER switch from one to the other in the middle of a conversation, unless the relationship between the two speakers has changed drastically. Two guards would most likely say tu to each other if they were of the same rank and approximate age. If Bernardo is older or superior in rank (something suggested by Francisco’s vous to him, he might say tu to Francisco (as at the beginning), but would not switch to vous in the course of the conversation.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    dialects

    I am not sure what Weaver should have done about the dialects, but translating the dialects of one language into those of another language does not seem like a good idea. Italian readers will recognize the dialects of their own country as belonging to specific regions. if English or French speakers rare eading a novel taking place in Italy while characters are speaking English or French dialects causes a cognitive dissonance: why are, let’s say, Napolitans or Sicilians talking like people from Liverpool or Picardy? So using actual dialects is out as a solution. I agree that it is better to suggest a more generic form of speech suggestive of non-standard English or French but not associated with a specific region or group.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    Oops: are reading

  14. marie-lucie says:

    Oops again: I did have the original Hamlet dialogue above, but was not looking at it while writing my comment. The tu and vous in the translation do follow Shakespeare, although a “modern French” translation would not.

  15. Trond Engen says:

    I’ve seen some fine results of using dialects in translation into Norwegian, but I have a hard time coming up with examples. A Ukrainian character in one of Boris Akunin’s novels speaks Swedish (and somewhat rustic to my tin ear), that’s one.

  16. John Cowan says:

    I looked at the whole first scene of Hamlet. There are five characters: the sentries Francisco, Bernardo, and Marcellus; Horatio, who is Hamlet’s university friend but is a poor man and presumably non-noble, and is also doing sentry duty; and the ghost of the former King, who does not speak. The four consistently use V among themselves, with these exceptions: Bernardo tells Francisco to go to bed (certainly not a standard part of changing the guard) with T; Marcellus tells Bernardo to be quiet with T and asks Horatio to speak to the ghost with T; Horatio replies to Marcellus’s question (isn’t the ghost just like the king?) with T. Above all, Horatio also uses T and only T when speaking to the ghost, even though he acknowledges it as the King, or at least having the King’s bodily form. Only Francisco never uses T, and he is least involved in the events. My general impression is that they use T when they are speaking under the influence of strong emotion and V when they are calmer or saying something routine.

    One of the minor changes of the Russian Revolution was the adoption of universal V in the Red Army. In the Imperial Russian Army, officers were addressed as V and other ranks as T, and the asymmetrical form apparently rankled.

  17. Marie-LUcie : The translation I used was on a website called In Libro Veritas http://www.inlibroveritas.net/lire/oeuvre2066-chapitre3080.html which doesn’t name a translator that I could find. I noticed after I posted that the translator seemed to get : ” For this relief much thanks: ’tis bitter cold, And I am sick at heart. “ wrong.

    It reads: Le froid est aigre, et je suis transi jusqu’au coeur. Not at all what is wrong with his heart, if I understand correctly that transi means frozen.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you, JC and Paul.

    JC, using tu for strong emotion while normally using vous was common in older French, probably up to the Revolution if literature is a guide, but that use has long been obsolete. Nowadays, if you normally use vous with a certain person and there is no suggestion of greater emotional closeness, abruptly switching to tu could be felt like a slap in the face.

    Paul: Offhand, I would probably use: ’tis bitter cold ‘il gèle à pierre fendre’ (lit. it’s stone-splitting cold); I am sick at heart ‘je suis désespéré’ or ‘je n’en peux plus’ (I can’t stand it any more).

    Transi by itself does not mean ‘frozen’ but something like ‘paralyzed’ (with cold, with emotion). For instance, there a phrase un amoureux transi ‘a lover paralyzed with emotion, unable to approach the object of his love’.

    I only cited a few examples, but overall that translation is quite poor, not at all a sample of idiomatic Modern French.

  19. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    On a tangent, I cannot resist mentioning that Shugaar’s Italian details ring more exotic than accurate to me.

    The notion that “asphalt is what sidewalks are made of; streets are made of cobblestone or slabs of granite” is correct in central Milan, but does not extend to Italy as a whole. In my hometown of Turin it is overwhelmingly more likely to see an asphalt-surfaced street flanked by sidewalks paved in stone. Vaguer recollections and a quick glance at Google Streetview suggest this is also the case in Rome. Which of the two patterns is more prevalent throughout the country I cannot say.

    And is it a big deal that casa means both house and home? Can’t you walk up three flights of stairs and into someone’s home in English as well?

  20. The notion that “asphalt is what sidewalks are made of; streets are made of cobblestone or slabs of granite” is correct in central Milan, but does not extend to Italy as a whole.

    Thanks, I was wondering about that!

    And is it a big deal that casa means both house and home? Can’t you walk up three flights of stairs and into someone’s home in English as well?

    Eh, possibly, but it doesn’t seem entirely natural to me. In English, there’s a pretty strong differentiation between “house” and “apartment” (or “flat,” if that’s how you roll), and since apartments are rented for a time that is generally limited, they tend not to fall into the “home” category (though there are, of course, people in NYC who have clung to their rent-controlled apartments for decades). It’s not that it would be wrong to translate casa as home in such a case, but the translator should definitely be wary of it and make a special decision as to whether it was accurate rather than automatically equating the two.

  21. Allt his talk about asphalt and sidewalks reminds me of a tangential linguistic quirk: back in 1979 or so I worked with a recent Russian immigrant in San Francisco, a 50ish PhD in math. Her reaction to learning that the word for what sidewalks are made of (in SF, anyway) is the same as word for the opposite of ‘abstract’: “That is SO SILLY!” She thought I was pulling her leg.

  22. “I like little boys in the abstract, but not in the concrete.”

  23. (Just to beat Cowan to the punch.)

  24. John Cowan says:

    [S]ince apartments are rented for a time that is generally limited, they tend not to fall into the “home” category (there are, of course, people in NYC who have clung to their rent-controlled apartments for decades)

    I live in NYC, and I certainly speak of going home when I go to my apartment, or working from home when I don’t go to the office. My wife and I own the apartment as of two years ago, but we rented it for thirty years before that, and it made no difference to our usage. We also own a house on the North American mainland, and we stay there some of the time, but it isn’t my home. To say that the apartment also wasn’t my home would entail that I am homeless, which is absurd. My sense is that this is normal for long-term apartment dwellers not only in New York but in other cities as well. (About 25% of Americans live in apartments, but I don’t have data on short term vs. long term or rent vs. own.)

    Gale and I consulted on whether we’d call our apartment my/our house, and our consensus is that we probably wouldn’t, but we aren’t 100% sure of that. We think we are more likely to say my apartment or my place. Both of us grew up in houses. My daughter, who has always lived in apartments, is more willing to use house for them. Home is an affective word, unlike house, and unlike domicil, which is legal jargon for the same thing: ‘[t]he place where a person has fixed [their] ordinary dwelling, without a present intention of removing from it’.

    Per contra, to use home instead of house for a physical structure strikes me as real estate agent jargon: my house is a three-bedroom house, not a three-bedroom home, though it might be listed that way if (Ghu forbid) I had to sell it. I think this is precisely because home is affective, and using it makes the prospective buyer feel emotionally involved.

    On the other hand, nobody would call my (apartment) building a palace!

  25. John Cowan says:

    “He has the heart of a little boy — in a jar on his desk.” —Harlan Ellison, of a TV executive

  26. marie-lucie says:

    In France, traditionally most streets (if paved at all) were paved with paving stones and the sidewalks with large flagstones, perhaps of granite. In Paris many streets are still paved with fairly small paving stones, set in nice semi-circular patterns (I guess the people who set them worked kneeling on the unpaved part and set the stones in a semi-circular row before them from one side to the other, changing position once each row was completed. Many of the older streets, with larger but less flat stones, have been covered with asphalt. I think that all sidewalks have asphalt, since the large flagstones tended to move out of position. I think that there are still brick sidewalks in some areas, but brick does not last long in a busy pedestrian area.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    JC: We also own a house on the North American mainland

    I did a double-take when I read this. It struck me as if an English person said We have an apartment in London and also own a house on the continent, probably in France. As I was wondering how far on the mainland your house could be, I remembered that Manhattan is an island, although I did not know that its inhabitants actually felt isolated from the North American mainland.

  28. I certainly speak of going home when I go to my apartment

    Well, yeah, “going home” is a separate thing. Of course you “go home” to wherever you live.

  29. My mother once snapped at me when I described returning to my college dorm room as “going home.” She thought it was a slight to my “permanent” home, which was still with my parents.

  30. John Cowan says:

    Hat: Yes, go home is irrelevant, but my home isn’t, I think. My home is an apartment, or is in an apartment, as you prefer (but I prefer the first). I should also add, just to get it on record, that the floor to my daughter exists not only inside apartments and other buildings, but also outside, being what most people call the ground. Clearly a ceiling above is inessential to a floor to her.

    Marie-Lucie:

    New Yorkers don’t feel like they live on an island, but they actually do live on one (or several), and in my view they behave like islanders in many ways without being conscious of it. When people on the Internet ask me where I live, I like to reply “On a small island off the eastern coast of North America.” The guesses that non-Manhattanites come up with are wild.

    Two islander anecdotes:

    1) Before World War II, a high school student on Martha’s Vineyard (an island off Massachusetts with about 16,000 permanent residents today) was asked to write a paper on Il Duce. The first sentence was “Mussolini is an off-islander.”

    2) A famous, perhaps apocryphal headline in a London newspaper from the early 20th century: “FOG ON CHANNEL, CONTINENT COMPLETELY CUT OFF”.

    Now it’s true that the physical geography of New York City isn’t the most salient thing about it. Manhattan has a lot of bridges and tunnels connecting it to the mainland and the other islands (and Manhattanites speak of the people who use them as the “bridge and tunnel crowd”, a disparaging expression). The Bronx is the only one of our five boroughs that is physically on the mainland, but it is not the odd borough out: that is Manhattan from one point of view (“the boroughs” means “the four boroughs other than Manhattan”, which is by metonymy “the city”), and Staten Island from another (it is more suburban than the rest of the city, and you can’t reach it by subway, only by car or ferry).

    But we are an island sociologically, in the sense that the most important things to us are what happens on the island, and we tend to have a distorted view of the rest of the world, as shown in the famous Saul Steinberg drawings that shows the New Yorker’s view of what exists north, south, east, and west of the significantly named Central Park. We are more like Great Britain than like Martha’s Vineyard, in that we are an extremely dense and diverse community in a vast number of ways: race, national origin, wealth, social status, native language, occupation (we have a working farm!) — the list goes on.

  31. Trond Engen says:

    John Cowan: [T]he floor to my daughter exists not only inside apartments and other buildings, but also outside, being what most people call the ground.

    XKCD

  32. I agree with JC about the real-estate broker’s cozy usage homes, though for me it’s no worse than units. I sometimes wonder about the phrase to live at home, used about young adults who live with their parents. Not living at home seems a bit of a paradox. Something else I wonder about is whether the queen (of Britain etc.) talks about her “home” (“Oh dear, I’ve left my handbag at home!”), and if so is it Buckingham Palace, Windsor, Sandringham or Balmoral?

  33. @John Cowan: When I was drafted into the Army I found myself, a West Virginian, somehow almost totally surrounded in my training company by fellows from Brooklyn and Queens, many of whom referred to the ground as “the floor,” sometimes with the jocular realization that it was nonstandard. I took it to be an Italianism. This was 1969. Maybe it’s spreading.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    JC: [T]he floor to my daughter exists not only inside apartments and other buildings, but also outside, being what most people call the ground.
    RC: I took it to be an Italianism.

    I don’t know about Italian, but in French we use par terre to mean both ‘on the ground’ (the literal meaning) and ‘on the floor’. This is the reverse of what you both describe.

    On the other hand, there is also a phrase le plancher des vaches ‘the cows’ floor’ meaning ‘solid ground’, as opposed to the constantly moving ‘floor’ of a ship. I guess the phrase was originally used by seamen, proud of not having to share their moving home with the likes of cows.

  35. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    Thanks for the interesting discussion of home v. house.

    In Italy, as in Manhattan, people tend to own apartments — the homeownership rate in Italy is considerably higher than in the U.S. (above 80%), and the prevalence of detached houses seems much lower, particularly in metropolitan areas, though I don’t have hard figures on that.

    However, perhaps the difference is rather in the usage of casa and home, not house. The Italian word has a broader usage because it need not be an affective word. I suppose it corresponds sometimes to place, as in “You should come over to our place sometime.” In any case, when it refers to an apartment it remains grammatically rather like home: it is normally used only in the singular and without an article. When it means house it pretty much requires the article, and can naturally be plural.

    @Rodger C: In my idiolect, and I think also in normative standard Italian, floor is pavimento while ground is suolo and the two are not interchangeable. Though in Italian people cadono al suolo (or perhaps more commonly a terra) regardless of whether they are falling to the floor indoors or to the ground outdoors. In this case I’m unsure if the distinction between the two is strictly required in English either.

    It seems quite possible, however, that the Italian-American community in Brooklyn and Queens did not speak standard Italian.

  36. @marie-lucie, Giacomp P: Thanks. In Spanish, which unlike Italian I actually know, el suelo can mean either. I took these guys’ usage to be affected by the fact that in their immigrant ancestors’ home environment, indoor situations would have been more common than outdoor, so that they (especially the mothers) would have heard English “floor” more often than “ground.”

  37. marie-lucie says:

    GP: In French too, where you say cadere al suolo we say tomber par terre, ‘to fall on the ground or floor’, usually not from very high (at most from one’s own height). Tomber à terre is to fall “to” the ground rather than “on” the ground, from a significant height (from a tree, for instance, or from the sky). I think that in this phrase the verb form most often used is a past participle, as in un oiseau tombé à terre ‘a bird (that’s) fallen to the ground”.

  38. Marie-Lucie: Virtually all the paving stones, cobblestones, (pavés) on Paris streets were asphalted over following the riots of 1968 when it became so obvious what useful missiles they were. Many of the iron grills around the base of trees on the sidewalks were removed for the same reason. The most famous pavés in France now are perhaps the isolated stretches in the northern countryside which make up the most challenging part of the route of the Paris-Roubaix cycling classic. It is known as “l’enfer du Nord” (the hell of the North) because it is so difficult to ride fast over them. As well as being rough, they are notoriously slippery when damp.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    Paul, I no longer lived in Paris in 1968 (I was in Canada and missed all the excitement) and I think I heard this about the paving stones. Where there were those large square ones, with irregular, slippery tops (I guess those are “cobblestones’), which had been used in previous revolutions to build barricades or as projectiles, of course they were covered, but I think some of the smaller, flatter ones set in semi-circular patterns still exist in some places. But perhaps my old and new memories are getting mixed up.

  40. John Cowan says:

    Perhaps iron here is used figuratively rather than concretely

    Probably so. The poem speaks of silver bells, golden bells, brazen bells, and iron bells. There is occasionally some silver in bell metal, but golden usually refers to color rather than material, and it’s only the contrast with the other adjectives that suggests it is a material here. Still, Poe does speak of “the rust within their throats”. The whole poem is balanced between the realistic and the fantastic.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Thank you for the sociological analysis of the island of Manhattan! I spent a few days in New York many years ago and went on the boat trip around Manhattan, which proves that it is indeed an island.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    floor = ground

    It occurs to me that even when I was a child, the ground level of many rural houses and even some old urban ones built for poor people (eg factory workers) perhaps a century earlier did not have a built floor. Underfoot was just beaten earth, which can become quite hard and is then easily swept clean. So par terre or al suolo or similar phrases were literally true. If you fell in the kitchen, you literally hit the ground.

  43. Neapolitan and Sicilian – I wonder if South Jersey (Neapolitans mostly) differs enough from New York Italian (Sicilians mostly) to be used – although that certainly might not work in print. Speaking of Neapolitans, Chicago would definitely be distinct enough from New York to get the regional differences across.

    If this were a translation from Spanish just using Mexican versus PR/Caribbean diction would absolutely work even in print. Just throw some “vato”s and “ese”s or “chale”s in, expressions people use in English, and you’re good to go.

  44. I was trying to think of an example of the type of translation that John Cowan advocates for, and the only thing I’ve encountered recently was the German version of Grim Fandango, an excellent computer game I coveted as a teenager and only played through in 2012 or so. I played it in German, and Manny, the main character, had an accent from the south; not Austro-Bavarian, I would place it somewhere in Baden-Württemberg. But I’ve only lived in Berlin (for three years) and Salzburg (for one month), so my ear for southern accents isn’t great.

    The associations of the accent in my head were: probably a bit bourgeois, probably has a bit of money, probably more culturally Catholic than the Berliners. I then gave the game as a gift to my sister, and had to buy it in English for this, and I learned that Manny has a chicano/Mexican accent, which fits so so so much better to the game as a whole, and which has a raft of associations of which the only thing in common with southern Germany is Catholicism. Not a great choice, I feel a Spanish-speaking accent would have been better, or something standard.

  45. There you go. Another example of why trying to “translate” accents is a bad idea.

  46. I remember watching “Taggart” in French – the French were very keen on this Scottish TV detective series set in Glasgow, and dubbed it into French, giving all the Glaswegian characters strong Marsellais accents.

    floor = ground

    Hence in Britain the first floor of your house isn’t the one at ground level – it’s the one above that…

    e.g. ’Allo ’Allo has the English get the vowels wrong when speaking, to show that their French isn’t native

    And Louis de Bernieres has the English SOE officer, Bunny Warren, speaking perfect public-school taught Ancient Greek to the modern-Greek-speaking inhabitants of Cephallonia – since the book’s written in English, the islanders all talk modern English, and Warren speaks Chaucerian English. “Bunnios I cleped am,” he introduces himself, having dropped by parachute (wearing a fustanella) into the island. “Sire, of your gentillesse, by the leve of yow wold I speke in privytee of certeyn thyng.”

  47. John Cowan says:

    Hat: Pffft. Selective evidence.

    m-l: Manhattan is indeed an island, though part of the borough of Manhattan is now physically attached to the mainland, as that stretch of the Harlem River has now been filled in and bypassed by a ship canal. In addition to Manhattan Island, we also have Long Island, which includes the boroughs of Brooklyn (the separate city of Brooklyn before 1898) and Queens, which are part of NYC, as well as Nassau County (the parts of Queens County that did not join NYC in 1898) and Suffolk County (the rest of the island). However, “Long Island” normally refers only to the last two.

    There are also about thirty other islands in New York Harbor. Most are uninhabited or thinly inhabited and are administratively attached to specific boroughs. Three special cases are: Liberty Island, which is federal property, is in New Jersey waters, but administratively is part of New York City (as far as I can tell, no specific borough affiliation exists); Ellis Island, also federal property in New Jersey waters, where the original island is part of New York but the landfill (which is most of it) is in New Jersey, and jurisdiction is shared in practice; and Shooters Island, now a bird sanctuary, which is jurisdictionally divided between the cities of Bayonne and Elizabeth in New Jersey and the borough of Staten Island in NYC, though NYC owns all of it. (NYC also owns a fair amount of land elsewhere in New York State, particularly the reservoirs that provide its water supply and parts of their watersheds.)

  48. marie-lucie says:

    ajay: this Scottish TV detective series set in Glasgow, and dubbed it into French, giving all the Glaswegian characters strong Marsellais accents.

    !!!! Marseille is on the Mediterranean, which has a sunny climate. I have never been to Glasgow (I have been ot Edinbugh), but placing Marseillais accents in the mouths of Glaswegians, among foggy streets, seems totally out of place.

    My parents were very fond of the German series Inspector Derrick, which was dubbed in French and ran on the Arte Franco-German channel. At one time they went to Germany to visit friends and while there they watched an episode on German TV, and were shocked to hear the inspector speaking in a very different voice in the German sound track.

    Hence in Britain the first floor of your house isn’t the one at ground level – it’s the one above that…

    Same thing in France: the ground level is le rez-de-chaussée (originally meaning ‘right at street level’)(“rez” is pronounced “ré”), the floors above are called étages (a masc. word). If there is a floor below street level it is called le sous-sol (‘under the ground’). If the space below is unfinished, with beaten earth, it is la cave (‘cellar’). Before most people had refrigeration that was where food could be kept cold for a day or two.

  49. marie-lucie says:

    Oops: I have been to Edinburgh, of course.

  50. John Cowan says:

    Sociologically it’s not so bad, though: historically the South of France has been subordinated to the North, as the North of Britain has been subordinated to the South. Something is always lost in translation, but if you don’t try, you can’t possibly win.

  51. I wonder if the original genre matters. Crime shows are usually very tied to their location, dubbing any foreign regional accent on Glasgow is going to have odd implications. But with a comedy or farce like Aristophanes, it seems to me that it would be more wrong to translate an accented character into standard, because the character’s accent is part of the comedy rather than the setting.

  52. Trond Engen says:

    Sociologically it’s not so bad, though

    My thought too. Both are industrial cities and major ports, have had similar economic declines, and have similar reputations for cultural expressions from music to violent crime.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    Marseille vs Glasgow

    I agree that there are some sociological correspondences between the two cities, including how the inhabitants are viewed by the rest of their countries, but I don’t think that justifies making Glaswegians sound like Marseillais. I wonder about non-verbal communication too: people from Southern France, and especially from Marseille, are known for gesturing a lot while speaking, somewhat like Italians. Do Glaswegians?

  54. Trond Engen says:

    I see the point about Marseille invoking a Southern feeling and Mediterranean cliches. Maybe Lille would have worked better — if the accent is familiar enough to the general audience. Or maybe even Liège, or “generic unrefined Belgian” (if such a thing exists), to save Lille for future characters from Newcastle.

  55. John Cowan says:

    Scots generally are rather sparing with gestures, I believe.

  56. My wife often watches Derrick at 5pm on Norwegian TV. It’s very old & dated, I suppose 1970s + 1980s, and very peculiar, BUT, thank God, it’s in GERMAN. NOTHING is dubbed in Norway, unlike France, Italy & Germany, where pretty much everything is. Incidentally Derrick, or rather the actor who played him, used to spend a lot of time up North in Lofoten, where he was of course a celebrity.

  57. Trond Engen says:

    GeoCurrents on Paris and Marseille.

  58. marie-lucie says:

    I saw that article, which (although written by a French student) seems a little strange in parts. Among other things, the introduction says that Normandy was chosen to represent the Northern region. In fact the French Nord only includes the very northern part of the country (closest to England), while Normandy is culturally as well as geographically part of the West and does not have anything to do with the North (Brittany is farthest West, but culturally different from Normandy).

  59. marie-lucie says:

    gesturing while speaking

    It is bizarre to see Italian films dubbed in English, because the people are gesturing so much more than any English speakers (except for italian-Americans) normally do.

  60. “Both are industrial cities and major ports, have had similar economic declines, and have similar reputations for cultural expressions from music to violent crime.”

    Yes, that’s pretty much what I imagine the French producers thought. It’s got to be a large city that isn’t the capital, that has a reputation for criminal violence, that has a strong sense of regional pride – the theme for the show is “No Mean City”.

    And – and this is something that you may only pick up from Taggart if you’re Scottish yourself – accent has a huge role to play in defining characters in terms of background and educational level and class. An American acquaintance of mine said that, when watching UK television, she can understand the dialogue fine, but she still feels the need for subtitles to interpret what the accents are conveying: “This man is an educated professional from Yorkshire who has been living in the South for a long time” or “this woman is from a working-class town in the Thames Estuary”.

  61. Man, that would be great — now I want them too!

  62. John Cowan says:

    m-l: Some of us anglophones gesticulate quite a lot. I myself, when excited about an idea, tend to employ my forearms as cleavers, perhaps to chop opposing views to bits. I also use my hands to shape the space in front of me into a conceptual space. “On the one hand” and “on the other hand” are no mere metaphors for me.

  63. I recently did an interview for Inner Mongolian TV in which I was forced to use my absolutely atrocious Mongolian. The cameraman asked me to do one part again because he wanted to zoom in on my gesticulations, obviously for the exoticism.

    I’m not sure if it was here or on Language Log that I read it, but the black characters in Gone With The Wind all speak in Tohoku accents in the Japanese translation.

  64. A flowchart for deciding between tu and vous from the L.A. Times.

    That’s hilarious!

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