Anatoly posts a YouTube clip from the 10th anniversary performance of Les Miserables, with a bunch of international singers taking turns at the mike for Valjean’s aria “Do You Hear the People Sing?” (I imagine there are many people so sick of tunes from Les Miz that they will not even want to click on the link, but I, for better or worse, have managed to avoid the whole phenomenon so completely I am unfamiliar with the tunes and was able to enjoy its cheesy Broadway chest-thumping splendor.) Unfortunately, the languages are heavily weighted toward the northern European, though there’s a nice chunk in Japanese; as Anatoly says, “А русский где? :(” [But where’s Russian? :(]. Of course, as one of his commenters points out, there’s no one from Italy, Spain, Greece, Finland, Slovakia, Malta, Malta, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Andorra, Israel, Ukraine, Switzerland, or any of the Baltic or ex-Yugoslav states either. Still, it’s fun to hear the range of languages they do include, and they didn’t omit all the tiny countries: Icelandic is there!


  1. Wikipedia lists all the productions of the musical in different countries, it seems there has never been one in Russia.
    By the way, it will be the 25th anniversary this year.

  2. Kári Tulinius says

    A copy of the 10th anniversary performance may or may not exist in my possession. I’m indifferent to musicals as a rule but I have a soft spot the size of a boat for Les Misérables. I saw the Icelandic performance when I was a kid and bawled my eyes out at the end (it didn’t help that Gavroche was played by a family friend).

  3. J. W. Brewer says

    I’m holding out for “Cats” performed in the major Dravidian languages. Plus Basque & Kartvelian.

  4. I’m still reeling from this week’s revelation that John Emerson has abandoned Dravidian. Who will defend it now?

  5. I was really hoping Chairman Kaga would bite into a yellow bell pepper at the end of his turn.

  6. John Emerson says

    It’s just an uncontrovertable fact is that Yukagir was the language of the Garden of Eden, not Dravidian or Dutch. Years of my life were wasted.
    I’ve recently been reading French literature of the period on 1830, and I’ve developed a feeling of awe for Victor Hugo, without exactly liking his work. He was so enormously productive, and even today he generates movies and musicals. There are still plenty of novels left to mine for scripts or librettos, and then there’s his poetry.

  7. How many languages fail to translate the title of “Les Miserables”?

  8. marie-lucie says

    In French, there is an acute accent on Les Misérables.

  9. John Emerson says

    One of these days I’ll relearn the codes for accents and diacritics. I knew them once.

  10. I’ve developed a feeling of awe for Victor Hugo, without exactly liking his work.
    “Hugo, hélas.” (See discussion midway through this thread.)

  11. marie-lucie says

    How many languages fail to translate the title of “Les Miserables”?
    I had never thought of looking up English translations of the novel, but there must be several: Wikipedia lists the titles The Miserable Ones, The Wretched, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor, or The Victims. I think I would have chosen The Downtrodden. “Miserable” does not mean quite the same thing in the two languages.

  12. How many languages fail to translate the title of “Les Misérables”?
    IIRC the original RSC cast of the musical nicknamed it The Glums (also the title of a long-running BBC radio comedy).
    I love Hugo in spite of being warned not to by a certain sort of critic. I think I’ve read all of his novels except ”Bug Jargal”, and dozens and dozens of poems (still only a fraction of his verse output). I’ve never read any of his plays but his doodles in coffee and ink are miniature works of art. I’ve never seen ”Les Miz” the musical or heard any of it except by accident. The Charles Laughton film of ”Notre Dame” was probably the most depressing thing I saw on TV as a kid.

  13. John Emerson says

    One of Minnesota’s early radical politicians, Arthur Le Sueur, grew up on Jersey with parents who were Hugo disciples. He may have been dandled on Hugo’s knee. His influence stretched everywhere.
    As universal intellectual and prophet for the whole world, Hugo was succeeded by Tolstoi.

  14. “He was so enormously productive, and even today he generates movies and musicals. ”
    Yea verily, even indirectly. There is a Civil War movie lurking in the story of the Confederate army that wretchedly trudged back and forth across some trackless section of Virginia, and eraned the nickname “Lee’s Miserables” for their trouble.

  15. “How many languages fail to translate the title of “Les Misérables”?”
    All I can say is that the German-speaking productions of the musical retained the original title and did not use the translated title of the book (Die Elenden).

  16. “How many languages fail to translate the title of “Les Misérables”?”
    Go to Les Miserables on Wikipedia and hover your cursor over the interlanguage wikis. You can immediately get an idea what the name is in a range of languages from العربية to 中文 (while Wikipedia is not an infallible guide to any means, it is a useful first port of call).
    While it’s surprising that so many languages seem to use the original French, what surprised me most was the fact that the Bokmal title was De elendige while the Nynorsk title was Les Misérables. Care to comment, AJP Elendige?

  17. michael farris says

    “Wikipedia lists the titles The Miserable Ones, The Wretched, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor, or The Victims. I think I would have chosen The Downtrodden. “Miserable” does not mean quite the same thing in the two languages.”
    I don’t know French very well but ‘The Miserable Ones’ sounds like awful English, something a second year learner of either language might come up with. Of the titles you listed I think “The Wretched” is maybe best, but your “The Downtrodden” is better.
    This reminds me of how opera titles are also often not translated even when performed in translation. La Traviata and Cosi Fan Tutte seem especially resistant (though the Met staged the latter in the 1950s in English with the title of “Women are like that” which almost scans.

  18. I seem to remember in Gone with the Wind while Scarlet and the matrons were rolling bandages for the war effort, someone was reading Les Misérables to them out loud–only they referred to it as “Lee’s Miserables”.

  19. This reminds me of how opera titles are also often not translated even when performed in translation
    Somebody wanted to translate Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina as Khovanskygate.

  20. It is an incontravertible fact that the best musical based on a work by Victor “Hélas” Hugo is Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, not least because it wasn’t.

  21. Les Demoiselles de Roquefort? Now that really would have “cheesy chest-thumping splendor” and then some.

  22. John Emerson says

    That was me, JCassian. The world was not ready for my idea.

  23. John Emerson says

    Thinking back to the Hugo question, the French 1830s and onward were when a lot of modern culture was born, and it wasn’t very well articulated yet. Elite culture, middlebrow culture, literature, journalism, bohemianism, political polemic, and the avant-garde all were right next to one another, with the same author sometimes playing all of the roles at different times. Hugo wasn’t quite avant-garde or bohemian himself, but he filled all the other roles, and his supporters at the Hernani opening (Gautier, Nerval, and the other “Jeunes-France”) were the original bohemians / avant-gardists. It was like the Big Bang of modern literature.

  24. “Les Miserables” ->? The Downtrodden
    “Downtrodden” does seem to indicate what, or who, les miserables are in the story.
    However, in the French phrase “les miserables“, there’s no ‘treading’, is there? – not ‘upward’, and not ‘down’.
    “Downtrodden” connotes a political sense of ‘misery’ – could that be right?
    Why does everything – every nano-fine granule – have to be politicized into nothingness??

  25. For Christ’s sake, Deadgod.

  26. That’s the spirit!

  27. The best way to translate “Les Misérables” into English is simply to remove the accent.
    Others to have fun with: “Le Grand Meaulnes”, “Le Rouge et le Noir”, “À la recherche du temps perdu” and “Astérix chez Rahazade”.
    What English works retain the English title in translations?

  28. In all seriousness, Les Miserables and its title would be a very likely candidate for any list of politicized books which someone would make to contrast to non-politicized books. Your 12:41 has no point.
    That’s just the kind of thing I’ve objecting to from the beginning, the thoughtlessness in deciding what to politicize and problematize and wha not. NO ONE thinks that the politicization of Les Miserable is problematic. For almost anyone it would be a stock example of a politicized book, and it specifically refers to the uprising of 1832.

  29. marie-lucie says

    The best way to translate “Les Misérables” into English is simply to remove the accent.
    That might be true if the words meant the same. They do not, although there is some overlap. For instance, the comic title “The Glums” that someone mentioned understands “miserable” as in “I’m home with the flu and feeling miserable”, but that meaning is not in the French word. The main characters in the novel are at the bottom of society through no fault of their own, and even if they manage to raise themselves a little they are pushed back down – “downtrodden”.

  30. “ello, my name is Lester Miserables, plural, but you can just call me Les.”

  31. In all seriousness, you seem bent on forcing me to confess to resisting your politicization of everything. Your interminable 1:14 is so much jay-bird jostlement.
    “Politics”? In Lay Miz?! Balderdash.

  32. Did Proust mind when the phrase a la recherche du temps perdu was translated so differently by Shakespeare in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30?

  33. Les Demoiselles de Rochefort is a work from Picasso’s blue cheese period.
    From Wikipedia, Dei bannstøytte is the 1933 nynorsk translator’s name for the book, whereas De elendige (nynorsk Dei elendige) (“The Wretched”) is the bokmål book, translated much earlier, I expect. The musical is called Les Misérables. I’m not sure what bannstøytte is, nor does my daughter, and my dictionary’s in the other building and it’s snowing very hard right now. Perhaps Language can look it up, he’s got the same dictionary as I do.
    I always thought Les Misërables was by Andrew Lord Webber, but no.
    Talking of musicals, here is a delightful piece of German music I got from Desbladet.

  34. I’ve met Les, but where are the other Miserableses?

  35. Apparently, paper burns at 451 degrees Celsius. Seems Truffaut and Bradbury got their wires crossed.

  36. J. W. Brewer says

    If “problematic” as used by John E. echoes the jargony sense of “problematize,” then of course it’s not problematic to be political when interpreting Les Miserables (the novel). What’s problematic (in the less jargony sense of the word) is Hugo’s decision to write the book in such a drearily politicized fashion. Victor Hugo was reputedly Ayn Rand’s favorite novelist, which would seem like a pretty good recommendation to run in the other direction. (There are good and sufficient reasons to run the other direction from the Broadway thing by the same title without even getting into dreary politicization.)

  37. Molly, I don’t think that’s right. See here, for example. The Ray Bradbury book is sold in Norway as “Celsius 233”.

  38. (Okay, not really.)

  39. Michael: This reminds me of how opera titles are also often not translated
    Except Mozart. I wonder if people said “Right, if you’re not going to use Italian, then we’ll use our own language for your opera”.

  40. It seems to me, an opera anti-buff, that Italian and French titles are usually left untranslated, German titles vary, and Russian titles are always translated, sometimes into French instead of English. I would enjoy Lawrence Venuti’s explanation of this.

  41. As far as I know, a hundred years ago most opera titles were translated (and operas were usually given in English). There’s an increasing tendency to keep the original titles, at least for Italian, German, French and Spanish operas. This may be down to the needs of record companies with international markets who don’t want to produce separate CD boxes for different countries (before DVDs arrived, this also led them to avoid subtitles on opera videos).
    Russian titles are always translated, sometimes into French instead of English
    Not always (Khovanshchina) and the only French title I can think of offhand is Pique Dame (more commonly known as The Queen of Spades).

  42. “La Boheme” is not translated.
    I’ve been reading about the ultimate author of La Boheme (1896), Henri Murger, and it turns out that it was only parlty fictional. There really was a Mimi who died tragically of tuberculosis. The libretto was taken from a play co-authored by Murger based on a series of short fictionalized sketches by Murger.
    French Bohemianism under that name started in 1830, when it was genuinely rebellious and when the Bohemians really did live hard lives (as many urban Europeans did). Being taken to the indigent hospital to die was not uncommon. 20 years later the surviving Bohemians were mostly respectable and sometimes lionized. Another 50 years and they they were a sentimental middle class cliche.
    By my calculation, we should have a light opera about William Burroughs any day now.

  43. marie-lucie says

    the only French title I can think of offhand is Pique Dame (more commonly known as The Queen of Spades).
    The Queen of Spades is La Dame de Pique. “Pique Dame” is nonsense, unless you mean some sort of gadget or game involving “sting a lady”.
    For those interested in playing cards in French:
    ace = l’as (masc; final s is sounded)
    king = le roi
    queen = la dame
    jack, knave = le valet
    spades = les piques (fem; lit. “spears” or similar pointed weapon)
    clubs = les trèfles (masc; lit. “clovers, shamrocks”
    diamonds = les carreaux (masc; lit. “(floor or wall) tiles”)
    hearts = les coeurs (masc; “hearts”)
    (the words for the suits are singular within a longer phrase, as in la dame de pique, le roi de coeur, l’as de carreau, le valet de trèfle)

  44. “Pique Dame”: I guess the name is re-translated back from Tchaikovsky’s Russian name for the opera, i.e. without any article. It’s an earlier form of playing with google’s ‘translate’ button.

  45. “the only French title I can think of offhand is Pique Dame”
    Me too, but I extrapolated heroically. Arguably some Stravinsky too, for some definitions of “Russian” and “opera”.

  46. My Gergiev recording of The Queen of Spades goes under the billing Pique Dame. Presumably it’s from the Russian “Pikovaya Dama”.
    Arguably some Stravinsky too
    Yeah, Le rossignol was first given in French, as I believe may also have been the case with Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges. There are also the Stravinsky ballets, e.g. Le sacre du printemps. Edison Denisov’s L’écume des jours, based on the novel by Boris Vian, uses a mostly French libretto.

  47. marie-lucie says

    La Bohême
    The situation in that work is a common one in French literature of the nineteenth century and reflects a social reality: young middle-class men, often students, taking up with young working-class women who were often engaged in the clothing trade, which at that time (before sewing-machines), involved a lot of manual work for sewing and embroidery, work which was often contracted to women who did it at home, and which was very poorly paid, so that the women had to put in very long hours. Tuberculosis (“consumption”) was rampant at the time, and was especially deadly among those living in cold and cramped conditions, with poor food and little fresh air or exercise (the “garret” was not a fiction). Because of the class difference, the relationships rarely ended in marriage, and the women in question were often forced into some form of prostitution. Alexandre Dumas fils was the result of such a relationship (which caused him to champion the cause of abandoned women), and his novel La Dame aux Camélias (the original of the opera La Traviata) is based on his actual relationship with such a woman, who had become a high-class prostitute and, like Mimi and so many others at the time, died of consumption.

  48. In Murger’s group, the men seemed to be hardly more prosperous than the women. Murger was from an impoverished family and died in the poor hospital even after he’d become moderately successful. Aloysius Bertrand (of an earlier group) died of tuberculosis or starvation (they go together) in the poor hospital.
    I’d had the image of the bohemians as being rich kids who were slumming, and that was true of many, but the ones Murger wrote about mostly came from marginal backgrounds and were pretty poor (Murger’s mother was a concierge)
    Per Brad Delong (and others), 19th century European cities were deathtraps which needed a constant influx of people from the countryside in order to continue to exist at all. Sanitary conditions were poor, and people without work, resources, or friends who could take care of them literally starved on the streets.
    Murger had burned out on the scene before he wrote about it, and he used his writing to escape from destitution. His stories aimed to please, and there’s a weird mix of satire, criticism, lighthearted fun, mawkishness, and sentimentality in his book. Later he wrote another book because he thought his first picture had made it seem like too much fun when actually it was miserable. I haven’t seen the opera yet, but I expect sentimental escapism.

  49. 19th century European cities were deathtraps
    Well not only European, John. I think most cities were like that.

  50. OK: Like some Third World cities today, 19th century European cities were deathtraps.

  51. marie-lucie says

    JE, thank you for your comment. It is true that not all the young men were from a higher class. In Balzac you find some young couples where the student is from a poor family as well. I think that they were more likely to actually live together (and perhaps get married eventually) in that case.

  52. Trond Engen says

    I’m not sure what bannstøytte is, nor does my daughter
    It’s old, purist Nynorsk (some of those words became mainstream, some, like this, sound quaint today). I haven’t heard it before, but it’s quite transparent: ‘bann’ is the same as English ‘ban’, here “prohibition, expulsion, excommunication”. Støytte is the plural of the perfect participle støytt’ (= Bokmål støtt) “pushed, pressed, rammed etc.” (cf. ‘-pulsion’). => dei bannstøytte “the (hopelessly) expulsed”.

  53. I’m not sure what bannstøytte is, nor does my daughter
    You can see that my English isn’t that good, never mind the Norwegian.

  54. Is expulsed a word?

  55. Trond Engen says

    It’s part of my English inventory. I invented it myself.
    (I thought it existed and meant “expel, force out”, so I used it for the nice semantic fit. It’s much, much easier to find a semantic fit to make your point when you don’t have to limit yourself to pre-existing words.)

  56. It’s obviously not a word. But non-obviosity does not count for much: dictionaries give a quotation from John Milton.

  57. Why limit yourself unnecessarily? It’s a damn good word.

  58. “Repulse” is a verb, and not an exact synonym of “repel”, so why not “expulse”?

  59. marie-lucie says

    why not “expulse”?
    Just because no one has seen fit to use such a word.
    In French it is the opposite: there is expulser ‘to expel’ and expulsion, and also répulsion, but no verb *répulser (as far as I know – there is so much borrowing nowadays that I would not be surprised to read it).

  60. There are a lot of unused words there for the taking.
    I don’t know whether this was what Levi-Strauss meant by “the surplus of the signifier”, but who cares?

  61. Of course it’s a word. I’ve heard of it. Does it not get google hits?
    Now it does.

  62. That was quick. Descriptivism works.

  63. From time to time different people get tasks to compose the paper writing service essays just about this topic. But a lot of them are not good writers. Thus, what should they do in such case? Some specialists advice to order essays from the web writing service.

  64. Trond Engen says

    Actually it wasn’t me. It was that web service I hired to do my comments. They know their Milton, too.

  65. Trond Engen says

    John Emerson is cheaper, but their vast knowledge of diverse and unsuspected subjects makes it an easy choice.

  66. We must not forget that Milton is a brand of–I want to say toilet cleaner, but I think it’s disinfectant. Made by Proctor & Gamble, or “P&G”. “M” made by “P&G”. The poet “M”. The playwright “S”. The language “E”.

  67. WiPe has a good article on expeller pressing (although it does suffer from a few undefined technicalities, such as “flighting”). In no-nonsense language it sings the praises of the interrupted screw.
    On the whole, compelling reading. Not compulsory, of course.

  68. Procter and Gamble.
    I wondered if unsavory associations of either proctology or gambling were on their minds when they started to call themselves P&G.
    I don’t we have Milton over here. Do you have Mr. Clean over there, AJP?

  69. Or Satan.
    It’s just bleach. Weird that they don’t have anything corresponding in the USA.

  70. I guess I’ll have to stop using P&G products and make my contributions to Satan some other way, probably by sacrificing virgins during the dark of the moon.
    P&G claimed distributors for Amway revived the rumors in 1995 when one of them recounted a version of the TV show rumor on the Amway distributors’ national voice mail system, and in March 2007 a jury awarded P&G $19.25 million after finding that four Amway distributors had spread false rumors about P&G to advance their own business.
    Everything I know about Amway is bad.

  71. That would have been pretty shocking if they’d getting money from Milton and giving it to Satan. I expect Milton was originally a British product, marketed by the poet and later bought up by Procter & Gamble.
    I don’t think Europe has Mr Clean, Mr Coffee or Mrs Fields, but we do have Mr Bean, Mr Pastry and Dr Scholl.

  72. That would have been pretty shocking if they’d getting money from Milton and giving it to Satan. I expect Milton was originally a British product, marketed by the poet and later bought up by Procter & Gamble.
    I don’t think Europe has Mr Clean, Mr Coffee or Mrs Fields, but we do have Mr Bean, Mr Pastry and Dr Scholl.

  73. been

  74. The Germans don’t have Mr Clean, they have Meister Proper.

  75. Trond Engen says

    Procter and Gamble
    but we do have Mr Bean, Mr Pastry and Dr Scholl
    And Doctor Proctor/Doktor Proktor (strongly recommended by my son, who couldn’t stop laughing). (He’s called Professeur Séraphin in French, but don’t ask me why.) (The doctor, not the son.) (If the son was called that, you could ask me why.)

  76. The OED says about expulse “synonym of EXPEL; sometimes expressing more strongly the notion of violence. Very common in the 16-17th c.; now Obs., though casual examples occur in 19th c.”
    Two such are given:
    1823 J. BADCOCK Dom. Amusem. 78 To expulse all atmospheric air.
    1842 Tait’s Mag. IX. 438 Unless you wish to be expulsed for ever from your mother’s house.
    Of the earlier examples, I particularly like:
    1574 tr. Littleton’s Tenures 87b, No expulsing of the franke tenemente of the heyre.

  77. “What English works retain the English title in translations?”
    Hamlet 🙂

  78. marie-lucie says

    Macbeth. Titus Andronicus. Pamela. Clarissa. Emma. Silas Marner. Moby Dick. etc

  79. J.W. Brewer says

    Is it too late to note that Milton was famously diagnosed as being “of the Devil’s party without knowing it” by Wm. Blake (who was, so far as I know, scrupulously neutral in Amway/P&G disputes)? The “without knowing it” may be too charitable.

  80. It’s just bleach.
    diagnosed as being “of the Devil’s party without knowing it” by Wm. Blake
    People, “bleach” and “Blake” are fundamentally the same word. Look it up.

  81. Well spotted, Empty.

  82. Thank you. Well, you know, any word of that general shape is probably going to have to do with whiteness. Take “black”, for example — oh, wait, no …
    Omigod, I just looked it up, “black is related to these!

  83. Yes, that’s always been one of my favorite etymologies.

  84. marie-lucie says

    black, bleach, blue, blur, blank, etc
    I think that the idea of the bl- root in these cases is “of indeterminate appearance”, eg of no specific colour (blue would seem to be an exception but the original meaning was probably vaguer than at present).

  85. Oh. What I saw seemed to say that “bleach” and “black” both come a word related to fire, in one case through the fact that fires burn brightly and in the other case because fires leave thing charred and dark.

  86. marie-lucie says

    Ø, I wonder what you saw: the folk etymologist tends to consider words (or in this case, pairs of words) in isolation, while the linguist tries to consider them in the wider perspective of similar words. (I haven’t checked to see what Indo-Europeanists say). In any case, it is not evident that “bleach”, which refers to losing colour, would relate to brightly burning fire, even if one could make a case for “black”.

  87. Wikipedia follows Buck and the AHD (which is to say Pokorny’s *bhel-1 and from it *bheleg-) in having ‘shining’ as the basic meaning, hence ‘flame’, hence ‘burnt’, hence ‘black’, or something like that. Maybe there are newer theories.
    Some color words make more sense if you think intensity and not hue.

  88. marie-lucie says

    Well, MMcM, maybe my guess was wrong, but I will keep an open mind. I looked up both pages you cite, from your links, but I was not able to look up related words from the site (I tried copying them to search for them, but that did not work). How did you access it?

  89. I too wish there were a cleaner interface, with links for the cross-references. But they really only treat Pokorny and Vasmer and so on as source material for their Nostratic ambitions, so I understand where they are coming from and am glad of what we have.
    A couple tricks:
    – When searching in the Root field, uncheck Ignore comments. No, I don’t know why. It doesn’t seem to be necessary for English/German meaning.
    – To get a clean link to a particular entry from a whole page of them, navigate up to their PIE page and then back down through the WP link that’ll be there.

  90. I based my comment on this.

  91. marie-lucie says

    Ø, thank you for these other examples. It seems that the meaning “black” of the root is limited to the Germanic languages, and the Middle English word sometimes can be translated either “black” or “pale” = or perhaps something in between? Perhaps the word referred to something other than what we would call colour? An intermediate link in this case could be “burnt coals”, which can go from deep black to pale grey as they turn into ashes. Interesting in any case. I will keep it in mind.

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