Vive l’Albanie!

The death of the great Jean-Paul Belmondo has inspired all sorts of tributes; my favorite so far is Slavomír Čéplö (bulbul) posting on FB this brilliant two-minute scene from Le Magnifique, a movie I had been unfamiliar with but now desperately want to see. It involves a dying Albanian; they’ve found an Albanian interpreter, but he only speaks Romanian. The Romanian interpreter only speaks Serbian, the Serbian interpreter only Russian, the Russian interpreter only Czech, but fortunately the Czech interpreter speaks French. The lineup of dark-suited interpreters is a hilarious sight gag in itself, and it sounds to me like they all actually speak the appropriate languages (though of course they speak rapidly and talk over each other — the man on the gurney is dying fast). Unfortunately the subtitles are in French, but hopefully you’ll be able to get the gist of it anyway.


  1. Wonderful clip! Thanks, bulbul and hat.

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    I had a consultation in Ghana once with a patient from Burkina Faso, in which I spoke English to one of my staff, who spoke Mooré to a helpful bystander who spoke Mooré and Dyula, who spoke Dyula to one of the patient’s companions, who spoke whatever it was that was the patient’s mother tongue (I never actually found out what that was*) to the patient himself.

    We managed. My staff thought it was very funny.

    * It didn’t sound like Albanian, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

  3. PlasticPaddy says

    I do not know if I would watch a J.P. Belmondo policier film for deep insight into the human condition. Having said that, “Peur sur la Ville” presciently depicts the suffering caused by “involuntary celibacy” (and J.P. does some great stunts, while looking unruffled and very like a young Mel Gibson throughout).

  4. Awesome! The interpreter’s ‘oui’ when confronted with all the medical jive was priceless. I could make out nearly all the Czech, and it was indeed solid, allowing for the pronunciation, which still wasn’t too bad. The only curious thing was that the Czech for ‘Albania’ is ‘Albánie’, whereas the actor says ‘Albánsko’, which is Slovak. Slovak I think always has -sko in European country names where Czech has -ie. I guess such a Slovak -sko form could sometimes enter into Czech speech on the analogy of the ones already in Czech -especially back in the day, with state tv broadcasting in both languages.

  5. marie-lucie says

    multiple interpreters

    Transamerican explorers, such as Lewis and Clark, had to take with them a similar team, or engage new interpreters as they entered the territories of various foreign tribes. Individual terpreters might know the languages of their immediate meighbours, but not those of tribes beyond their boundaries. Interpreters might be traders, but they also included women who had been taken as war captives or even won in gambling, and taken as slaves or concubines into sometimes more distant tribes. That had been Sacajewa’s fate before she joined the expedition.

  6. David L. Gold says

    Relay interpreting is used in simultaneous interpretation if an interpreter with a certain combination of languages icannot be found. For example, if the official languages of a conference are A, B, C, and D, and no interpreter who can interpret from A to D is available, one who can interpret from C to D listens to another interpreter’s interpretation from A (the language being spoken from the floor at the moment) to C.

  7. Hence the joke.

  8. Speaking of Albanian interpreters in film, there’s a fun scene in the Spike Lee movie Inside Man, possibly an homage to Le Magnifique. Bank robbers are holding hostages. The police successfully smuggle a listening device into the room where the bad guys are huddling. They hear and record a long speech, apparently by the chief criminal, but it’s isn’t in English. They call for a Russian interpreter. The interpreter says it’s not Russian. Then one hostage is released and says he heard the speech and it was in Albanian. So they bring the former hostage to police headquarters to translate. When he gets there, he explains that he doesn’t speak Albanian, he just knows it’s Albanian because he his ex-wife’s family frequently argued with each other in that language. The police finally find an Albanian interpreter. She hears the first few words sentences, starts laughing, and explains that they are listening to a famous speech by the long-dead former former dictator of Albania, presumably a recording played by bad guys who discovered the listening device and wanted to confuse the police for a few hours.

  9. @arthur: I thought the hostage takers using that speech by Enver Hoxha to confuse the police outside may have been the best part of Inside Man. The movie has some highlights, but it also really stinks in places. I especially disliked that the script completely misstated the issue surrounding Second-World-War-era holdings in Swiss banks. Either Lee missed the point himself, or he considered his audience too stupid to comprehend the real situation.

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it here before or not, but while back in the ’70’s Albanian was a pretty good choice for “Arbitrarily Exotic Language (spoken by white people),” various demographic shifts have led to it recently becoming the Official Third Language of the affluent suburban school district where I live, meaning that routine emails from the superintendant to parents include under the signature line:

    View this message in Spanish – Ver este mensaje en español
    View this message in Albanian – Shikoni këtë mesazh në gjuhën shqipe

    That said, presumably the presence of Albanian-speaking immigrants (some subset of which may have been involved in criminal activities) in NYC in recent decades was probably part of the context of the “Inside Man” plot point.

  11. Jen in Edinburgh says

    What I like best about David E’s story is the idea that helpful bystanders who speak X language are just commonly there to be found.

  12. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    The word mesazh looks awfully like an English (or French, perhaps more likely) word parachuted into an Albanian sentence.

    The sequence shq is a dead give away that the language is Albanian. The four instances of ë help, as well.

  13. January First-of-May says

    The sequence shq is a dead give away that the language is Albanian.

    Counterpoint: Dimashq.

    That aside, it is indeed a lot more common in Albanian than elsewhere, at least word-initially, and AFAIK the other languages that might have shq don’t have ë.

    EDIT: it does help to remember that Shqip means “Albanian”.

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