Sunday, March 26, 2006


Lost in punctuation

TripAdvisor advertises itself as offering "unbiased reviews of hotels, resorts and vacations". Its trademark is "get the truth, then go". Here is one unbiased hotel review, posted on the TripAdvisor website by "a TripAdvisor Member, London".
we are just back from Paris and we had such a nice stay at " le vignon hotel"- rue Vignon 75008 Paris.
a 28 bedroms 4 hotel in the middler of Paris perfect to shop at Kenzo or Gucci. Nice rooms decorated with Armani casa stuff, good services (The Manager, Christophe, is really helpfull and such a pleasant guy, he booked for us nice restaurants and city tours, Moulin rouge....thx very much to him for his nice french touch !!!!!)...Do not hesitate and try this hotel !!!!
Could some of that "nice french touch" have rubbed off on the visitor from London? The nice french punctuation and capitalization rules seem to have proved particularly contagious !!!!

Saturday, March 25, 2006


Country party

Onze Taal links to a Reuters story concerning the use of English terms in Japanese:
A question in Japan's parliament on Wednesday peppered with English financial terms had Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi warning a lawmaker to mind his language.

"Who understands (English) words like 'compliance' and 'governance'?" Koizumi asked the embarrassed opposition questioner.

"Use words that ordinary people can understand," he said to loud cheers and laughter.

"Some members know English, I've studied a bit, but debates shouldn't be limited to those who understand English. Debates are for everyone."

Koizumi-san should be thankful for small mercies: at least those are genuine English terms apparently being used in their proper context. In other countries, politicians go off and make up their own 'English' expressions.

Italy is a case in point.

In Bruno Vespa's La Grande Muraglia, a compilation of interviews with leading Italian politicians, a representative of Alleanza Nazionale speaks of how his party was founded 'con l'ambizione di essere un Country Party ... un'organizzazione politica, di tradizione anglosassone'.

A country party, the interviewee claims, is one that transcends ideological divisions of left and right to unite the nation on issues of general relevance.

Now, even if it were true that such parties are somehow peculiar to English-speaking countries, which seems questionable, the expression itself is certainly not part of the English political vocabulary (not with that meaning anyway).

Presumably it was felt necessary to employ this pseudo-English to lend spurious status to what might not have sounded sufficiently impressive had it been expressed in the vernacular.

You would think that one issue on which a 'country party' might usefully campaign is the desirability of keeping political discourse intelligible to the citizenry.

There may even be some fancy-sounding Japanese word for it.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Pesto resistance

Alexander Chancellor in the Guardian laments the quality of 'English translations on Italian menus, signs and packages'. A pesto sauce purchased in Tuscany serves as the example:
It's an dexcellent handmade with no conservant and very tasty mode of use: to spread it on the toast, bread, roast and every where it is wanted to become tasty
Same old story, then. But the explanation he offers is rather novel:
It could be a subtle form of resistance to Anglo-Saxon cultural imperialism - rebellion masquerading as deference
Ah, but did it occur to him that similar problems may also arise with translations into other languages, ones not associated with cultural imperialism?

Methinks I detect a mild strain of that strange paranoia displayed by certain English-speakers abroad, who convince themselves that any fellow-monoglots they encounter among the locals are perfectly capable of communicating in English but simply refuse to do so out of 'rudeness', 'arrogance' or some such other unappealing quality.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Literal translation and the Special One

Media reports (noted at Transblawg and elsewhere) of Chelsea manager José Mourinho being derided by Barcelona fans as a 'translator' (i.e. interpreter) put the taunts down to his having been Bobby Robson's 'assistant at press conferences' when they were both employed at Barcelona. This hardly does justice to the Special One's career in translation/interpretation. At Sporting Lisbon and then at Porto, before they both moved on to Barça, Mourinho's full-time job was that of Robson's interpreter, his main function being to relay the instructions of the monolingual Bobby to his unanglophone squad.

The taunts are of course misplaced. Mourinho is clearly both less and more than an interpreter: less because his English is hardly up to the required professional standard, more because the role he carved out for himself was far more influential than that of a mere go-between (did I say 'mere go-between'?) Here is a comment by an ex-player and client of Intepreter Mourinho (from an article in El Periodico de Catalunya):
"Yo, que tengo algunos conocimientos de inglés", ha explicado el exazulgrana Òscar García, "detecté enseguida que las traducciones de Mourinho no eran literales. Eran las instrucciones de Robson más las observaciones del propio José. Y, la verdad, aquello tenía mucho sentido"
(Roughly: I know some English and could see straight away that Mourinho wasn't translating literally. It was Robson's instructions plus José's own thoughts)

In this sense of the expression, to translate 'literally' means that nothing is added or taken away i.e. there is no spurious input on the part of the interpreter. In normal circumstances, therefore, it is a good thing. This is the sense in which the phrase tends to be used by non-specialists like Mr García.

But there is another sense, the one perhaps more familiar to language professionals, which is that of a mere calque, a word-for-word translation unlikely to convey the intended meaning. In this sense, it is a bad thing.

Hence perhaps the difficulty that often arises where laypersons, especially in the context of courts etc., insist on a literal translation, and the translator/interpreter baulks at the idea of doing an unprofessional job.

Previous post on literal translation here.

Go here to download a clip of Mario Rosenstock's José and his Amazing Technicolor Overcoat with footie footage courtesy of SkySports.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


A bout de souffle/Breathless

At meetings at the EU's Food and Veterinary Office, there is frequent reference to feed and food law. Frequent as in several times a minute. And why not? It's a phrase that fairly trips off the tongue in English. But pity the French interpreters next door who have to chew through this mouthful every time:
la législation sur les aliments pour animaux et les denrées alimentaires
That's 22 syllables. I know French is spoken at a higher rate of syllables per minute than English but the ratio is hardly 22:4.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Bard's English not up to snuff

An Associated Press story, written by one Jenny Barchfield and appearing in various media, not least the Washington Post, tells of a ruling by a French court requiring the French subsidiary of a US multinational to communicate with its French employees in French:
English may have been good enough for Shakespeare, but in linguistically defensive France, it is just not up to snuff - even for corporate memos and instruction manuals
I'd have liked to have seen Jesus Christ in there instead of Shakespeare, but you can't have everything. She must have seen that Mel Gibson movie where He spoke Aramaic.

Added later:

It occurs to me that the line actually works very well in the context of the article - although the premiss is still silly - if you take the opposite perspective:
French may have been good enough for Molière, but in [insert appropriate cliché about US multinationals], it is just not up to snuff - even for corporate memos and instruction manuals
Perhaps that's the idea the writer originally had in the back of her mind and she simply turned it around to conform to the, um, house-style.

An interesting analysis of American Francophobia (at the time of the Iraq crisis) can be found here.

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