Fake French in Victorian novels

Du faux français dans un roman d’une auteure anglaise de l’ère victorienne, qui de toute façon emploie un curieux mélange d’anglais et d’allemand.

«Carlesse contente», c’est clair pour vous ?

Some time ago, on the occasion of doing other editing/proofreading work, I reconnected with Project Gutenberg, and in particular the excellent network of distributed proofreaders — the folks who bring you the wonderful Project Gutenberg eBooks. Poking around among the current projects, I came across a curious Victorian novel written by Jessie Fothergill and called The First Violin. It is set in Germany, the main characters are musicians, and much of the dialogue is in a mixture of German and English — obviously to add local colour, because you’d expect the characters to talk in German anyway, and their speech to be rendered in English in a book in English.

An even stranger kind of multilingualism is the use of fake French in this passage (emphasis mine):

Karl Linders gave his opinion freely upon the men in authority. He had nothing to do with them, nothing to hope or fear from them; he filled a quiet place among the violoncellists, and had attained his twenty-eighth year without displaying any violent talent or tendency to distinguish himself, otherwise than by getting as much mirth out of life as possible and living in a perpetual state of “carlesse contente.”

I’m quite sure a non-English-speaking French native speaker would have problems with carlesse (TLFi doesn’t know it either.) And content (fem.: contente) is supposed to be an adjective.

Jessie Fothergill, who was born in Manchester (England) in 1851 and died in Switzerland in 1891, was the daughter of one of the founders of a large English textile company. I don’t know much about her life, except that The First Violin was also published by various houses in the U.S., and that an 1898 Broadway play was based on this novel. There are also links between The First Violin and the now almost obscure German composer Joachim Raff’s fifth symphony.

Overnegation … or not?

La surnégation, ça fait tourner la tête.

From Alternet (emphasis mine):

When the U.S. State Department released its annual report on human rights on Wednesday, countries like Iran, Pakistan and Zimbabwe scored very poorly, as they have for many years past.

But trumpeting these countries’ shoddy rights’ records was apparently no disincentive to prevent the United States from joining up with them earlier this year to ban two pioneering gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights groups from participating in human rights discussions at the United Nations.

I vote “yes”, but this kind of heaped-on negations always makes me want to take a slip of paper and start multiplying (-1)’s.

Do you want some Wood flower picks sea cucumber hoof with your Cowboy leg?

Il est incertain qu’on puisse encore appeler cela une traduction. Lien déconseillé aux asthmatiques capables de lire l’anglais.

What about Gold silver lotus root silk fries shrimp fucks? Carbon burns black bowel? Maybe Benumbed hot Huang fries belly silk? Or a Good to eat mountain?

It’s like Patrick Hall said: the worst-translated restaurant menu ever. (The link comes with a health warning — it can bring on an asthma attack if you are asthmatic.)

P.S.: One of the commenters provides valuable insight in how things can get that wrong:

Oh, this is so not made up. I’ve travelled to China for 20 years and this is TYPICAL, though I must admit it’s a classic example. If you read Chinese (as the previous commenter clearly doesn’t), you can see exactly how each of the errors was made. They’re all perfectly logical, even if the result is unintentionally hilarious.

Take #1313, “Benumbed hot vegetables fries fuck silk.” It should read “Hot and spicy garlic greens stir-fried with shredded dried tofu.” However, the mangled version above is not as mangled as it seems: it’s a literal word-by-word translation, with some cases where the translator chose the wrong one of two meanings of a word:

First two characters: “ma la” meaning hot and spicy, but literally “numbingly spicy” — it means a kind of Sichuan spice that mixes chilies with Sichuan peppercorn or prickly ash. The latter tends to numb the mouth. “Benumbed hot” is a decent, if ungrammatical, literal translation.

Next two: “jiu cai,” the top greens of a fragrant-flowering garlic. There’s no good English translation, so “vegetables” is just fine.

Next one: “chao,” meaning stir-fried, quite reasonably rendered as “fries” (should be “fried,” but that’s a distinction English makes and Chinese doesn’t).

Finally: “gan si” meaning shredded dried tofu, but literally translated as “dry silk.” The problem here is that the word “gan” means both “to dry” and “to do,” and the latter meaning has come to mean “to fuck.” Unfortunately, the recent proliferation of Colloquial English dictionaries in China means people choose the vulgar translation way too often, on the grounds that it’s colloquial. Last summer I was in a spiffy modern supermarket in Taiyuan whose dried-foods aisle was helpfully labeled “Assorted Fuck.” The word “si” meaning “silk floss” is used in cooking to refer to anything that’s been julienned — very thin pommes frites are sold as “potato silk,” for instance. The fact that it’s tofu is just understood (sheets of dried tofu shredded into julienne) — if it were dried anything else it would say so.

Moins dérangeants politiquement pingouins

A question about French modifier ordering.

Juste une petite question aux francophones, déclenchée par une phrase dans Libération d’aujourd’hui : Ce n’est pas le documentaire sur les méfaits des hommes d’Enron qui gagne l’Oscar mais les moins dérangeants politiquement pingouins français («La Marche de l’empereur»). L’ordre des adjectifs et autres adjoints du nom, cela n’a rien de dérangeant pour vous ? Si oui, […]

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Je suis en train de (re)lire Problèmes de linguistique générale d’Émile Benveniste, dont j’admire l’érudition, le style accessible et l’approche décontracté au multilinguisme dans ses écrits. Le dernier point est illustré par une citation.

  • 2006-03-06
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I’m reading, or, for some parts, rereading, Émile Benveniste’s Problèmes de linguistique générale, both volumes of which are available in the publisher Gallimard’s low-cost-high-quality collection tel. Benveniste#[1] (1902-1976) is one linguist whose name should be the first that comes to mind when writing about (the lasting influence of) structuralism in contemporary French linguistics. Strangely enough, it […]

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French brand name gender

Une note sur le genre grammatical des noms de marque. Qui n’explique pas pourquoi le Nutella est masculin.

Here’s a scan of the top of a yoghurt I ate this morning: The noun nature, like nearly all feminine nouns that came directly from Latin, has feminine gender: la nature. But we aren’t talking about nature as such here, but about a product name (of the supermarket chain Casino’s house brand). In this case, gender […]

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  • 2006-03-03
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Unsettling. The domain name of the young French Catholics’ web portal is, I’m not kidding, inXL6.org. (Hint, if you don’t get it right away: the number 6, six, is pronounced [sis].) The logo looks faintly mathematical: in X L6. And the site is even web standards compliant. Hosanna! Via Tristan Nitot.

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Some time ago, Kevin Marks told me about a strange little OS X application that comes with Apple Macs. It is called “Speak After Me”, and takes a bit of text, records the user speaking the text, cuts it up (the speech, not the user) into phonemes — at least that’s what the program calls […]

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