Hein? Hunh? Hey? Hrm?

Ou l’on constate que l’anglais possède le mot hein.

In my pursuit of acquiring at least some of the trappings of British geek and pop culture, getting a basic grasp on Doctor Who I came across a word that I hadn’t been aware the English language possessed.

This is from last Staturday’s episode (”Utopia”), about 7 or 8 minutes in. The protagonists have just arrived in an unknown location and are walking through a dark rocky landscape. While the Doctor is rather pensive and monosyllabic, his companions, Captain Jack Harkness and Martha Jones, are chattering away. There is an undercurrent of jealousy, and at one point Martha gets a bit snippy. Here’s how the Doctor calls them to order:

To me, the interjection after “end of the universe” sounds pretty much like the French word hein. Moreover, it has here exactly the meaning of hein: something like a rather aggressive question tag, which could be glossed as “right?” or “isn’t it?”

But here’s the problem. If I transcribe this passage as:

  • You two — we’re at the end of the universe, hein? Right at the edge of knowledge itself, and you’re busy … blogging! Come on.

… then it looks to the reader as if the speaker was speaking with a French accent, which would be misleading.

I asked some irquaintances for other, more English-looking spellings. The suggestion that might fit best was hunh.

(That this was one of the funniest TV quotes I’ve encountered in a while may have contributed to my noticing this.)

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.

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, la section des commentaires serait ravie d’accueillir vos améliorations.

P.S.: C’est quoi la différence entre une congratulation et une félicitation ?

  • Après toute les félicitations, congratulations et les habituels remerciements émus, la statuette dorée à la main – à ses parents, mais aussi à son agent, à son manager, et même son avocat…– la communauté hollywoodienne est remontée dans sa longue file de limousines, poursuivie par une flottille d’hélicoptères des télévisions, pour aller fêter cette très belle soirée.

(On ferme les yeux sur l’erreur d’accord — je n’ai pas le droit de râler contre cela, vu que j’en fais des masses. Ceci dit, je n’ai pas de correcteur qui relit ce que j’écris, et le français n’est que ma cinquième langue par l’ordre d’apprentissage, et troisième par la confiance dans mon expression écrite…)

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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Cinderella, vair or verre?

Les pantouffles de Cendrillon, sont-elles fait de verre (comme l’écrit Perrault) ou de vair, la fourrure de l’écureuil petit-gris, comme l’ont affirmé Balzac et Littré ? Wikipédia est assez exhaustive sur ce sujet…

On Language Log, Mark Liberman tackles the thorny question whether Cinderella’s slippers were made of glass (verre in Perrault’s French version, which Disney based their version on and thus re-popularised the fairy tale in the English-speaking world) or the fur of the grey squirrel (vair). The two terms are homophonous in French. Eggcorn or […]

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The Belgian Google’s spelling problems

google.be thinks that incorrecta is a French word and that incorrectes is incorrect, when it isn’t.

And a tip to get Google to stop extending the search to inflected forms (plurals, past tenses etc.) of the words you enter: put them between quotation marks.

Via mes requêtes Google : On voit que google.be essaie de « corriger » incorrectes en incorrecta alors qu’incorrectes est bien correct. C’est d’ailleurs surprenant vu qu’il accepte phrase, langue et francaise. En dépit du fait que l’utilisateur ait choisi l’interface en anglais, le moteur de recherche doit donc bien penser qu’il s’agit de termes […]

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Via Crooked Timber, a comic-strip style overview of the rules of cricket [.pdf] — in French. Published, in fact, by the Fédération Française de Basketball - Softball & Cricket. Not only did I understand everything (wow!), including the very strange point about the defending team being the one that tries to destroy the wicket, but […]

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Little Women en V.F. : c’est la consternation

A fellow blogger discovers that his French translation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women (French title: Les quatre filles du Docteur March) is a horribly bowdlerised text. If you wonder where the “doctor” part in the title comes from, you’ve caught the first strand of what turns out to be the fascinating editorial history of the French version. Starting at the end of the 19th century, the references to religion and the characterisation of Jo, one the novel’s heroines, have been highly problematic, as far as the French editors and translators have been concerned.

Pascal de chez Finis Africae découvre que la lecture de Little Women (titre français : Les quatre filles du Docteur March), le roman de formation de Louisa May Alcott, en version française appelle quelques interrogations critiques. Principale mise en cause : la traduction, dans son cas celle de Anne Joba pour Le Livre de […]

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[That’s readings, not lectures, mind.] At Language Log, Bill Poser has posted a wonderful introduction to Hangul (한글). Today is Hangul Day, the celebration of the promulgation of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong the Great in 1446. Prior to 1446, the Korean language was rarely written at all. The written language used in Korea […]

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Appel aux francophones

A small, informal grammar-judgement survey in French. Results and objective will be posted in a future entry.

J’ai besoin de votre jugement grammatical. Voici six phrases : J’en ai parlé avec quelqu’un, mais je ne me rappelle plus qui. Jacques a discuté du problème avec un de ses supérieurs, mais je ne sais pas avec qui. J’ai parlé de quelque chose avec Marie, mais je ne me rappelle plus quoi. Pierre a fait ce travail pour un […]

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