June 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
Yes, Thierry, maybe you will be honest one day, but never mind. All Europe, apparently, is headed into this terra incognita, so in the spirit of solidarity, I would like to extend a warm European merde to the players of my adopted country. Pursuing this Latin fondess for things cloacal, I wish them in Spanish, a buena mierda, a good shit. I also take take my cue from Germany – Hals und Beinbruch, Poland – połamania nóg, that I hope they break a leg, or as in the Czech Republic’s zlom vaz, that they break their necks. Like a Romanian I wish them Baftă, or blind luck, with an emphasis on the blind bit. Or as in Holland, I will say Toi, Toi, Toi, as if I were spitting on them. Let it never be said that the Irish aren’t good losers.
February 18, 2010 § Leave a comment
My latest blog at presseurop
One of the most consistently informative and entertaining blogs about the European Union has to be Jean Quatremer’s Coulisses de Bruxelles. However, a recent post (for relevant English extracts click here) has caused some Czech, German and indeed Irish ed hackles to rise. Monsieur Quatremer was griping about the predominance of native English speakers working as spokespersons at the European Commission. Maybe he has a point that the perifidious English have chalked up another victory, and they’re not in the euro etc etc, but the following sentence really clinches it for this blogger here. “While most of them speak French perfectly, some of them mangle the pronunciation – even though French is, after English, the second language in the press room.”
“Mangle” is the key word here. In a city like London, for instance, you’re likely to hear “hoyse”, “hoose”, “aahs”, “aousse” to denote the building which you live in. This is not called mangling pronunciation. This is called having an Ulster, a Canadian, a London, or God forbid, a French accent. The French, however, still bewilderingly cling to the belief that in a polyglot world there is such thing as an “accentless”, universal French, failure to attain to which leaves you in a kind of social limbo, intelligent but somehow pitiable like a sort of performing monkey. This is not a law only applicable to non-French, and God knows, I’ve been hearing the patronising “vous avez un petit accent” for what feels like six hundred years. Even if from Lille, Marseilles, or Rennes, you’re expected at some point in life, though as yet no initiation rite like a circumcision ceremony exists, to begin speaking “without an accent”. This idea is so deeply rooted that when you make the obvious point that there is no such thing as a language without an accent you see eyes glassing over with incomprehension.
To understand this is crucial to understanding the French outlook on the world, but also the decline of French language and culture globally. Paradoxically, the obsession with a pure universal French that doesn’t mangle pronunciation is just another sign of pure French provincialism, like its ridiculous debate on national identity. The genius of English is that there are a hundred ways to call a house a hyse, and no-one really cares. French might still be the second language at the Commission, but given the prissiness of some French ears, it would be less stressful for all concerned if it were Spanish, Italian, or for that matter, Greek, whose peoples are more than delighted when you drag their subjunctives and articles and conjugations backwards through a bush. Visit Europhrenia blog here…
February 5, 2010 § Leave a comment
My latest Europhrenia blog at presseurop.eu
When presseurop.eu was launched in May last year, one of its guiding mottos was Umberto Eco’s “The future of Europe is translation.” But quite frequently I’m inclined to think that sometimes the future of Europe is lost in translation. I recently checked a statement by Angela Merkel concerning the CD-rom nabbed by HSBC supergrass Falciani containing data on Germans who have siphoned off their money to Switzerland in order to avoid taxes back home. This has created a hole in the German treasury of some €200million, but in order to get the data, the German governement has to cough up €2.5million. While some wring their hands as whether it’s right to chase up tax evaders by paying a thief, the French language press widely relayed Merkel’s statement on the matter as “Il faut tout entreprendre pour obtenir ces données” i.e. Everything must be done to obtain this data.However, if you look at the original German statement, “Vom Ziel her sollten wir, wenn diese Daten relevant sind, auch in den Besitz dieser Daten kommen“, you realise she didn’t quite say that. In transliterated English this goes – “An objective should be aimed at, if this data is relevant, then we should take property of the data”. Ok, German syntax is complex, but nevertheless this is a typically Merkelian clunker, grey as dishwater, dry as dust, that plods around the subject until it sort of dies of boredom. Now contrast this with the zippy French rendering of the statement and actually it seems as if it got an edit from the hyperactive Nicolas Sarkozy, who says “must” every time he opens his mouth.
But what’s good translation? On the literary front, having recently dipped into the new Penguin version of the Arabian nights, I’m more and more frustrated by this very contemporary quest for ultimate precision. The editors are keen to bury the definitive Burton translation, full as they say of “mistakes” and “archaisms”, but so far I’ve been less than thrilled to come across words like “managers” and “skills” and even the adolescent “kind of”. They sound much more like 21st century Angela Merkel than 12th century Bagdad. Which gets me thinking, to twist Nietzsche to some foul ends, that it might be better if accuracy perish rather than life. When Merkel is translated with a bit of fantasy, we listen up. We only need now enliven the Union entire by translating Van Rompuy, Barroso et al as if they all weren’t trying to make us fall asleep.