2012/03/21

The economic case for fucked translation

Via LS an anonymous cartoon of the gulf between what we (would like to) think we have said and what we (are understood to) have actually said:


Why don't we say what we think? Why do the inventors of magnificent flying machines gibber like madmen? Why, in our case, do excellent Spanish bars produce hilarious English menus?

I think the local branch of the Habermas sect would preach to me that we are victims of a capitalist conspiracy, which actively seeks to do down richly deserving (although admittedly slightly whiney) literary-sociology PhDs and instead pays top money to people who invent cool stuff. I don't buy this. For one, Genesis 3 seems to suggest that communicative incompetence predates modern bovine economics.

Instead, as millions of first-year economists and linguists will have explained elsewhere, it's a simple question of resource allocation. On the one hand, for lonely inventors or cooks the proof's in the pudding, and elocutionists and translators who seek to gild these particular lilies do so at their financial peril. On the other, the higher the risks and rewards in a particular line of business, the greater the value we place on people's ability to wriggle effectively in both thought and speech. There's a direct relationship between proximity to the killing, stealing and fucking Commandments and the importance of getting one's words right. That's why politicians are generally pretty fluent, and why (except in weird markets like the English courts) interesting legal translation commands a 100% markup over the best of the rest. Brian Steel's Soapbox documents some of the relatively scarce failures to obey this rule.

The other day Mark Liberman posted an Italian aphorism (which for a long time was popular in Spain as the theme of a gerontophobe sex comedy, Quien puede no quiere, o el viejo burlado):

Chi po non vo,
chi vo non po,
chi sa non fa,
chi fa non sa
et così il mondo
male va.

A number of the examples on this blog have been sent to me by Spaniards embarrassed by their own organisations. Several could do far better themselves, but their allocation to other tasks both demonstrates David Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage and refutes those smart-arse Italian proverbialisers.

Sometimes the world is actually better off when the best-qualified are kept clear and the fuckers get the translation.

2012/03/19

Cokkoutlet

Once again we stray from the straight and narrow of our mission onto the great scrubby heath of linguistic hilarity. The double airco and window/door configuration here clearly forms an elephant's eyes and trunk, suggesting a menagerie shared with the one-eyed trouser-snake, but this is an MOR clothing retailer in Manresa, not a boutique dedicated to camp double entendre, to the basic freedoms of the tool used to wean and convert lesbians and virgins into useful, productive members of society:


So who knows what a cokk is. Outlet, on the other hand, is the Spanish crisis synonym for shop. Anything that doesn't call itself an outlet is clearly overpriced, although price comparison now reveals little or no difference.

2012/03/14

Naming rigths @ Sol Galaxy Note

As in El Mundo:

La nueva campaña publicitaria de Metro de Madrid no sólo se limitará a la estación de Sol, ahora rebautizada Sol Galaxy Note (como el móvil de Samsung) en una campaña denominada 'naming rigths' (derechos de nombre).

This incredibly common misspelling (ca 19.2 million ghits) is not confined to native speakers of Spanish and other Romance dialects, and frequently occurs alongside correct versions.

I suspect some kind of sub-conscious rationalisation: "gh" is silent before "t", so they're not important, so I'll just spray them in there somewhere, & who gives a $hit what grouchy bloggers think.

If one of you could fix me up with academic respectability and finance I'd manacle journalists J. G. Treceño and R. Bécares to a long bench, pour boiling oil over them, and ask them how they pronounce "rigths", but I know times are hard.

(H/t Lenox, to whom donations should be directed, preferably this very minute. Scum we may be, HuffPost scum we are most certainly not.)

2012/03/12

Plato cheese

The diaspora and its hangers-on don't often show here, but Studiolum@Poemas del río Wang's found a cool menu from a vaguely Hispanic-themed bar belonging to the Café-Café chain in Lvov, Ukraine.

Given the man's clever-bastard reputation, Plato cheese is clearly a witty reference to some elite type of head cheese. Sophist is Plato's fish and rich young meat special, where anglers hunt the former and sophists the latter, but I don't get the joke.

2012/03/07

When did you born? Birth, agency and Whorfian politicology

Wine-buff Víctor de la Serna (via Carlos Ferrero) has nailed Domecq Bodegas for an amusing slip on the otherwise impeccable site, "When did you born?" I haven't really looked for literary or scientific evidence, and I'm pretty ignorant of non-me dialectal forms, but I'd hazard that this form is actually quite common among some groups of native and non-native English speakers. I can't work out, though, whether the interrogative classifies the child as object ("When did your mother bear you?") or subject ("When, ignoring your mother's groans and your father's tears, did you decide to leap into this dangerous world?").

[
BTW, "did" doesn't preclude the former - take this intriguing census-operative/citizen exchange from 1970s Gambia:

Q. When did you born this child?
A. "Digi".
Q. What is "Digi"?
A. Month before "Gamo"?
Q. When was that?
[Ends]
]

For me this confusion remains in some affirmatives:

I did born blonde & light ash blonde its like a strawberry blonde which i DONT want at all i want a light pretty blonde so should i use a different dye to do after? Not only that the ash i think kinda made it like a little green weird lol. So what dye do i get to take out the strawberry look and greenish lol

However I feel on slightly safer ground in the conversation between Balu and a ghost in I Am Not Intelligent, an extremely curious novel written in Indian English by Oscarbond:

"Who are you?"
"I am Arinchar Anna, the former Chief Minister of Tamilnadu."
"When did you born?"
"I born on 15-09-1909 in Kanchipuram..."

In various traditions future leaders take charge before they are born. Here's Joan Baez singing the Cherry-Tree Carol:


Then up spoke Baby Jesus,
from in Mary's womb:
"Bend down the tallest tree,
that my mother might have some."
And bent down the tallest branch
till it touched Mary's hand;
Cried she, "Oh look thou, Joseph,
I have cherries by command."

Unfortunately no one seems to have studied extensively the infant utterances of superheroes and other chief ministers, and Keith Chen has more serious business at hand. But I wager that sooner or later maternity wards will fill up with a swollen sect muttering grammatical instructions to their unborn - "Say 'I born myself' to the nurse, and who knows where you'll end up!" And at night missionaries of the Church of Chomsky will emerge from the shadows to bore and distract.