Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Friday, 21 January 2011

Doing my Helmut Schmidt bit

Frosty. I wear my Rhine barge cap to Tesco and become A Man In A Hat - a slightly different person. Always aware of the headgear but comforted by a conviction that I at least know it doesn’t look stupid.

We buy flowers which Mrs BB says need protection. Recently a potted basil plant suffered frost-bite when exposed to very cold weather on the ten-minute walk back home.

Neighbour Andy has unearthed his mother’s Common Prayer (dated 1922) and draws my attention to material he assumes has subsequently been altered or expunged:
Almighty Lord God who for the sin of man didst once drown all the world, except eight persons, and afterwards of thy great mercy didst promise never to destroy it so again…
Oh Almighty God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron…
(Headline) Articles agreed upon by the archbishops and bishops of both provinces and the whole clergy… for the avoiding of diversities of opinion and for the establishing of consent touching true religion. London 1562
(One such article) The Riches and Goods of Christians are not common, touching the right, title and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists boast…

NEW NOVEL 4902 words, January 21 2011. Yana, an American living in France, is speaking French to Josette. Since the book is in English the dialogue appears as English. Should Yana’s “translated” English differ from the American English she uses when speaking to an English speaker? Sounds silly, perhaps, but there are advantages in having these two modes.


Rouchswalwe said...

BB, could we have a photo please of you in profile wearing the Rhine barge cap?

You pose an interesting question about the "translated" conversation. It doesn't sound silly at all and I would think much could hinge on certain expressions Yana and Josette use in French that would be interesting for me, the non-French-fluent reader, to be exposed to in non-American (to give someone like me a dash of French flavour, so to speak, and to be exposed to Yana's feel for French). There is a danger that we will forget that Yana speaks French at all if she "sounds" the same on the page irrespective of her conversation partner. It would be fun to simply leave the French conversations in French and then have a section in the back of the book with English translations.

Barrett Bonden said...

RW (zS): Congratulations, you've holed in one. "A dash of French flavour" is what I'm after. There are quite legitimate ways of achieving this. Here's one I have already used:

Josette: "...You are a pilot and I am a pharmacienne. A dull life but I have lived vicariously.”

Yana smiled at the adverb.

I am able to use pharmacienne (a female pharmacist) because there is no single-word equivalent in English. Also, "vicariously" is not the sortof five-dollar word that crops up between English speakers but such elaborate words frequently occur in French conversation and I have already established that Yana is charmed by this aspect of French. Hence the smile.

However here's another variant on this subject which you as a native German speaker with extremely fluent English may recognise. It forms part of an email exchange with Plutarch, hence the quote: "By which I mean English that differs very slightly from the English of a natural English speaker. Here's an example. Both French and German people speaking English tend to use the word "possibility" in an alien way: "We French have the possibility to develop our economy..." Other differences arise out of nuances between "pouvoir" and "to be able to". This is not as overt as giving the non-Anglo a written accent, but it does help identify who is speaking in a lengthy dialogue without resort to "he said" etc."

As to your suggestion, "It would be fun..." I think it would demand a very committed reader who would be prepared to read a mere novel in that format. And I would also end up exposing my far-from-perfect French to public scrutiny.

Barge cap profile. You're not suggesting I should reveal my faceare you? It's not that I'm shy, rather I wish to guard the relationship I have with my commenters presently based only on what and how I write. Well, sort of. Plutarch has known my face since 1963; Marja-Leena and Fred lunched with Mrs BB and me once as did Mr and Mrs Relucent Reader but I'm sure I have become a blur to these four people. We met Julia twice in Prague and perhaps she would be able to pick me out of a crowd at the moment but I am sure that visual knowledge will die away in another year's time. This may sound coy but I write to be judged and a photograph would introduce undesirable factors in that judgment ranging from "Oh, what a knock-out." to "The guy's to be pitied." with the smart money favouring the latter.

However, thanks for skilfully picking up this important (and fascinating) aspect of novel-writing.

Plutarch said...

I am sure that you will have a lot of fun with the French/American English interchange, and that you will find lots of techniques to make it comprehensible to non-French speakers. But I wonder about those who are familiar with English rather than with American English, which seems to be growing further apart than ever from English English. Heidi who is half way through Jonathon Frantzen's new novel Freedom, and greatly enjoying it, observes the differences, perhaps more apparent to her, whose first language is German. I realize that you have party responded to this comment, but I'll make it all the same, because there might be scope for even more fun.

Word verification is "silly" which I mention for no other reason than it is for once a discrete and real word.

Rouchswalwe said...

Ah yes, I have to keep reminding myself that my first exposure to English was British English. People around here quickly peg me as a non-Midwesterner.

Your point about not having to repeat "he said" and "she said" over and over is well taken.

Barge hat profile request ... I was thinking more along the lines of what you've done thus far, with a camera blocking or cropping taking care of revealing too much! The reason I ask is that I'd like to see more of the braid on the cap. Maybe the Zachster could wear it for the photo opp?

FigMince said...

Yike, BB. Earlier, I thought you had enough problems, such as:

Problem 1: Where in dialectically diverse America is Yana from?
Problem 2: What kind of socio/economic/ethnic background does she come from?
Problem 3: What level of education has she had that might over-ride #1 and #2?
Problem 4: What kind of personality/attitude does she bring to her expression?
Problem 5: How much and how well de Française parle-t-elle?

But now I find you're digging yourself even deeper.

Problem $64,000: As I understand your situation and example, Josette is speaking fluent French which we are reading in translation. Yana will have been speaking English as her native tongue, but then (I assume) you'll have her speaking not-so-fluent French which we'll be reading translated back to English. So at times her sentence structure should be 'off' in the way that English speakers would mangle their French. Except that English speakers do that mangling based on English construction – so that translating the mangling back to English actually unmangles it. And if you try to imply that, Yana will sound like a French speaker attempting English.

My only thought is that her translated French could be expressed as extremely basic English that contrasts markedly with her American style of expression, but that would then then make her dialogue in those situations stilted and hard to inject with nuance.

The last thing a reader needs is something like: '"Beaucoup de chance, bébé!" Yana said in French.'

FigMince said...

Aaaargh!! Y'see how confusing this gets?

That last sentence above should've been '"Lots of luck, BB!" she said in French.'

Which proves something, I guess.

Hmmm... And here we go again – we could maybe add 'guess' to the previous carry-on about 'figure', 'think', etc.

Barrett Bonden said...

All: This started as a throwaway at the end of a conventional post, where I was able to use something like "tweak the English" without being specific. How tedious it has become for all of you meeting just that requirement - being specific. In particular FigMince's heroic attempts to cover the waterfront.

I think what we're talking about are what are called conventions. Once upon a time writers tried to render accents phonetically (eg, "Ee by goom," he said) but there was a general reaction against this by readers faced with pages and pages of apostrophes. Since even George Eliot couldn't overcome this problem (I find Adam Bede unbearable) this approach has withered and died.

The next technique was to dot the dialogue of foreigners speaking English with italicised words and phrases in the speaker's native language. This can be acceptable where the italicised word doesn't have an English equivalent (pharmacienne is useful because it designates a female pharmacist) but the practice fell into disuse when it became clear that monoglot English authors were using a limited foreign word vocabulary mainly to poke fun at foreigners: thus seductive French women always said Ah, ma chérie! and blundering Germans over-used verdamme. This despite the fact that in both cases a direct translation was possible.

Things are subtler these days. Some English authors don't bother and everyone, English and foreign, is rendered in pure Hampstead whatever language they're supposed to be uttering. But this is to ignore an opportunity of tying appropriate locutions to appropriate natives. Not as easy as it looks. As Figmince points out, suppose the foreigner is well-educated. Merely to render Je m'appelle Josette as "I call myself Josette" would make her look stupid.

The answer (or rather the theory) may be to be sparing with these bits of evidence and, if possible, use them only when the other speaker picks up the allusion. Thus the foreigner misuses "possibility" (see earlier comment) and the native English speaker seamlessly employs "opportunity" in his/her reply. However it's important that such "mistakes" are shared out between both speakers, with the majority going to the native English speaker thus confirming the international stereotype that English speakers have a tendency towards monoglotism.

But if that suggests I knew the answer all the time I didn't. All I knew was I had a problem and what has emerged is the result of reading your generous responses attentively and with fascination. Best traditions of blogging, and all that. Many thanks.

Lucy said...

This is all so interesting!

Stick a few adverbs in the wrong place in the sentence, not so as to sound completely wrong but just 'not English'. And there's that nice archaic construction which has dropped out of English 'We are seven in our family' and even better, 'we are not numerous'.

Don't forget that both Americans and French 'take' rather than 'having' (change from base verb to gerund on account of the latter following 'rather than', does this work?) things like breakfast, coffee, showers and baths, though in the latter two cases Americans still probably take them rather more often than French people do.

Also the tricky matter of perfect/passé compose/preterit usage: French people speaking English even competently will habitually (which adverb is in itself a bit of franglais sneaking in, and should or should not 'franglais' have a capital letter?) use the composed past - our perfect - when speaking of a finished action in the past even and including one clearly qualified as such by an adverb or adverbial phrase eg 'I have seen him yesterday', which in fact demands the preterit(simple past, best not called the passé simple since this inevitably invites equivalence with the past historic which opens up a whole other can of linguistic worms...).

Americans on the other hand use the perfect much more infrequently, so my German friend whose English is, I would say, faultless, but who learned it in America, will ask 'How long did you live in France?' which seems odd to me because I want to say 'but I still live here!'

Oh I am such a sad-minded grammar anorak! I think I must have linguistic worms.

It must be difficult writing that kind of dialogue. It might all get a bit mannered and self-conscious to write French-sounding English, but not to is to have French people speaking, and hence thinking, like English speakers. Joanne Harris who is supposed to have such a wonderful understanding of Frenchness but who has always lacked credibility that way for me, often seems to have her French characters speaking French-in-English and saying things which annoy me because I'm sure there are no real translation for those expressions/ideas in French.

I really didn't mean to go on so long...

Lucy said...

'more infrequently'. Can't remember what that's called but it's clunky. Less frequently.

Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: Anoraks are the only ones who talk about grammar (though not all can instinctively make use of "preterite" in their exchanges) so you're in good company. Besides which you've reminded me that I need to be doubly aware of American (eg, take - for which much thanks) as I switch from scene to scene. In fact that first scene may well be the only present-tense passage in the book where an American speaks to an American although there will be flashbacks to Arizona as Yana's background is established.

It's funny. As all this was going on I was aware of your absent presence, suspecting that if you got a sniff, you'd be in like Flynn.

The Americanism I'm now most aware of is the desire to insert "would" where it isn't strictly necessary (eg, When I lived in Paris I would go to the Louvre). I can see the reasoning here but there are other examples where it is definitely unnecessary. For me it's odd because journalism has conditioned me always to use the simplest verb form. Thanks to you (and everyone else) for "going on".

The Crow said...

Wow, reading all these comments make me (cause me? whatever) to wonder what nationality I am and just what version of which language is it I clumsily use?

See what I mean?

I am enjoying this give-and-take greatly (was going to write 'very much' but think that isn't proper either), especially the humor.

Mightn't it be easier to refer to the English we Yanks (generic; I am a displaced Southerner, which some folks consider not-American) speak simply as Americanese. Saves having to type an extra word, here and there.

Perhaps we should refer to BB's comment section as his roundtable, in the Dorothy Parker manner. (I am now so intimidated by my monoglottism that I decided not to write "a la Dorothy Parker," which I like better, for fear of looking the fool - again.)

Cheers, everyone!

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: Let me tell you, then. You're American and you speak American English, the latter being an unsatisfactory term since far more people speak it than speak English English. Once it might have been called a dialect but now I think it deserves the simple and unequivocal noun: American. That's a useful suggestion about Americanese but not for me, I am too old.

In Britain the word used to be applied, in a sneering way, to identify a variation (by implication, inferior) of English English. I am glad to say this usage seems to have died away even if it might usefully have saved typing a word or two here and there.

You are right to draw away from the phrase "à la Dorothy Parker". It's a hybrid for one thing, for another it leaves you trying to decide which way the accent slopes. Americans shouldn't have to bother about such matters unless they are writing in a language that requires (let's just whisper this five-dollar word) diacriticals. But there is, in any case, a perfectly good American substitute. How about: "...as his roundtable, Dorothy Parker style"? Or is it rather old fashioned?

But you're right about the roundtable. I'm delighted (and secretly flattered) by the responses which suggest, perhaps even prove, that a lot of people blog because they're in love with language.

Just to repeat in a bellow which I hope is audible in mid-Pennsylvania: you cannot be held to be a fool for speaking or writing your own language.

Lucy said...

thank you for popping the 'e' on the end of preterite for me! Is 'would' instead of 'used to' an American preference too then? I wasn't aware of that. Though I suppose neither are strictly necessary they do convey a habitual state or action in the past which has changed, which a simple past doesn't necessarily. French would do it with an imperfect but that's confusing because that's also the way to translate a past continuous...

Anyway anyway; the books generally distinguish between 'British' English, rather than 'English' English, and the American variant, though really Scottish and Welsh, to say nothing of your very own Yorkshire probably contain more variations from RP or whatever it's called now than American English does. I've just been looking for and can't find a review of a book about how world English is now becoming 'Globish' which is very far from the original and the speakers of it couldn't care less, it serves. I now tell my students that frankly it doesn't much matter if, for example, they fully understand and correctly employ the difference between 'going to' and 'will' or if they simply fail to make a future construction at all as long as they make it clear that it is the future they are talking about, and so to be very clear with their adverbs of time to reinforce it. But also that they need to know it for when they hear it.

Coincidentally I just wandered over to Language Hat's blog, which I don't very often because it gives me vertigo, and it confirmed for me that my precocious tinkering around the edges of linguistic knowledge are very rudimentary and dilettantish indeed. There the cognoscenti are capable of spinning comments threads to the moon and back about the earliest established date of the umlaut and its satyrical application in Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, with additional discussions on where the stress comes from in 'Carlyle', and much more besides, in between debate about whether Valencian really constitutes a separate language or just a dialect of Catalonian and hence shouldn't require interpreter in the Spanish parliament. I'd recommend it in fact, don't let me put you off, I think you'd enjoy it. Just Google 'Language Hat' (or if you use Chrome you can just highlight it here and get an instant search, which is great).

Actually what I really meant to ask was about the Book of Common Prayer - did it have about the Churching of Women in it? I can remember my mother shuddering about that...

Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: Had to tear myself away from Language Hat where I could nestle down for days, leaving my fledgling novel to rot. I had already read the Guardian article you refer to, suggesting that language isn't always the civilised topic we make it out to be. Someone told me there are Flemish bars in Belgium which carry notices that French is banned herein, but I've never had time to root them out. Besides, how would I order a beer?

Finally, onthe verge of outclicking Language Hat my eye caught a Hugh McDiarmid poen from which I extract the second verse:

O wae's me on the weary days
When it is scarce grey licht at noon;
It maun be a' the stupid folk
Diffusin' their dullness roon and roon.
Like soot,
That keeps the sunlicht oot

As good an argument as any for the diversity of language, even on our tight little island.

I haven't provided a good example of the American "would" yet and my attempts to do so slip and slide through my time-shared mind like the mercury we used to play around with in school chemistry labs - not knowing we were slowly poisoning ourselves. I will do this, I promise.

I intend to do a post providing cast-iron examples of how wonderful prose that is inarguably American American can be in the right hands but a small insistent voice is drawing me back to Chapter One, saying "Simplify - here and there." This is poor reward for your marvellous second comment on this post which I shall return to at a less turbulent time. Forgive.

Avus said...

Enough from the wordsmiths...I recognise your feelings about the barge cap in Tesco's. I sometimes wear mine there but have yet to be brave enough to sport the Akubra in such surroundings.
Does fashion demand certain types of hat for certain types of supermarket, I wonder? Would a barge cap be OK in Sainsbury's,for instance? Is a baseball cap de rigeur for Aldi's?

Barrett Bonden said...

Avus: As you may read elsewhere in Works Well the Rhine barge cap enjoyed a perfect outing this morning: it accompanied me to Waitrose where customers touched their forelocks and in some case strewed my way with rose petals. Were I to go to Aldi I'd shave my head and sing loudly "Nobody loves us/We don't care..."