Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Some idiomatic intricacies

Perusing, as one does of an idle moment, one's sitemeter results, I came across this fascinating referrer. It is a rendering of this article into French.

Although your insular and xenophobic Pedant-General, Lady P-G's exotic provenance notwithstanding, would never claim to be anything other than profoundly monoglot, his command of the written language of Molière and Balzac stretches far enough to see that this is a pretty reasonable stab, particularly for a machine translation.

But can anyone explain to me quite what those nice gentlemen at Google must have been smoking? Their translation copes admirably with the phrase
"other meaningless flim-flam" ("tous autres conneries sans signification")
and yet, seems unable to find a suitable translation for
"wistfully"
or
"tellingly".
Is there no thing such as an adverb in French? I always thought this result was a little suspect.

6 comments:

dearieme said...

I've seen "a knotty problem" becoming "un problem difficile" -it's lame, isn't it? Lacks that certain je ne sais quoi.

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...

Dearieme,

Au contraire: the real problem is with the French language in general in that its vocabulary is just too limited.

As you know, this is a little bit of a bete noire for me. Unlike English - with its rich variety and huge armoire of nuance - it just seems to be missing the esprit de corps, the joi de vivre and - which is the real tour de force - the laisser faire attitude to the development of new words and phrases.

Linguistically, it really is a bit of a cul de sac: Look at the way they shamelessly rip off words to make such horrid confections as "le weekend".

Au revoir!
PG

ninme said...

What's really depressing is looking at packaging in Canada. Some clever product designer works so hard to come up with all the clever lines and the puns and the nuance you mention, and the French beside it says something like "It's a very fun game!" The little exclamation mark just looks so sad and hopeless.

dearieme said...

Ah, French-speaking Canada: the first time I went there, I asked the taxi-driver "Combien de francs...oh bugger".

ninme said...

I know we're past this, but we were at the Lego store over the weekend, and they were selling a SpongeBob SquarePants series, with labels in French and English, and SpongeBob SquarePants is Bob l'Eponge.

Akaky said...

Why does Bob l'Eponge sound like the name of an accountant with delusions of grandeur?