Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Is that me to whom you're speaking?


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A recent blog entry with the French versions of 10 classic American movie quotes illustrates one difficulty of learning a foreign language, not to mention why we receive strange stares from francophones when we try to speak to them in their own tongue. You simply can't translate English colloquialisms into French, you have find (know) the nearest substitute. For example, the famous line in Casablanca, "Here's lookin' at you, kid" has absolutely no meaning in French, so they went for À tes beaux yeux“  -- to your beautiful eyes.  Romantic, yes, but snappy? Ahhh....


Poor Dirty Harry's concise, dramatic, "Go ahead - make my day" became the much less punchier, Vas-y, fais-moi plaisir!
Does that phrase, literally, word-for-word, "Go ahead, give me some pleasure" convey the same meaning as "Make my day" to a Frenchman?  I've no idea.

My favorite quote is Robert DeNiro's famous line in Taxi Driver: "You talkin to me?" The French film translator seems have struggled with this one, coming up with C'est à moi que tu parles? -- Is it me to whom your speaking? Wow! And yet... and yet, they do manage to capture the tone of disrespect in a way we never could in English: DeNiro's character's use of the tu form. Addressing a stranger as tu is highly insulting! The French may not have the richness of tones of informality in language that English has, but they do have that one powerful weapon that we don't -- use of the familiar "you". Actually, knowing when to use which -- vous or tu --  can be quite challenging, and funny. See my Vous/tu chart to the right for more ways to make an impression with tu and vous.