Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Anent prose style and translatability

For decades now, my exemplar of English prose style has been Winston Churchill: Simple words in simple sentences. And on a blog with an international audience that is just about the only wise style.

I am a lover of words however and I would very much like to use a wider vocabulary than I do. I often write stuff using whatever vocab come to mind: Scientific, literary or Australian, for instance. And I then go through and replace all the uncommon words with simple, well-known words. "Orthogonal" becomes "unrelated", for instance. And I invariably clear up my thinking in doing so.

So I was rather pleased to see somewhere on a blog recently the word "anent". It is an old-fashioned word meaning "about" or "concerning". I wondered how such a word got onto a blog. Are there some parts of America where it is still widely used? In my experience, it is not much found outside Middle English or Early New English. I Googled it and found that it is widely used in their database -- but in all cases that I looked up they were spam blogs. Reality is truly strange sometimes.

Speaking of language, I greatly regret that the Australian idioms I grew up speaking are now far from generally understood in Australia. Radio, TV and the movies have largely wiped them out. The expressions young Australians use tend to be sourced from the media.

Another factor in the loss is that distinctively Australian speech was always unprestigious in Australia. The aspiration among educated Australians was always to speak "The King's English" (RP as the phoneticans call it) and an educated Australian accent these days is in fact quite close to that aspiration -- far closer than most of the accents of England itself, in fact. So it was my growing up in a working class family in an Australian country town that gave me full exposure to real Australian speech -- and I love it. It is so vivid. Somewhere along the line I have acquired an educated Australian accent but I still feel most at ease speaking in my native idioms. Fortunately, the lady in my life comes from a similar background so I often get to do so.

One of the more amusing upshots of all that is that the group of people who speak Australian best these days are the Aborigines (blacks). They are at the bottom of just about every social ladder you can think of so they have never had any incentive to move from the old ways. That blacks are the best preservers of an English semi-dialect is one of the many real-life complexities that confound the simple generalizations beloved of the Left.

It is of course the untranslatability of one form of speech into another that vexes me. Even commonly-used Australian expressions like "Fair dinkum" have no one-for-one translation into international English. And even words from a language closely related to English -- such as German -- are similarly untranslatable. I have written elsewhere about the untranslatability of "Reich" and "Volk", for instance.

I was reminded of that in reading a comment from a German about how Germans are seen in America: In en USA werden die Deutschen in Lederhosen, als Biertrinker und Krautfresser charakterisiert. There is a word there that is not easily translatable either. The writer is saying that in the USA Germans are characterized as wearing Lederhosen and as beer-drinkers and cabbage-eaters. I doubt that it is as bad as that. I myself think of Germany as the land of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. The German-speaking lands are undisputably the home of Western classical music. The untranslatability in the sentence, however, centres around the word "fressen". In German there are two words for "eat": People "essen" and animals "fressen". So if a person is said to "fressen", he is said to eat like an animal. So how do we translate "Krautfresser"? Are Germans describable as "cabbage-gutsers", perhaps? Maybe "cabbage-hogs"? I really don't know.


I think I've got it! "Cabbage-munchers" would be the right translation above.



Somebody gored this guy's brain: "It will take the the United States a century to recover from the damage wreaked by President George W Bush, US writer Gore Vidal said in an interview published today. "The president behaved like a virtual criminal but we didn't have the courage to sack him for fear of violating the American constitution,'' Mr Vidal told the El Mundo newspaper. The author, a trenchant critic of the US-led invasion of Iraq, said it would take the United States 100 years to repair the damage caused by Bush. "We live in a dictatorship. We have a fascist government ...which controls the media,'' he said. Mr Vidal also said presidential aspirant Barack Obama was ntelligent and that it would be a novelty to have an intelligent person in the White House." [It would be a novelty to have an intelligent Gore. GWB controls the media?? There's no sign of it]

The unending Amtrak boondoggle: "A nearly $15 billion Amtrak bill passed the House on Wednesday as lawmakers rallied around an alternative for travelers saddled with soaring gas prices. The bipartisan bill, which passed by a veto-proof margin of 311-104, would authorize funding for the national passenger railroad over the next five years. Some of the money would go to a program of matching grants to help states set up or expand rail service."

A queer "wedding" in Britain: "The Church of England has said two gay priests may have broken its rules, after a newspaper report that they exchanged vows and rings in Britain's first ever church "wedding" ceremony for a same-sex couple. The Sunday Telegraph said clerics Peter Cowell and David Lord married at one of England's oldest churches - Saint Bartholomew the Great in London - last month, using one of the church's most traditional wedding rites. The couple had registered their legal civil partnership status before the ceremony. The Church of England does not allow same-sex ceremonies in church, although some blessings have been carried out. A Church of England spokesman said they had "no reason" to believe that the ceremony did not take place but added: "What we seem to have here is a fairly serious breach of the rules by an individual or groups of individuals." News of the ceremony could not come at a worse time for the worldwide Anglican communion, which risks a damaging split because of member churches' diverging attitudes towards homosexuality, particularly amongst clergy."

500 clergy set to desert Church over 'betrayal' on women bishops: "More than 500 clergy could leave the Church of England in response to proposals to consecrate women bishops that will be debated at the General Synod next month. Bishops voted narrowly to approve the consecration of women, without enshrining the legal safeguards sought by traditionalists. Instead, dioceses that appoint a woman bishop will merely be asked to sign a voluntary code of practice to ensure that Anglo-Catholics who oppose the move are not discriminated against or forced to act against their conscience. The Times has learnt that some traditionalists are seeking legal advice on whether it will be possible to sue the Church for constructive dismissal under employment law, should the synod vote in favour of the plans. They are angry that they were promised safeguards when the synod voted to ordain women priests in 1992 and believe that they have been betrayed."

The dong is rising: "Mr. Stevens sees more price pressure on the horizon in Asia, thanks to strong growth in China and "very low" regional interest rates, which generally mirror those of the Fed. That's the key message of Mr. Stevens's speech: The Fed's actions are putting emerging-market policy makers in a tough spot. That's evident from Vietnam's decision last week to lift interest rates for dong-denominated loans to 14% from 12% to stem inflation"

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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