Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lost in Translation

I was talking to this guy from Morocco, and I asked him when he had come to France. He says. "On half of March." This seems easy to understand, but when conversing, its not easy to realise that half of March means 15th of March.


At lunch time, I'm surrounded by French speakers. They all can speak English, but speaking in French comes more naturally to them. And in a raging discussion, halting English does not have the same effect. I'm let in on the topic from time to time. Someone realises that I don't understand French yet and am offered a translation and an opportunity to contribute. But when the details and the flow of thought is not clearly understood, the whole thing appears confusing. And sometimes also very funny. Getting only small glimpses of the entire conversation makes you wonder how the thoughts were connected. Unfortunately, I can only share what I was translated for my benefit.

The first topic I heard was about a love story that everyone in France is expected to read in school. To which I commented having read works of some French authors. This turned to a discussion of French writers and philosophers. And how many people have no idea about Indian writers. I was told about this author who wrote an essay on how people should deal with each other and something about Corsica (I am guessing it was Rousseau, thanks to help from Wikipedia.)

The conversation returns to French and I am left to my own thoughts. After some time, I am told the they are discussing about how the tax on fuel might increase. In order to regulate the greenhouse effect. They ask me about fuel prices in India. I respond and slowly the conversation moves back to French. I'm left to my thoughts again. Then I realise that they are talking about colors. And their gesturing and pointing suggests that they are talking about hair.

My inquisitive look elicits a response: One of them says that he is explaining how his hair is not exactly black, but is a different shade. They remark about me having some gray hair. I smile, saying I know about it.

I wonder how all these thoughts were connected.


For my birthday, on 5th Sept, we went to Cannes to watch Inglourious Basterds. In France, only some places show the movie in its original form ("Version Originale") with French subtitles. They rest show the movies dubbed in French. We did not know that the movie features dialogue in English, French and German (and Italian too!) So when we did go see the movie, we thought that the first scene in French was just Tarantino's brilliant ploy to keep the audience confused before he reveals his ideas. Once the dialogue shifted to English, the subtitles in French began. We realised things were wrong only when the dialogue shifted to German.

The subtitles were still in French!

Its an interesting experience to figure out a movie in an unknown language with no subtitles. Only bits of the dialogue is in English, and you have to rely on your meagre translating skills to figure what certain French words might mean. I still enjoyed the movie, because Tarantino still manages to make viewing it interesting. But I so wish I had seen the "good" version.

I managed to see a decent copy later, with English subtitles, and the movie is amazing. I noticed one thing about Tarantino's movies. They are more than 2 hours long, and have very little things happening in them. And yet, what the characters say and do while those few things happen is what makes up the movie. Its needs great skill to still keep us enthralled and he has mastered that art.


  1. heehee i knew ud be amused by the languages in inglorious bastards =) and i totally understand how u feel about french.....thats how i felt around u n abhishek speaking marathi!! =P so haha! =D
    but it sux that u cant understand it all yet. french with an indian accent....hmm....

  2. @ Anjalee: Atleast we didnt speak broken English, and keep you in translation ;)

    @ Mandar: Well Written...I could just see it all happening in front of me :), Lavkar bolayla shik tyanchi bhasha :D

  3. I've always been fascinated by Europe. It is great that they don't want to move away from their language, and make people adapt. But then, there is one fundamental difference between Europe and India. Europe was never colonized. They were the guys who went around trying to turn the rest of the world into clones of them. So really, we can't blame India and Indians.

    Coming to Tarantino and Inglourious Basterds, well, what do I say. This was my first QT film in the theatre, and the full force of what I have missed so far hit me square in the face. He is truly a phenomenal director, critics be damned. I cannot believe how someone can direct the way he does. It is scary! Let's discuss it sometime! :)

  4. I think your observation on language is very interesting. I think I can carry on a discussion in Marathi/Hindi for a short time, but as the arguments become more involved I struggle, and am almost forced to use English. Someone once mentioned that they dream in their mother tongue (or something to that effect), the point being that you dream in the language that you're most comfortable thinking in. I dream in English. Wonder if this is universally true.