Wednesday, June 7, 2017

It's Not What You Say, It's Knowing How They Say It – Erich

During this journey around the world, we have taken a few opportunities to see some movies. And today we did so again.

I have commented before about the experience of seeing a film in another country, particularly one which is not English speaking. And seeing a movie in Colombia does not disappoint.

First, it was a great movie. We saw La Mujer Maravilla AKA Wonder Woman. And there was a lot of wonder. But I'm not attempting to be a movie critic. I want to talk about what it is to see a movie in Colombia.

First, when you go to see an American or other non-Spanish language film in Colombia, you must check which version of the movie you want to see. I don't mean 2D vs. 3D, though we did have that choice as well. I mean subtitulado vs. doblado.

Subtitulado means subtitled. The movie has the original soundtrack with the original actors. And there are subtitles in Spanish on the bottom of the screen. Doblado means dubbed. So a new voice track has been made by Spanish speaking actors speaking, unsurprisingly, in Spanish. We had choices. We could see the 2D movie with subtitles or the 3D movie with dubbing. That was an easy choice. First, we don't love 3D. Second, we don't understand Spanish well enough to listen to the movie in Spanish and follow along.

But I do know enough Spanish to really enjoy the subtitles. And it made me appreciate how much of language is not simply the words, but the idioms we use. I will give a few examples without any spoilers for the movie.

At one point a character is in training and is told to do the exercise again. In English the word used was "Again." But the subtitles read "De nuevo." Literally that would be "of new." They did not use "además" which would be a direct translation of again. Though perhaps a closer translation would be "furthermore." But I'm sure to the Spanish speaking audience "de nuevo" must have made perfect sense. It must be their way of saying do something again.

At several points in the film characters would say "come on." Now we all know exactly how to interpret that. There is no question as to why we use the preposition on in our minds. Or on our minds. One time I saw "come on" translated as "ven conmigo" or come with me. But most of the rest of the time it was translated as "vamos" or we go.

Why is it usually vamos but one time it wasn't? I don't know. I don't know enough about idiomatic Spanish to understand the contextual difference between the two situations.

Another huge difference is one of pronouns. We love our pronouns in English. We use them all the time. In Spanish, they seem to have a very different relationship with them. Sure, they use pronouns, but not nearly as often. As an example, if I want to say "I know" in English, I have to use the pronoun. If I just say "Know" it doesn't make sense. I mean maybe I am giving you a command to suddenly gain an awareness you were heretofore lacking. But aside from commands, we use pronouns.

As a challenge, I am going to attempt to write the next two paragraphs with no pronouns. (It's actually a test of how well I know what is and is not a pronoun, I suppose.)

In Spanish every verb is conjugated depending on the subject. So a speaker can just say "sé" a word pronounced as "say". And that would mean "I know." (The use of a pronoun was required in the previous instance, but as the pronoun was in quotes the writer feels justified that the writer has not failed the aforementioned pronoun prohibition.) Except Spanish speakers don't just say "sé", or at least the subtitlers didn't in the movie.

At one point important character was telling authoritarian character that important character just had to do a particular action. (Not specifying what the "particular action" is.) And in English the authoritarian character replied, "I know." (Again in quotes.) But the subtitles read "Lo sé." Literally the words means "I know it." So the translation did include a pronoun. But Spanish speakers include the pronoun of the object, which English speakers skip, and English speakers include the pronoun of the subject, which Spanish speakers skip.

Thank goodness I am through two paragraphs. That is hard to do!

Another instance was one of specificity. Let's say there was a bad guy called Bubba in the movie. (By the way, there wasn't, I just don't want to spoil anything. Though I suppose if you go see the movie now and you're just waiting for Bubba to appear, and then he never does, that might spoil it too.) Anyway, there were points where a character would say "It's him." But the subtitles read "Es Bubba." So they specified Bubba instead of using him. (Except it wasn't Bubba. Don't build up the false expectation, okay?)

My point is this: Learning a language is a lot more than learning the vocabulary and grammar. Because even when you know those, you will never say the things that natives would say. I would never think to say "de nuevo" instead of "además."

And English is full of idiomatic ways to say things. From our inconsistent use of pronouns (do I give up or do I give in?) through our poorly placed prefixes (inflammable means the same as flammable, really? And nonplussed is the opposite of what?) to our phrasal verbs (if you stop and think about it what does vomit have to do with throwing up? Your arm is not involved, and while it likely goes up your esophagus, it generally goes down soon thereafter.)

English is the most global language there is at present. And we native English speakers must be far more patient with those who learn it as a second or third or later language. Because even when you learn the words, the pronunciation, and the grammar, it isn't always what you say that gives your words meaning. It's how we expect to hear it.

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