On Sunday a former colleague in Korea posted on Facebook that he was attending a performance of the musical Cats in Seoul. Someone else asked him if it was in English or Korean. He replied that it was in English, without mentioning whether the performers were Korean or foreign. I later discovered that the production is, in fact, Australian.
Translating any poetry is difficult, given the competing requirements of meaning, meter and sound, especially in this case Eliot’s idiosyncratic English and Lloyd Webber’s world-famous music. Despite all that, Cats has been translated – Wikipedia says into more than 20 languages (with citing a source), and the show’s official website says 15 languages. Neither source lists the translations.
One obvious problem with any translation is the words cat and cats, which are so important in the meter of the poems and the rhythm of music. These are not necessarily one syllable in other languages. Taking four major European languages as examples, only French (chat, chats) has monosyllable equivalents, while German (Katze, Katzen), Italian (gatto, gatti) and Spanish (gato, gatos) have bisyllabic ones. The situation is even worse in Korean, where cat is 고양이 (go-yang-i) and cats is either 고양이 or 고양이들 (go-yang-i-deul – the plural marker is optional and usually omitted). So 고양이들 has as many syllables as ‘Jellicle cats’. (Google Translate translates ‘Jellicle songs for Jellicle cats’ (9 syllables) as ‘젤리 클 고양이의 젤리 클 노래’ (12 syllables).
From what I’ve found on this internet, all the publicity for this production in Seoul uses the English word Cats. I also found another production called Original 어린이 캣’s (Original children cat’s) which played in Seoul from late 2016 to mid-2017 (I saw posters for this in Daejeon before I left there in August 2016).
I’ve got more to say about this, but I need to do more research.
Prepositional phrases often provide information about where or when, or about conceptual relationships. Two problems often arise: the order when multiple prepositional phrases are used together, and deciding which other element(s) in the sentence this/these prepositional phrase(s) modify/ies.
Regarding the first, a student wrote:
‘I with my friends went to a steak restaurant at my birthday in [country]’.
When I was drafting my previous post, I realised that I wasn’t sure about the exact wording of the funeral/memorial sentence Rest eternal rest grant (unto) them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine (up)on them.
The Latin original is Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Latin adjectives standardly follow the noun they modify (though word order in Latin is relatively free), so requiem (rest) aeternum (eternal) and lux (light) perpetua (perpetual). I searched online for an English translation. About half said rest eternal and light perpetual, and half said eternal rest and perpetual light. English adjectives standardly precede the noun they modify, but can follow them in certain circumstances, one of which is to produce an air of formality, perhaps because of the echo of Latin. (From a brief browse, no source switches word order mid-way: rest eternal and perpetual light or eternal rest and light perpetual.)
I noticed that the sources which use rest eternal and light perpetual tend to be Anglican/Episcopalian, and those which use eternal rest and perpetual light tend to be Roman Catholic. In fact, the Wikipedia article about this prayer says that Lutherans use the noun-adj order and Methodists use the adj-noun. I’m not sure what conclusion, if any, we can draw from that.
One of the many choral settings of the Latin.
For a few days now, various contributors to Language Log have been exploring the fact that repeatedly typing one letter, character or syllable, or even a string of random letters, characters or syllables, into Google Translate results in ‘translations’ which a) have nothing to do with those letters, characters or syllables and b) are sometimes funny, baffling or seemingly meaningful. In the first such post, Mark Liberman reported that Japanese ュース (which Google Translate translates as juice) entered repeatedly eventually results in:
It is a good thing for you to do.
It is good to know the things you do not do.
It is good to know the things you do not mind.
It is a good idea to have a good view of the surrounding area.
I saw a nice bilingual t-shirt, which read:
Just before I woke up this morning, I had a long, vivid, fragmented dream. In the last scene, ‘dream I’ was standing in a licenced club next to a man who was looking at the front cover of a gambling magazine, featuring a photo of an apparent famous professional gambler. The man said ‘I want to study his – mercy’ (obviously not sure about the last word). ‘Dream I’ said ‘The word you want is mertique’, at which point I woke up.
‘Real I’ lay there befuddled, trying to decide whether mertique was a real but very rare word, with the meaning ‘another word for technique, most often used about sales staff and gamblers’ or whether my sub-conscious had simply made it up, and if so, why?
After some time, I came downstairs, searched Dictionary.com (my default resource) and got no result. I did a general Google search and got ‘About 1,460 results’, including user names on various social media, business names (Mertique Spa), ‘sirloin mertique’ and sentences which look like Latin (one of which turns out to be a mis-OCR-ing of ‘mortique’ (morti(s)+que is identifiably Latin)). Setting Google Translate to ‘detect language’ detects Latin, but then translates it as mertique. None of which explains why my sub-conscious brain chose to use it.
Mertique could be an English word – it fits the sounds and syllable patterns. But apparently it’s not.
The famous anthem Sing Joyfully, by William Byrd (c1540-1623), sets four verses of Psalm 81, one of which starts ‘Blow the trumpet in the new moon’. The lesser-known setting by Adrian Batten (c1591-c1637), which we sang yesterday morning, uses a different translation, and that verse starts ‘Blow up the trumpet in the new moon’. That sounds excessive, even for a brass instrument.