Friday, September 15, 2006


Today's whiskey-tango-foxtrot* moment is brought to you by languagelog:

A less obvious example of the influence of English [on Turkish] is a new phenomenon: the current greeting Selâm in place of Merhaba. This is not evidence of increasing religiosity, but is due to the prevalence of English-language films on television.
The aim when dubbing is to use Turkish words requiring lip movements similar to those of the original, and the lip movements for Selâm are closer to those for 'Hello' than to those for Merhaba.

I'm certainly not surprised at the liberties dubbing translators take with the target language. What astonishes me, however, is the effect those translations could have on a language. And it makes wonder about the possible influence of dubbing on other languages. Take German, for example: when translating English-language movies and TV shows, one of the standard problems is the translation of the auxiliary "to do", especially in affirmative. Lip movement and timing are important factors to consider and so the translators are often forced to push the limits of the German language. For example, one very often hears the literal and absolutely unnatural translation of the auxiliary "to do", such as "Ja, das tue ich" for English "Yes I do". Hold on, did I just say "absolutely unnatural"? Weeeeell... not so much. Consider this example by Goethe:

Ich wollt´, ich wäre Gold,
Dir immer im Sold;
Und tät´st du was kaufen,
Käm´ ich wieder gelaufen.

or this example by STS:

Am weissen Strand tät i Flamenco spiel'n
Oder mit an Tanzbär'n durch die Lande zieh'n
Jede Nacht am Lagerfeuer
Jeder Tag ein Abenteuer

this one from one of the forums on their website:

(3) Tust jetzt Fieberphantasieren oder was?

and this random one I just googled:

(4) Aber übermäßig selektieren tu ich ja nicht, wie gesagt

It would appear that the verb "tun" can indeed be used as an auxiliary verb, especially in certain dialects (the STS guys are from Styria) or registers. We've seen it so far as an alternative to "werden" in conditional clauses (1 and 2), used for emphasis (especially in connection with "ja", see 4) and even employed as an interrogative auxiliary (3). So no, not absolutely unnatural. German "tun" can indeed replace English "do" in certain contexts and perhaps even on a one-to-one basis.
And so I wonder: how much of this usage is a natural development without any interference from English and German dubbing of English-language movies? Can German dubbing contribute to semantic and syntactic extension of "tun", such as the still-too-literal and not-quite-natural "Ja, das tue ich"? Has it already? Has anyone actually heard this or some similar anglicism involving "tun" in everyday usage?

*And this delightful phrase is brought to you by The Tensor.


michael farris said...

I'm told the kind of German used in dubbing is almost a formal register and contains many, many items that aren't part of normal German usage.

Poland doesn't dub but one person does a voice over translation of the dialogue (as awful as it sounds) and many items have worked their way into everyday Polish from the often graceless (and often wrong) translations.

A good example is 'miło ciebie widzieć' a calque of 'nice to see you'. People over 40 or 50 detest it as unnatural while my students think it's completely okay (even if they don't use it themselves)

bulbul said...

Polish voiceover is a very well known phenomenon in Slovakia, since it is often featured on dvds and even cable tv. I generally don't have much patience to listen to two tracks competing, but I recently got my hands on Harry Potter IV dubbed into Polish. I don't remember any unnatural translations, though.

michael farris said...

No, when they do dub, the translations are usually much better than either voice over or subtitles(which are full of stupid mistakes in my experience).

Partly this might be that dubbing in Poland isn't really an assembly line business (and some relatively famous actors take part) also in dubbing, the text has to make _some_ sense to actors, while a voice-over translation doesn't have to make any sense whatsoever.

As for dvds, in Poland they often have Czech and/or Hungarian soundtrack or subtitle options, but I've never seen Slovak in either...

bulbul said...

Oh right, how could I have forgotten!
My favorite version of Ice Age is the Polish one, with Cezary Pazura (of "Kiler" and "Kariera Nikosia Dyzmy" fame) as Syd. I must have seen it at least forty times and I replace most system sounds on my computer with various lines ("Ej ty twardy, patrz gdzie paskudzisz!"; "Coś taky nerwozny? Ja odpoczywam...")
Come to think of it, Slovak dubbing is not seen that often on DVDs these days. Harry Potter, few cartoons, some comedies. It'd definitely much more common to see Slovak dubbing on TV.

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to say that I don't think your fourth phrase, "4) Aber übermäßig selektieren tu ich ja nicht, wie gesagt", has anything to do with the English 'to do'. The word group "übermäßig selektieren" is just the direct object of the verb (tun).
Rough (and probably not so good) translation would read:"But excessive selecting, I don't do, like said."

Anonymous said...

In German dubbing you get things like "ja, ich will" instead of just "ja" for "yes, I will" as the marriage formula in church. I'm told this completely exotic duplication is entering real life.

Michael, what do you mean by "almost a formal register"? Do you mean the fact that TV is in Schriftsprache, in Standard German (a somewhat artificial construction pretty far away from many dialects)?

Tun is quite different in German and English. In nonstandard German you can occasionally replace verbs by their infinitive + tun. To keep this usage out of the standard, the proverb "tun tut man nicht" was invented, which immediately prompted the parody "tun tut man nicht tun".

The dialect example (actually Standard German with dialect grammar and a few adaptations to dialectal word lengths) shows yet another phenomenon -- instead of wenn ich _ würde "if I would _" you can say wenn ich _ täte "if I did _" in at least the Bavarian-Austrian dialects, producing a third possibility to form the... Konjunktiv II... "past subjunctive".

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