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Misplaced relative

A discussion of the peculiarities of languages and the differences between them.

Misplaced relative

Postby Brazilian dude » Sun Nov 27, 2005 2:52 pm

I have been hearing this more and more often now. The most recent example I heard was on TV. They were talking about a movie starred by Cameron Diaz, in which she was the total opposite of her sister (I don't know the name of the movie) and one of the sentences they used was Ela é a única pessoa que você não pode viver sem. (She is the only person you cannot live without.) Okay, that works fine in English, but using that preposition sem at the end of the sentence in Portuguese is totally against the rules and idiom. What is going on here? Are we being invaded again by English (as in the case of preferir sobre, but this time on the syntactical level? This sounds plausible in this case, because this sentence was heard on a Sky channel, for which you can choose the audio in Brazil. I take it they translated it from English.

But the thing is this isn't the first time I've heard this kind of sentence. It is very common for Brazilians to leave out prepositions before relative pronouns and say things like A casa que eu moro (The house that I live [sic]) instead of A casa em que eu moro (The house in which/where I live), but saying A casa que eu vivo em is totally unnatural.

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Postby badandy » Mon Dec 05, 2005 4:59 pm

using that preposition sem at the end of the sentence in Portuguese is totally against the rules and idiom.


so this construction is not prevalent in spoken Portuguese? Did it make sense when you read it? It seems unlikely that it has anything to do with English 'invading' anything, other than the translator's tired head. If it is the case that it does make workable sense to a Portuguese speaker, then the 'rules and idiom' should be re-revaluated

I take it they translated it from English.


yeah, I dont think Cameron Diaz or that movie are Brazilian. :lol: Though, there does seem to be an awful lot of gorgeous blonde brasilieras popping up lately.
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Postby Apoclima » Mon Dec 05, 2005 5:56 pm

It is probably a poor translation that will eventually work is way into the very heart of Brazilian Portuguese from English until a Portuguese sentense won't seem right unless it ends in a preposition!

What a twisted, contaminated, contaminating world we live in!

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Postby badandy » Mon Dec 05, 2005 6:34 pm

Apoclima wrote:It is probably a poor translation that will eventually work is way into the very heart of Brazilian Portuguese from English until a Portuguese sentense won't seem right unless it ends in a preposition!
Apo


Again, I don't think borrowing works like that, especially not syntactical stuff like prepositional phrases and such.

Placing a specific word in a specific place (usually at the beginning of a sentence, this time, at the end) called topicalization, is a very normal occurence in many languages. It usually doesnt 'agree' with normal syntax and sounds weird, but thats the point, its to draw attention to the moved element. Thats why Yoda sounds crazy, but intelligible. It is a normal part of French syntax:
i love it= c'est ca que j'm (this is also called Clefting)

Translating an idiom always gets one into trouble, and it shouldnt be attempted, but rather it should be replaced with an equivalent idiom, or not at all.
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Postby Apoclima » Mon Dec 05, 2005 6:45 pm

We'll see, badandy! We'll see!

(I agree with you, badandy! I thought it was obvious that I was joking! I know, no smiley faces; I hate them!)

Nice clear post, badandy! Although I do think this is a case of sloppy translation, and not topicalization.

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Postby badandy » Mon Dec 05, 2005 7:03 pm

of course! I understand that its a joke, but what you said made me think. One of my professors said once that Linguistic change and continuity theory owes a lot to biology. Apparently language changes and develops much the same way genetics does. Its a natural smooth evolution that really cant be changed a lot. there are exceptions, such as borrowing a word (lexical, not functional) which is likened to catching a disease. So a new language is like a virus that lives inside you and may get better (forgetting words, lack of practice), or worse (more fluency). Your children are then born (or receive at an early age) with this disease and it permanently changes their biological/linguistic make-up. And the family tree is then mutated.

by the way: :D :) :( :o :shock: :? 8) :lol: :x :P :oops: :cry:

ah, ok, its all out of my system!
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Postby Ladyquill » Tue Dec 06, 2005 12:10 am

Okay, so I didn't see the movie. Was this an actual Portuguese line in the movie, or a translation of this particular line in English to Portuguese. I'm not sure I get it. :oops:

I have a few Brazilian DVD's that I bought some time ago on my first trip to Brazil. I wanted to see if I could actually watch and understand without subtitles. Also, if I can find a DVD here (in English), with subtitles in Portuguese, I do the same. Anyway, as far as translations go, NONE of them are exact. More often than not, I'm throwing my hands up saying, "That's not what he said!" And then again, the English subtitles in English movies are FULL of mistakes.
Do you really think it's an English invasion? Or perhaps just cheap labor? :? hehehe

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Postby Brazilian dude » Tue Dec 06, 2005 6:50 am

That sentence was used as part of the advertisement for the movie.

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Postby Andrew Dalby » Fri Dec 09, 2005 2:53 pm

Badandy, there is a big difference between viruses (or any other organism) and languages. Organisms actually exist. Languages don't. A language doesn't change because it doesn't exist.

Either (a) the way you speak changes, as you grow up or learn from other people, or (b) the speech of those younger than you differs from your own speech. These are the two phenomena that people inaccurately describe as 'language change'.
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Postby Flaminius » Fri Dec 09, 2005 8:22 pm

Andrew, to my mind claiming no languages exist and using them so skillfully at the same time like you did in your last post is a considerable contradiction. Could you elaborate your point for a dummy?
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Can language change be compared with genetic change?

Postby Andrew Dalby » Sun Dec 11, 2005 11:57 am

Flaminius, how could I fail to respond to such a politely expressed request?

Most linguists (perhaps all linguists!) disagree with me, but I believe the differences between languages and organisms are such that to use genetics as a metaphor for language change is seriously misleading.

Let me try to set the argument out for myself. Who knows, this may make sense to someone else as well!

A species is an abstraction. It's a way of describing similarities between real existing organisms -- similarities in their genes, their shape, their structure and metabolism.

A language is also an abstraction (and we have to pretend it exists if we want to make grammars and dictionaries, or to teach a language to somebody). A language represents, I suppose, the similarities between the language of person A and the language of person B, etc.. The result of these similarities is that they understand one another (or think they do). We take the structure that seems to produce A's language use, and the structure that seems to produce B's language use, etc., and we conflate these structures and describe this conflation as language AB (English or whatever). But this is an abstraction from an abstraction, because even those individual structures have no tangible existence: they are a way of explaining the speech that A happens to produce today when she's talking to B. The speech, itself, I admit, exists (momentarily, and for longer if someone records it or writes it down) but the language doesn't exist. It's just our way of explaining the sounds that A produces and B understands.

So, now, what really happens when, as we say, a language changes? One of two things.

1. You, as a speaker, decide to speak differently. You hear a new word, or invent a new word, and use it from now on; or a new structure, perhaps, as when someone first used the phrase 'I was like' to express what that person had previously expressed as 'I said'. Your language has changed, and if others do the same that change will eventually be regarded as a change in the English language. But you decided to do that. Each person who adopts the change decided to do it.

2. Children learn to speak by building their own internal grammars and dictionaries: they analyse the speech around them just as a linguist would, though only half conscious of what they are doing. The result, for each child, is 'a language' very close to that of their parents, and their friends, and others around them, but different in each case. You can see it's different, because you can recognise the speech of any individual among your friends. Each one speaks in a slightly different way (voice, tone, choice of words, sentence structure). What's more, each one of us speaks differently when addressing different people or groups, so we each have lots of 'languages', whether or not we call ourselves bilingual.

Admittedly, it is possible to draw family trees, rather as it is for species, showing relationships between the speech of persons A (Frenchman), M (Italian), Z (Romanian) and deriving these from the speech of ancient person Alpha (a classical Roman). But remember that each of these people speaks in a different way to different people: different 'dialects', totally different 'languages' (A speaks English too, though with a French accent, and learned Latin at school; Alpha spoke Greek with a Latin accent). Because all these forms of speech are part of the capabilities of single people, different 'languages' 'interact'. You hear foreign words and use them in your own speech. A uses English words in his French, or he pulls in a Latin phrase, because they seem to express his thought more accurately. Children learn words from many 'languages', and mix them into their own speech where they seem to fit. Some of these novelties catch on: other people understand them and start using them too. Thus, as we say, 'languages' 'borrow' from one another. Languages can actually merge, even totally unrelated languages, resulting in pidgins and creoles. Latin and Greek have had a heavy influence on modern French, English, etc.

Genetics, we take it, helps to make all this happen, like other aspects of our behaviour. But what happens is quite unlike what happens when species change and differentiate. The last part, about 'borrowing', is the most unlike: there is no sense in which species borrow from one another (or there wasn't until genetic modification came along, and that's not genetics but human choice).

I'm not sure if I've got very far here, but I've enjoyed trying. What's your reaction? Incidentally, I wrote more about language learning and language change in chapter one of my /Language in Danger/ (Columbia UP, 2003). Writing that book was what made me begin to think about this issue seriously.
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Postby M. Henri Day » Sun Dec 11, 2005 12:46 pm

badandy wrote:...

Again, I don't think borrowing works like that, especially not syntactical stuff like prepositional phrases and such.

...


I have to disagree. Languages borrow not merely words, but also syntactical elements from one another. The practice of placing prepositions at the end of a sentence or clause (which I for one attempt to avoid in my own (written) English, but with which I have no problem in, say, Swedish) may very well, as Apo predicts, come to infect Portuguese (in which case we should see a somewhat different development in Brazilian, as opposed to European Portuguese). During the period of transfer, the constructions will sound, as they do to BD, «un-Portuguese», but if and when «everybody» speaks that way, the question won't even arise....

Let me take another example. In the posting that established this thread, BD wrote :

*They were talking about a movie starred by Cameron Diaz ...


I find it difficult to accept this construction, which seems to be based upon an underlying structure «*Cameron Diaz starred a movie» as a well-formed English sentence. To me, the verb «star» in this sense takes an obligatory preposition «in» - i e, «Cameron Diaz starred in a movie» or «They were talking about a movie in which Cameron Diaz starred/a movie Cameron Diaz starred in». When I read this I made a tentative assumption that such constructions are permitted in Portuguese, and that they constituted the base for BD's English-language sentence. Were constructions of this sort to become common in English, my objections would become merely those of an old fogy who has failed to stay abreast of the times....

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Postby Brazilian dude » Sun Dec 11, 2005 1:31 pm

Besides the fact that there are [url=http://www.google.com.br/search?q=%22starred+by%22&hl=en&lr=&start=10&sa=N[url]27,000[/url] hits on Google, one of my English dictionaries says the following: Star - to have as a main performer; Feature: Tonight we're showing the film "Limelight", starring Charlie Chapelin.

To feature - To include as a leading performance: This film features Dustin Hoffman (as a divorced father).

If such an active construction with a verb without a preposition is possible, a construction in the passive would be the next step.

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Postby M. Henri Day » Sun Dec 11, 2005 2:09 pm

Sorry, dear BD, but if you object to «Variety-speak» in Portuguese, you must needs accept that others do in English. Your 27 000 hits for «starred by» are indeed impressive - unless, perhaps, one considers the over 9 000 000 for «starred in». You don't like «não pode viver sem» ; I don't care for «starred by». So what else is new ?...

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Postby Brazilian dude » Sun Dec 11, 2005 2:36 pm

Yeah, it boils down to the same thing, I suppose. Thanks for opening my eyes.

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