What shock! Then, Matt learns-him to read the books in French?

But yes!

There are many practical and noble reasons to seek a reading knowledge of a language. Spite is not one of them, I know, and yet it has driven me here. (Don't even ask.) Returning to the Indo-European fold after so much time pottering around in East Asia is quite a shock. Compared to Japanese, French is... English. With more definite articles.

I'm starting off easy, with Fines Fleurs de L'Humour Français, which has a facing-page Japanese translation and is assez drôle, apart from the occasional wince-inducing use of names like "Roth" and "Lévy" to foreshadow avarice and deceit. My favorite so far:

Le Singe et le Perroquet
Le singe dit:
 -- Je grimpe au faîte des arbres; je m'accroche par la queue aux plus hautes branches; je monte à cheval sur des chiens dans les cirques; je fais le mort au coup de carabine; je sais imiter l'homme; je balaie les appartements.
 -- Qu'est-ce que c'est ça? interrompt le perroquet. Moi, je parle!
 -- Eh bien! Et moi, dit le singe, qu'est-ce que je fais donc depuis un quart d'heure?

(I was sure that the joke would be "Yeah, well I don't do any work for humans, so I guess I win." Pleasant surprise.)

Next stop: Salome! And perhaps one day Madame Chrysanthème, the infamous story that kicked off the first big wave du Japonisme littéraire.

Puis tout ce Nagasaki s'illuminait à profusion, se couvrait de lanternes à l'infini; le moindre faubourg s'éclairait, le moindre village; la plus infime cabane, qui était juchée là-haut dans les arbres et que, dans le jour, on n'avait même pas vue, jetait sa petite lueur de ver luisant. Bientôt il y en eut, des lumières, il y en eut partout; de tous les côtés de la baie, du haut en bas des montagnes, des myriades de feux brillaient dans le noir, donnant l'impression d'une capitale immense, étagée autour de nous en un vertigineux amphithéâtre. Et en dessous, tant l'eau était tranquille, une autre ville, aussi illuminée, descendait au fond de l'abîme. La nuit était tiède, pure, délicieuse; l'air rempli d'une odeur de fleurs que les montagnes nous envoyaient. Des sons de guitares, venant des «maisons de thé» ou des mauvais lieux nocturnes, semblaient, dans l'éloignement, être des musiques suaves. Et ce chant des cigales,--qui est au Japon un des bruits éternels de la vie, auquel nous ne devions plus prendre garde quelques jours plus tard tant il est ici le fond même de tous les bruits terrestres,--on l'entendait, sonore, incessant, doucement monotone comme la chute d'une cascade de cristal....

Popularity factor: 18


Compared to Japanese, French is... English

Sure, written French. I understand that the spoken language, properly analysed, is actually quite exotic.


Granted! But fortunately I have no interest in speaking it. (Yet.)


With the Passé composé, Imparfait, Futur antérieur, Passé simple, and Passé antérieur, not to mention the conditional and subjunctive forms, written French (and its literary tenses)is turning out to be much more "exotic" than I bargained for.... I'm working through "French for Reading" this summer.
Check out www.verb2verbe.com


...and the "definite articles" are a lot less definite than I thought they'd be....
(How do you like them scare quotes?)


Ssh! Can't you see you're ruining my blustering anglocentric boorisme?!

What's "French for Reading" like so far?


The "French for Reading" book is pretty disappointing. It is really meant for people in the sciences, etc., who need to read French articles and get an idea of what they are about rather than humanities people and other grammar nerds who might have to do a strict translation of a passage from a French text in a dissertation or something someday. I was hoping for more of a reference-type book with the standard Big Charts, etc., that would help me crack French. The instructor is not 100% satisfied with it, either, but said there was no ideal textbook of its kind.

Maybe I'm just griping because I paid US$50 for it....


i love how old snotty english books quote french like they presume you know it. since all british (and therefore the entire world) should know this language.


Snotty old English books? This was one of my favorite tricks in university: read secondary materials in English translation, then find the original and quote the original without translation in my essays. But French was too easy to be effective tool of intimidation. So I'd use other languages, preferably without an English script.

I guess that makes me into a super-duper snotty old Englishman.


i love how old snotty english books quote french like they presume you know it

I'm reading one of those now. And on Japan, too - Morris's The World of the Shining Prince. I'm sure some here have read it. Not all that old, either.

«'...le katagae', writes M. Frank (op. cit., p. 55), 'n'avait pas seulement pour but ... de tourner l'inderdiction de se déplacer.... Il avait également pour but d'écarter les interdictions ... concernant le "viol de la terre", l'accouchement et nombre d'autres travaux ou activités sans rapport nécessaire avec l'idée d'un déplacement.'» Admittedly that's in a footnote. (A lot of unnecessary Latin tags in the text, though. And another footnote, about medical science, closes with «For details, and a Latin translation, see R.H. van Gulik, Sexual Life in Ancient China, p. 122 ff.».)


Haha! I thought I was the only one who did that, Denske.

My favorite example of that particular snotty oldness is when they put the earthy bits in Latin. No doubt it served as a useful incentive back when all young scholars were expected to learn the language. I think the version of the Kojiki they have on Sacredtexts.com is like that.


I find it especially funny when academic books on Chinese have Chinese sources translated into English but have French ones in the original French.

Ian Myles Slater:

One of the reasons for using "the decent obscurity of a learned language" for "earthy" topics in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was just avoiding prosecution. Latin seems to have been the favorite for "serious" writing.

For example, the Wilson and Griffith translations of the Rig Veda resorted to this from time to time. Griffith not only tucked away some passages in an Appendix, but even used Wilson's Latin version, further disclaiming responsibility!

Sir Richard Francis Burton sometimes defied this convention; possibly one reason that some of his collaborators preferred to remain silent partners. But even he would often "translate" into Italian, or technical-sounding rare (or perhaps coined) English words borrowed from the classical languages.

R.H. van Gulik, or his publisher, may have decided to be safe, rather than sorry; possibly on "advice of counsel."

The whole practice had weird permutations in early volumes of the Loeb Classical Library, where, of course, the source was already in a classical language. So "racy" passages of Greek were translated into Latin on the facing page. But Latin originals would not be rendered into Greek, but turned into French (or, sometimes, Italian, if memory serves).

The logic in this case, other than it being an appeal to class prejudice, has always escaped me.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Dorothy L. Sayers would sometimes turn fairly innocuous phrases into French, to make a passage sound "naughtier" than it actually was, and otherwise include little jokes about the role of French in English education, and its social function. Mostly in the Peter Wimsey stories, I think, and perhaps not at all in the stories about Montague Egg, who was a "commercial traveler," and less likely to run into that particular sort of pretentiousness -- except in conjunction with the wines he sold, of course.

Some of the middle-class and most of the upper-class males in the stories have pretensions to speak French well, but the French are always astonished to find someone who actually does. In "Clouds of Witness," honest Inspector Parker was refreshingly blunt about his limited command of French. But he turned out to be able to read it, albeit slowly, when he realizes that the victim was obsessed with "Manon Lescaut," a book with which he was himself unfamiliar.

Lord Peter himself was portrayed as fluent in French, German, and Italian, and apparently Spanish, and very accomplished in Latin and Greek. Whereas his older brother, the Duke of Denver, not only "couldn't write a passionate love letter in French to save his life," but seems to have a limited command of English as well.


Just be thankful that William the Conqueror succeeded in 1066. He took a load off of your vocabulary pallette.


If you think continental French is too close to English, you should stay away from Canadian French, which picks up such interesting calques as "Bienvenue!" for the North American "You're welcome."

On the other hand, stop signs in Quebec say "Arret," unlike France, where (in accordance with EU directives) they say "Stop."

On nontranslation, I've seen a libretto for Orff's _Catulli Carmina_ that simply omits part of the Orff-written Latin introduction. The singers start at the top describing their lovers' eyes, then mouths, and then they go untranslated for a while.



The thing is, van Gulik's book came out in 1961. I wouldn't have guessed that a Dutch sinologist would be translating a Sino-Japanese sex manual into Latin at so recent a date. (Perhaps he just reproduced an earlier translation.)

Ian Myles Slater:

R.H. van Gulik's "Erotic Colour Prints of the Ming Period" (1951) and "Sexual Life in Ancient China" (1961) are treated by Douglas Wile as pioneering works ("Art of the Bedchamber: The Chinese Sexual Yoga Classics...." 1992, pages 57-58).

"Erotic Colour Prints" had an edition of just fifty copies -- it looks as if everyone involved was being extremely cautious about legal exposure there.

So I think it is likely that any "earlier translation" of the "explicit" passages would still be van Gulik's own work. It may have been undertaken much earlier than publication, and, even in the 1950s, he may have had little expectation that it would see print in a modern language from a reputable publisher. On the other hand, he may have been asked to put it into Latin by the eventual publisher, the rather stodgy E.J. Brill.


Hey! That's Robert "Judge Dee" van Gulik, I note. Awesome. (And no, I don't really have much more to add... at least until I track down and check out some of what you guys have been quoting. Thanks!)

Ian Myles Slater:

Yes, the same R.H. van Gulik, diplomat from the Netherlands, etc., etc.!

His translation of "Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (Dee Goong An): An Authentic Eighteenth-Century Chinese Detective Novel" (1949; slightly corrected Dover edition, 1976) was the precursor to his own fiction about the actual Tang Dynasty official.

He explained in the appendix that he had translated only about the first half of the text (extant in manuscript and print copies), the remainder being (in his opinion) in a different, and inferior, style. And "while Part I is written with considerable restraint, in Part II there occur various passages which are plain pornography, e.g., where the relations of Empress Wu with the priest Huai-i are described." He seems eager to assure his readers, circa 1950, that nothing of legitimate interest has been lost.

The plot of the second portion, if connected to history at all, presumably overlapped with the account of "Magistrate Ti" in Lin Yutang's "Lady Wu" (1957), the narrator of which seems intent on repeating the juiciest scandals in "polite" language, but changes tone when dealing with the "upright judge," who is supposed to be a good example for dynastic loyalists.

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