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The Mad Splatter

I almost fell then and it feels good and let's run feel the wind see breath mist in the cold night air if everything was like this we'd be so happy and LAUGH...

Alan walks beside her, not daring to speak his thoughts aloud. They've been dating for only two weeks, he doesn't know her well enough, doesn't know if she likes to play, to run, to laugh, or if she's the more serious type - his heart pounds when she catches him looking at her. He smiles, slowly at first, then deeper when she returns the smile with just the corner of her mouth. Yes, he thinks, she could be the one for me.

And we'd run until the end of the world and jump off and fall forever until we went SPLAT on the rocks of time and sent our souls into the heavens to question whoever made this whole big world mess just what it was thinking and even the thought of that makes me SMILE like I haven't done since...

At the time, Alan later realised, he hadn't been feeling anything. He'd gone through the motions, and even his heart beat the way everyone said it would. He couldn't stand to be apart from her, he smiled when he saw her, he felt the loneliness those times they had to be apart, and all that had led him to the day he stood in front of her, she dressed in white, beauty falling like stars to the floor. The butterflies in his stomach were real as he said "I do". His heart was there, beating on his arteries with the rhythms of life as her slid the ring on her finger and felt eternity embrace him. But is the heart really the organ that feels?

Sing and dance and spin madly until we fall get up fall again let's not care if we get our precious clothes dirty covered in mud dust snow if it's cold we'll run until our lungs fill our hearts with fire if it's hot we'll strip and swim to Australia where it's even HOTTER let's just do it all until our bodies can't stand it and we COLLAPSE...

They won't talk like they used to. Only then would Alan be able to realise that they never talked like they used to; that they never had the sharing of heart and mind that he had always assumed. They had talked until the sun rose, and this meant they were in love; later they had fucked until the sun rose, and this too meant they were in love; they will sleep until the sun rises, and this must also mean they will be in love still. Alan will not believe in any of this anymore, and yet he will find himself torn. History carries enormous weight, whether true or not, and he will be unable to leave, yet unable to bear staying. At the last, the single moment that will allow him to make his decision will be his memory of the time he asked her to run with him.


( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 20th, 2010 01:13 am (UTC)
This is very moving. The imagery is so beautiful, the chaos of his thoughts a wonderful contrast. This may just be the best short story I've ever read. I really feel for him.
Feb. 20th, 2010 02:44 am (UTC)

I didn't know what to write, but I was going to write for this prompt, damnit. I didn't know if that future tense thing at the end was a good idea, but I'd already done past and present. And it really does make me smile that so many I don't knows made something you think is good, because I have a lot of I don't knows, and they don't seem to make anybody happy otherwise.
Feb. 20th, 2010 05:58 am (UTC)
I admit that I was a bit thrown by the future tense. I got what you were doing, but it was like a faint dip in the road reading it, not really out of place or against the flow, just something that snagged my attention.

I think art is nice because it doesn't suffer from the I Don't Knows: In fact, the more I Don't Knows you have, the more art speaks to people. To be honest, I almost had tears standing in my eyes by the end of this piece -- it so succinctly captures everything we all go through and hearkens to a lot of the I Don't Knows that are being thrown around here, too. It may not mean good things, but its perfect itself.
Feb. 20th, 2010 06:07 am (UTC)
Actually, to be more precise, now that I read it again, it was just the "They had talked; had fucked; will sleep" bit that got me, not the whole use of the future tense. Maybe easing out of the past tenses in that sentence (pluperfect in Latin, dunno if that's what we call it in English or not) like "they had talked; they fucked; they will sleep" smooths it out a bit. I don't know if that adheres to the sequence of tenses we use, either, though, because idiomatic English is so off from correct English, but I've been translating Latin all day so I'm probably overthinking it. And, also, probably not communicating any of this very well.
Feb. 20th, 2010 06:17 am (UTC)
I see what you mean; I'll mull over how to change it so it works. Ideally there'd be more future tense preceding that sequence so you know it's future tense, so the last bit isn't as much of a jolt.

English tenses are screwy. It possibly is called pluperfect in English, but my descriptive grammar skills are mostly non-existent. I find that in writing you focus more on prescriptive grammar. This has come back to haunt me, now that my Chinese-born colleagues know more about English grammar than I do!

However, it likely adheres pretty closely to the Latin form. Strictly correct English takes a large portion of its grammar from Latin - there was a time (when Latin was the language of all scholars) when Latin was considered the superior language and so English was modified to fit Latin's forms. This involved some fitting of square pegs into round holes, and later on people didn't always bother to stick to these "rules".

At least, English tenses share much more in common with Latin than with, say, Chinese. I think Latin is still harder, though (conjugation omg).
Feb. 20th, 2010 06:33 am (UTC)
Or! "later still they will sleep". I never think about grammar except when I have to, which is when I have a Latin test coming up, and Latin grammar only partially reflects English grammar, which is much more complicated, so you're not alone there. I don't think this sentence would have bothered me if I hadn't just been reviewing tenses. Besides, in teaching ESL, its the knowledge of idiomatic English that counts. ;) My Latin prof, who taught ESL in Russia, is full of stories about all the grammatically correct English he had to correct because English-speakers don't actually talk that way.

I do dig that Latin could be seen as superior. Its much more succinct and easy-to-understand from an outside perspective. I would not want to be learning English, now that I'm having to apply what I know about Latin to what I don't know about English and realizing that that doesn't work a lot of the time because we have way more irregularities.

Conjugation omg indeed! Its still a nightmare after two years. I don't know more than a few tenses by heart. In fact, today I compiled a list of every verb by conjugation, and then conjugated completely one verb from each conjugation for practice, and I was at it for hours and that's only four verbs. I do recall from my brief affair with Japanese that there's only one or two tenses, and most of the variation in verbs is because you use different forms depending on what sort of person you're talking to. Sounds pretty nice right about now.
Feb. 20th, 2010 10:56 am (UTC)
Your Latin professor is dead right - those same colleagues who know much more grammar than I do still make at least one mistake every time they say something. This is partly because the rules are so complex that unless you internalise them you'll spend ages constructing a single sentence (much like your four Latin verbs), and partly because the "rules" are often poorly understood even by some teachers.

As it turns out, the best way to internalise the rules is not to learn the rules, memorise them, then apply them repeatedly until it's become a part of your thought process; but rather, to practice using correct speech. Your brain figures out how things are put together largely on its own (although clarification from time to time helps, especially with adult learners), and as long as you're always using correct examples, it will do a good job of this. This is why most English speakers can speak perfectly well and still fail a grammar test horribly. The ideal, for ESL, is to impart that level of skill, which is unfortunately not the way most school systems work (rote memorisation of rules is much easier to examine in a test). Also, memorisation is boring, and you never learn boring things very well.

Most modern English grammar descriptivists acknowledge that the language does not actually fit exactly into the terms that are used, since the terms used all come from describing Latin grammar. I was reading a whole bunch of forum posts earlier by people much more knowledgeable than me (and had to stop because I blinked and two hours had gone, way interesting but too much of a time sink), and even something I thought was simple, like, say, the -ing form of verbs, turns out not to be. We teach -ing to the kids fairly early on, and I've been calling it present continuous (since that's what my colleagues called it, I had no idea :P), but -ing can actually be used in two other contexts, as a noun (I like running) and as an adjective (she is a loving wife). Neither of those are present continuous tense (or any tense at all, since the -ing verb no longer functions as a verb). Latin, it seems, has different forms for those cases, not a single form as in English.

I read a little bit of a crash course in Latin book once. The sheer volume of conjugations made me despair, since it's not just verbs but nouns that get conjugated. I wonder how well Chinese people wold learn Latin, since the relatively simple conjugation of English manages to confuse them! Chinese is completely non-conjugated, and for the most part dispenses with tenses entirely in common speech. It does have tenses - formed by adding additional words, rather than modifying words, which is just like Japanese - but if you mention a time, you don't need to further qualify the verb, the tense is implied. Chinese also lacks Japanese's different forms for speaking to different classes of people, but makes up for it with a bewildering array of articles for different classes of objects (basically, a ton of different ways to say "a").
Feb. 20th, 2010 04:02 pm (UTC)
Heh, we just discussed -ing in Latin this week. I still haven't wrapped my brain around how to translate the Latin gerunds, because one of the two ways that doesn't use -ing doesn't have an English equivalent, but my professor assured us all that we were better off doing it in Latin than in English so we shouldn't complain. I haven't looked at it since class, so I can't really try to apply it to English yet. But what you see isn't always what you get in Latin, either; those two forms might be different, but many of the subjunctive verb forms are identical to the future indicative forms and, like in the English -ing, that's just a thing you learn from context.

I do wish there were some sort of process we used in class other than rote memorization, but I guess since no one speaks Latin there isn't much else to do (though, I for one am all for reviving classical Latin, just for the sake of it). I do remember my very few Russian, Japanese and Chinese lessons (hell, even my Gaelic lesson) better than I remember my Latin because its so much easier to learn stuff (and keep it learned) in the context of a conversation. They bashed this over our heads in psychology, as if we all should become activists to change the way schools work. I'd sooner move to a country where they already know not to drill about the rules so much; Japan has come highly recommended in that regard, though for mathematics moreso than language. Since Latin is the only class I have that really works in that way -- history might all be memorization, too, but at least its a complete story that can be very interesting -- I figure I'll worry about how bad the education system if I ever have kids. (Hah, nevermind the fact that I'm going to be a teacher myself.)

The declension of the nouns isn't really as scary as it might look. I made up a song with all the case endings for every noun which, although I have to sing it every time I see an ending I don't recognize and that can take a while, works very well to remember them all. But since each case ending means a very specific thing (the book, of the book, to the book, etc), you start to see that when you read it without having to think about it too much after just a bit of practice (its an example of one of Latin's virtues, that it says in one word what English says in three or four). To me, its usually pretty obvious what a noun in a particular case is doing, which is a godsend because the verbs and their related constructions can really throw you for a loop. You're not really supposed to translate anything until you know what the verb is doing, because sometimes it changes everything, but having a guess in mind you can try to fit the verb into makes things a whole lot simpler when it does work. I *think* Russian nouns worked similarly, but I can't actually remember. In any event, declining nouns didn't seem strange to me when I started taking Latin, although it does now that I think about how many languages don't do it.

I noticed that about Chinese, the word the teachers always translated as "a" in a sentence wasn't the same a lot of the time. That's not so different from the gendered nouns in Spanish, French, German, etc, just that there are more than three.
Feb. 20th, 2010 08:19 pm (UTC)
It's awesome that you made up a song to remember the declensions. I think there are a few hanging around out there for the English irregular verbs; I should find one for my classes. That sort of stuff is great.

I can't speak for Japan, but China is all about rote memorisation, and tons of it, in every subject. At my school we have considerable freedom in that regard since we're a private institution and don't assess our students (we give them tests, sure, but at the end of the course everyone gets the same non-graded certificate regardless), but even there the students are made to memorise the books they're learning from. Several of the Chinese teachers are coming around in this regard, and fewer of the students are being required to memorise stuff. Public school, though? Memorisation, and lots of it. The kids here wake up, go to school, go to private schools or private tutoring, go home and do homework, and then get to sleep; and it's all memorisation, especially the political indoctrination class (yes, they really have it, it's compulsory for any university degree, and it involves memorising pretty much the entire published works of Chairman Mao, despite the reforms since he was in power...).

It's better back home, but I think they've gone too far in the other direction; kids aren't even being taught how to spell anymore. From what I hear, it's similar in other countries.

There must be some way to inject some fun into your Latin lessons. In fact, you've already done it, with your declension song. (If that song is to the tune of Yakko Warner's Countries of the World song then so, so much love.) Sometimes really simple, stupid stuff is surprisingly fun. I play lots of running games in my classes - you stick flashcards in various places around the room, and have the kids run to the right one depending on what you say - asking a question, giving them a word to make a sentence, so on. You could totally do that with verb tenses. Of course, that's all spoken; you can play hangman for written stuff, or even theatresports games like the one where every person collaborates to make a story by saying one word at a time. That would really exercise your Latin declensions and conjugations, making sure your word agreed with what was said before! You can also draw pictures and have people describe them using only Latin; and talk in Latin and draw the resulting description.

Even short, 10-minute sessions of this kind of stuff will help break up a lesson and make it less boring.

You can also write stuff in Latin - instead of spending all your time memorising, spend half it memorising and the other half writing what Caesar said to his food taster when he saw a hippopotamus. It can also help finding something in Latin that piques your interest, and spend a little time each day translating it into English - this is the equivalent of me learning Chinese songs. Learn how to recite some Latin work, even if you don't understand every word, and give everyone a rousing speech when the mood strikes you next.

Actually, in some ways the gendered nouns of French, German, etc. are even trickier than the Chinese articles (usually referred to as measure words, but I like to think of them as articles) - the Chinese measure words are usually consistent across a class of objects, even if there are a great deal many more classes, whereas gendered nouns are often gendered seemingly randomly (at least, that's the way it seemed to me).
Feb. 21st, 2010 06:32 am (UTC)
Yikes, what a nightmare about Chinese education. And I was miffed when I had to read the entire Constitution junior year, nevermind memorize it! But you're right, there's a lot of veering off in the western world; I remember drill after drill of "4x6=?" and "write this word out ten times" and being bored and fed up as all get out. On the other hand we had multiplication songs (3's can be fun, won't you sing along with me?) that are the only reason I can remember my multiplication tables, but it'd be impractical to make up spelling songs for every vocabulary word.... I'm not sure how you'd practice spelling other than in drills. Counting spelling/grammar as 10% of an essay grade doesn't really cut it.

Actually, the conjugation song I started WAS to the tune of Yakko's, hah! But I never finished it because there are just too many and I couldn't keep track of them all. The declension song is more a hodgepodge of melodies that reads more like a religious chant than anything, due to my tacking on new parts as I learned the declensions over the course of a year, but it works. The running games sound fun! I wish I was still a kid so we'd do stuff like that in my classes. I do try to think in Latin as much as I can, when I'm thinking about it, although since its just my thoughts I tend to get pretty sloppy and just accept the gist of what I mean as passable. I am also reading "Harrius Potter et Lapis Philosophae" (!!!) once it becomes available at the library, and the readings I have to do for class -- from Livy, on the foundation of Rome by Romulus and Remus -- are actually pretty entertaining. I even have a few songs in Latin, mostly from various European rock bands that are trying too hard to sound badass, but I'm not entirely sure that's a good approach because who knows how reliable their Latin is. I've picked apart a few of them but my vocab's still too slim to judge.

Yeah, good point, that was always a pain in the ass with Spanish. "Just memorize the article with the noun" is what we were told, but I got smart and thought, well, the masculine nouns tend to have this certain ending, and the feminine ones tend to have some other certain quality, only that was totally wrong in the long run and I never could get my articles straight later on. I think my favorite thing about Chinese (and Japanese, and Russian) is that it sounds so completely different. You have to do some things with your tongue that you never would have thought of to make sounds you didn't know existed... its a much more active creation process, giving every word a real organic depth. I could say piaoliang or pazhalsta all day just to feel how strange they are, it makes practicing a bit more interesting.
Feb. 21st, 2010 01:41 pm (UTC)
I've noticed that the somewhat alien sound of a language like Chinese greatly influences the way native speakers of that language say English. It's not that they can't make certain sounds, it's that a particular combination of sounds never, ever exists in their native language, so when asked to produce that sound, actually use a portmanteau of sounds they do know. English speakers do the same trying to speak Chinese, too, and I've seen many a Chinese person patiently trying to get an English speaker to say just a single word correctly.

That's mostly consonants, though. Vowels in Chinese are hard to get right, too, but they are in most languages. The romance languages all share the same consonants, pretty much, but every language, even historically close languages like German, requires rethinking how you say your vowels. This has a large bearing on how good your pronunciation of that language is. Latin is particularly difficult, as you have no native speakers; I gather that its vowels sound much like the Italian ones, though.

Actually, most of those games I was suggesting were ones you could play. You don't have to be a kid. ;) I find with my higher-level classes it gets harder to play games not because games are unsuitable at that level - indeed, the kids often want to play - but because the amount of material we have to cover makes it very difficult to work games in. I've been rethinking my approach recently, however, and manage to put games into even those classes. Not only that, whenever I give the kids a writing assignment, I try to encourage them to have fun with it - instead of writing about their families, I give them three words - last time it was moon, hamburger and dinosaur - and tell them to write me an interesting story using those words (and the grammar they'd been learning in that lesson, of course). There is evidence to suggest that even in adult classes, playing games (or at least having fun) is a highly effective learning method (what you said earlier about your psych class).

Straight drills are not necessary for memorising spelling, although they help, and should not be the only method. There are lots of helpful little rules about English that help you spell it; the same things I teach my kids when teaching them to read often work in reverse when trying to write. The sound "ay" for instance, is usually made by ay, ai or a_e (it also happens to be made by "eigh", but no rule is perfect). Rules like that you could fit into a song like your Latin ones.

The "10% of the mark is for spelling" I'm in favour of, actually. It's not a substitute for teaching spelling, but it does encourage the kids to think about it if they want a good grade, and to study it for themselves. In fact, if I were a university level instructor grading papers with too many spelling mistakes, I'd send the bad ones back, saying they hadn't written it in English and so the submitted paper was unacceptable as this is not a foreign language institute. Really, spelling shouldn't be hard. You should have written so much English by the time you get to high school that you have, in fact, been doing de facto spelling drills. A failure to write correctly at an early point is what will lead to poor spelling later on, which is why this whole "we don't need to teach spelling, we should focus on more creative things and allow their precious little minds to be free" attitude is bollocks.
Feb. 21st, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC)
Ecclesiastical Latin sounds a heck of a lot like Italian. Classical Latin has a lot of nuances in how you say the vowels depending on what's surrounding them and what type of work you're reading -- poetry vowels are pronounced totally different from prose vowels to create a nice rhythym that otherwise wouldn't be there, but we do the same thing in English a lot so that's nothing new. My Latin teachers (until this one, who is actually Nigerian) have all been Italian though, and if Latin is going to sound like anything, it may as well sound like Italian, I suppose.

I had trouble with the concept of tonal vowels, which was very heavily stressed in my few Chinese lessons. The impression I got was that a word (yao, for instance) means different things depending on which tone you use, with the most emphatic being "want to have" instead of "to have". Okay, so I get the concept, but its pretty hard to remember in practice. Not that the consonants aren't tricky, too, but at least there's less room for variation, even if you can't do it right off the bat.

We'll have to exchange game ideas when I start teaching, I like the idea of stories involving moons, hamburgers and dinosaurs! I'd write one about a hungry dinosaur that goes searching for a hamburger but winds up eating the moon instead and then has to make a new one out of stardust and--yeah. Fun! We did play games once or twice in a few of my psych classes, but I can't imagine that flying in any of my other courses. These are all very stuffy profs highly devoted to traditional academia.

I've run into a lot of people -- fellow students -- who hold that as long as you know what a word is *supposed* to be, it doesn't matter how you actually spell it. As much as I like Vampire Weekend's "Oxford Comma" song, I die a little bit every time someone tells me that. How can you get to college and still not know how to spell very basic things, or not even care about how you spell them? Seems like more teachers need to be throwing those badly spelled papers out the window. You're right, though: Childhood may be a fun time to foster creative notions, but its the only time to develop language skills in their prime and there's no excuse for skipping out on any aspect of that. I'd rather a smart kid than a bunch of macaroni paintings, anyway, but our pop culture has fostered this crazy notion about individual expression.... I am taking a history through film course right now, by the way, and once you start noticing all the subtle messages a film/show/commercial is trying to get you to accept beneath all the flash of the good-looking stars... it makes me not want to watch film anymore, because all of it (the mainstream stuff, anyway) reinforces all these totally off ideas about everything. Blegh.
Feb. 21st, 2010 05:17 pm (UTC)
That whole "nuances in how you say the vowels depending on what's surrounding them" thing took me ages to figure out in Chinese. See, one of the huge advantages you have when learning Chinese is that there is a phonic system, pinyin (helpfully written using the Roman alphabet, so it's easy for English speakers to read), that is absolutely regular. Certain letters (and in a few cases, because there aren't enough letters, groups of letters) mean certain sounds, period.

However, even a system as regular as pinyin has those stupid nuances. Some are exceptions, that are then discovered to not be exceptions when you understand what the letters in pinyin actually stand for. However, some vowels - notably O and U - take on noticeable differences in some situations. Those situations are limited, fortunately, and once you know all of those you can use pinyin to speak perfectly regular Chinese (although you still won't have a native speaker's cadence, stress, or understanding of word boundaries).

I've noticed English has similar nuances, particularly with the combination vowel-L-consonant (mold, gelding, etc.). Unlike some other words (like, say, worm), it's using regular vowel pronunciations, but the nuances will trip up a foreign speaker (from certain language bases, anway; it certainly throws Chinese speakers off).

The tones in Chinese aren't a matter of emphasis (except the fifth tone, which is always unstressed); it's purely a matter of whether the tone of your voice is rising, falling, or staying put. Certain tones aren't linked to certain kinds of meaning, either; no more than certain vowels in English indicate certain kinds of words. The word you gave, for example, yao, can mean, depending on the tone used: want, waist or bite. It will also have dozens more meanings (there are a lot of homophones in Chinese (and my hopes that this means this is a culture with a lot of puns in it seem to be true (I've already found a song with such a pun in it), although my literacy is not high enough to see most of them yet)), but those are the ones I know. I actually only know the correct tone for "want" and "bite" - it's important to be able to differentiate them because they're transitive verbs that can be used in the same situations. The "waist" meaning, however, is used in completely different contexts because it's a noun, so I don't actually know the correct tone for that, and herein lies Chinese's biggest secret: very often, the tones don't matter that much. Context is enough to differentiate different words.

If you want any degree of fluency you still need to understand the tones, naturally.

We will definitely have to exchange ideas about games in the future!

I can believe you about the movie thing. I've never really analysed films in depth, but coming across sites like TV tropes (stupid addictive time-sink that it is) and the occasional rant from a person who does analyse stuff pointing things out to me have shown me enough to know that Hollywood "values" are a special kind of screwy, and fairly uniform even with different directors, actors and screenwriters.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 12:25 am (UTC)
The "mind your tones!" story I've been told is something to do with the difference between the questions "can i ask you something?" and "can i have a french kiss?" hinging on the tone you use for the verb, but I can't remember the actual words for that one. Funny bit of trouble to get yourself into, though. I should probably get some sort of grammar supplement if I plan to continue my studies, 'cause while conversational practice is way more fun, I have been guessing at a lot of the constructs and I probably shouldn't let those ideas get too concrete in my head without checking them. The potential for puns is definitely a huge selling point, too!

Basically, the birth of Hollywood had a lot to do with shaping American ideals, dreams, etc back in the 1900's, pushing things into the mainstream that everyone wanted to believe but which weren't true at all, and although everything's become a lot less homogenized since then, due to it needing to be more far-reaching in the global market, you can still pick a lot of that stuff out. Its probably pretty useless to fight the ideas that guns and explosions are awesome, women are either hot or matronly, everything happened just like in Braveheart, etc (just like wondering if cell phones are the bane of society with texting and pic-taking all the time: Even if they are, no one's going to stop using them), but its still unnerving to realize how many people are going to take whatever message it is to heart. Foreign films are super nice in that regard, because not only are they technically more sophisticated, and so prettier to look at, a lot of the messages go right over my head. :)
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:50 am (UTC)
"Wen" is the word you're looking for, and yes, the tone is indeed the difference between "ask" and "kiss". However, one's a noun, the other's a verb (it's the noun form of kiss, the verb "to kiss" is "qing"), so the potential for confusion isn't quite as bad as it's made out to be - but yes, it is there. Zhou Shan warned me about that one herself, not something she normally does. It is possible to get into even more trouble with that word, too, because "qing" is also, depending on tone, the word for please. The sentence "qing wen yi xia" - can I ask you something - could, if you got the tones wrong, be interpreted as "give me a little kiss" (the combination of "qing" and "wen" also means kiss).

I think part of the problem is the blurring of the line between fantasy and reality. I do happen to think that explosions are awesome, so long as they're kept on-screen. I love a movie with lots of things blowing up. Guns are cool too, on-screen, but I'd never touch one in real life, and I quite passionately disagree with anyone in any country who thinks it's a good idea for everyone to be walking around carrying them.

It is very easy to miss a lot of the subtleties in foreign films, depending on how good the subtitles are. I've started to notice it now that I can occasionally understand what they're saying in some of the kung-fu movies. Also, some things will never be translated properly, because they'd require an essay-length exposition about the background behind the phrase. I was reminded of this recently watching Shrek with the Chinese teachers (bored, no classes, so I watched a movie in the TV room) - you know the "Welcome to Duloc!" puppet sing-along? The previous line is "keep off the grass", so when the puppets say "wipe your..." and stop, every single native English speaker knows exactly which word goes there, because it rhymes, right? Then the puppets go and say "face" instead. Now, I can't read enough Chinese to understand the subtitles (I'll have to try watching the Chinese dub, I might be able to understand it better), but I'll bet you they're a literal translation, and don't have the poetic set-up hinting at the missing word. In this particular example, the puppets provide a visual clue to the missing word, but I'll bet a lot of similar stuff goes right over our heads due to those kinds of translation problems.

This, incidentally, is why I continue to marvel at why Asterix is so damn funny in English.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:40 pm (UTC)
Oh, God, don't get me started on that. Americans are idiots. They're all, "outlaw guns?! Then what the hell am I gonna protect myself from all them crazies with?!" Uh, what about, what the hell are all them crazies going to attack you with if they can't get guns? So much about American politics... if you just *look* at the statistics on other countries that have these policies in place, it's pretty obvious that it's a good idea. But noooooo. Grr.

That is exactly the problem, though. Nobody thinks too critically about what they're seeing, so you start getting people with all the wrong ideas about war, spies, gangsters, ethnic groups, etc. Oh, those torture-porn films were the worst of the lot. Although I don't think film should be censored, like some people do, I am for once in agreement with the conservatives that those attitudes are not good ones.

Anna always complained that what the actors were speaking in Russian was never the same as the subtitles, something I was able to pick up on in some films even with my meager Russian vocabulary, and I noticed the same thing in Latin with The DaVinci Code. The Last Samurai's subtitles were less blatantly off, but you do miss a lot of the cultural intonations of just what a word means, especially since Japanese tends to have some very confused or extensive meanings in just one syllable.

Ah, Shrek. Good times. They say humor is hard to translate, something I never encountered until I took Russian (my first non-Western language): There was some joke involving an airplane and a sorcerer that was just plain bizarre. The Dulac song is way more transparent, so that's good, but it wouldn't be half as entertaining if it didn't fit together so perfectly.

Hah, I'd chalk it up to French and English being similar enough, or just really damn good translators. There was some Swedish comic Simon introduced me to way back when that impressed me with the English version's ability to turn a good phrase, something a lot of the American comics I've read can't do.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:53 pm (UTC)
Oh man, I have a workmate who likes the Saw movies. She was going on about having seen number 6, I think they're up to now, and I got out of it that two people have to mutilate themselves to survive, one of them wins, and survives, and the other doesn't. Didn't the original involve an x-ray of someone's head with a key, but they didn't know whose head it was? At least that has possibility for interesting psychological development aside from the torture porn, but this latest one seems to have dropped that facade.

Actually, when I was in Shenzhen last week, I visited Zhou Shan's family, and someone put on one of the Saw movies. I went into another room to play on the internet. ;) Her sister came in to tell me that there was a movie on, in English, and I said yes, I know what that movie is, not interested. Funny that I could figure out what the movie was without having seen it and before it got to the nasty bits. It certainly has entered pop culture in a big way.

The Chinese kung-fu movies are the same; the English subtitles very rarely match what they're actually saying. The most noticeable differences are when the same phrase gets translated two different ways. This is actually good translation, though, not bad, because they're doing it how it would have been written in English, rather than slavishly following the original language. I notice it most with something like "hao", which is a dead simple sentence - a single word, usually used for expressing assent or approval - which will usually get translated a different way each time, depending on the previous sentence. I've seen "hao" translated as "fine", "that's alright with me", "good job", or "excellent". Nothing wrong with this, since compared to English, Chinese is much more fond of brevity and repetition; so English translations should be more verbose, since it's the flavour of the story you want to keep, not the flavour of the language. If you really think that the opposite should be true, that exact translations are better, then you need to watch some of the older kung fu movies (or even the older non-kung-fu Chinese movies) with subtitles. Most of them have fairly literal, and hence incomprehensible, translations.

Some jokes do cross language boundaries - I've successfully told jokes to Chinese people before - but it depends on a great deal. Puns will very rarely translate (you have to be pretty lucky for it to work), and require a fair bit of fluency before someone taking the language as a second language will start picking up on them. Jokes relying on pop-culture references will generally not translate unless the meme referenced is itself is already present, and jokes relying on historical references are even less likely (few people bother learning other countries' histories). Word play and cultural references are the obvious ones to not translate well, but there's another class of joke, which I suspect your airplane and sorcerer joke falls into, that relies not on cultural references but on the kind of mind shaped by the culture in question. Some people just find different kinds of things funny. It's obvious even in the English-speaking world; even if you take the accents away you get a pretty clean distinction between American and British humour.

Part of what impressed me about Asterix's translation is that so many of the jokes are puns, so they can't have been present in the same form in the original - English doesn't have nearly enough French loanwords in it for that. Actually, it's better translated than the movie. The Asterix live-action movie was apparently quite faithful to the comic, but I didn't think it was very funny at all. Of course, it was in French with subtitles, so it was obviously not translated as well.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 09:38 pm (UTC)
I saw (and enjoyed) the first Saw film -- it did involve self-mutilation and some pretty sickening deaths, but it was very definitely a good psychological thriller; no ending has ever blown my mind in quite the same way. (The x-rayed key must be in one of the later ones.) But after the second one, which pretty much went for as much shock value as possible, I lost interest. Do we really need to see all that, especially if it doesn't have a point?

Haha, I do recall that about old kung-fu films. But then, a lot of the time, you don't watch them for the scintillating dialogue anyway. Latin suffers from the same thing; the reason we're all having issues with our translations is because one Latin word might mean ten things in English and which one, even given you remember them all, are you supposed to pick?

You know, I have been watching the British The Office the last few weeks, and it is pretty amazing how differently the pilot episodes of the two versions (which are pretty much identical) go over. I suppose it probably has to do with the archetypes of the characters, which are only slightly different... but it changes everything. I just can't get into it as much.

Subtitles are very limiting, actually, so I guess its all very understandable. We'd almost always have to paraphrase our projects in film class when subtitling them and leave out some stuff to get it all to fit at the right speed. So, fair enough if its not as funny, I suppose.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 03:48 am (UTC)
I think the basic premise of Saw is an examination of the nature of the human animal in desperate circumstances, and that is a fair enough basis for a film. When you can't even be bothered making a new name, though, and call the film Saw 2 - the sole innovation being to put the "2" into the advertising material in a clever way - then you have stopped making interesting cinema and started making porn. Sequels to other movies are the same, but "the sequel has more things go BOOM!" is less disgusting to me than "the sequel has more internal organs being removed by their owners!"

Knowing which word to pick comes with understanding the original properly. I get that often with Chinese, too, since it has the same ten-meanings-for-one-word deal fairly often, and it's only by experience that you learn to figure out which one is meant. In fact, translation by dictionary is very difficult, because you'll often pick the wrong word - translation dictionaries are pretty stupid, generally, and often list the least common meanings first for some incomprehensible reason. If someone who knows the language teaches you, though, you'll often be unaware for a long time that the other meanings exist and so have no problem. In general, translation requires understanding the sentence as a whole, and if you can do that, then finding an equivalent English one shouldn't be too hard.

I had the opposite problem with The Office - I could never really get into the American one, having seen the British one first.

Sometimes I've seen subtitles go by very fast indeed, and other times I've seen them do just what you describe, paraphrase. Sometimes, too, the subtitles' meaning is out of sync with the speech - I've seen movies where the subtitles say something, and it's only by the time the next subtitle comes up that the characters say it themselves. I'm not surprised really, sometimes re-ordering makes more sense for a translation.
Feb. 20th, 2010 06:23 am (UTC)
Also, in English as I understand it past perfect (I found out what it was called using google, not my brain ;) and simple past tense (had done vs. done) are largely interchangeable, so I'm not sure if that will help with that sentence. Actually, now that I look at it, that sentence is a tense nightmare. Rose/rose/rises should also be changing (to emphasise the change in tense with each part) but that means I need a "will rise" or perhaps "risen". My god, it's full of stars.
Feb. 20th, 2010 06:42 am (UTC)
Yeah, we don't really care what we do with our hads. But, oh dear God, now that you point it out: A tense nightmare is an understatement. I was just imagining what this would look like in Latin, where hads *do* count.... I can't do it. Had talked/had risen, fucked/rose, and will talk/rises sounds good to me, but I'm not sure that's exactly adhering to the rules either. But then, those are the Latin rules, and since this isn't a part of my Latin homework, but is creative prose instead, it doesn't really matter. XD I can wrap my brain around the sequence of tenses concept in one two-clause sentence, but that's like three two-clause sentences which are all dependent on each other and I think my brain might melt.
Feb. 20th, 2010 11:12 am (UTC)
Actually, I think it's worse than you describe. Although the sentences are not exactly dependent (except for that one "later") - they just require symmetrical construction or it won't be as pretty - each sentence is more like three or four clauses, with the second fragment (don't know if that's one clause or two, I think just one - or is that a clause containing a subclause? I don't know how grammar handles recursion) depending on the first fragment (which does have two clauses), and all the clauses requiring matching (or at least compatible) tenses.

Out of interest, this is a rewrite using strict tense agreement (also with other changes, solely for grammatical clarity and symmetry):

They had talked until the sun had risen, and this had meant that they had been in love; later they fucked until the sun rose, and this too meant that they were in love; still later they will sleep until the sun rises, and this too must mean they will be in love.

I think I actually like it like that.

Holy crap. I just imagined doing that to every sentence in a novel. I'm really glad I like writing short stories!
Feb. 20th, 2010 04:13 pm (UTC)
Haha, I don't blame you! I think I tend to steer away from complicated sentences like that one (especially using more than one tense) in my writing, but the fact that I never had to think half this hard about anything I've reread makes me wonder if I've either missed something or am not taking enough risks. :D

That does sound good to me. I did totally disregard the ", and this..." parts of the sentences in my above analysis, which is indeed far uglier than I had envisioned. The second fragment is a clause containing what is in Latin an indirect statement, "meant that [indirect statement]", but who knows what it is in English; I'd call it a clause and subclause. You're just clause-happy all up in there.
Feb. 20th, 2010 08:31 pm (UTC)
I'd never even have thought about it myself if you hadn't mentioned it; I'm positive I've never put this much thought into a single sentence before. It is true that it has unusual properties; it mixes tenses for one, which is traditionally a no-no even within a paragraph unless you're being careful. I like it the more I look at it, actually, for all that it's being somewhat experimental, it's actually following a couple of classical elements of rhetoric: the rule of three (three things in a list is about the ideal number), symmetrical constructions (often avoided by authors who, in what I think is mostly an English-language disease, dislike using the same word too close to another instance), and it acts as a summary for the story as a whole, both in terms of tense usage and content. Plus, the clauses are happy. :D

So in some respects, it's getting so much attention because it is (inadvertently) a key sentence, and because it reflects the choices made when writing the story itself (particularly the tense thing). It's mostly accidental, but you may have a point about taking chances, too - I was taking chances, especially with future tense. You can't get away with future tense very often.
Feb. 21st, 2010 01:43 am (UTC)
Well, your subconscious is genius then, for figuring all those neat things into one sentence. One of the things they really emphasize in the theater is that to stand out you have to take risks, and I don't see why that shouldn't apply to other art forms as well. Not only is it more challenging to pull off, it is more satisfying and more memorable to have done so.
Feb. 21st, 2010 02:38 am (UTC)
My subconscious just knows the rules, and not half as well as some of the truly great authors. I think it's the same internalisation process I was talking about with language - if you have to think about all the rules of style when you're writing, it will be painfully slow. It's much better to not have to think about the rules and have words come out in the right order.

It certainly does apply to other art forms. Safety is comfortable, and risks are exciting - for the audience as well as the artist.
Feb. 21st, 2010 05:57 am (UTC)
That's true enough. I always hated that about literature courses... sure, its neat to see all the sneaky things that appear in someone's prose, from the little grammatical tricks to the more overt symbols, but most of the time I'd sit there wondering whether or not the author actually knew what they were about or if we're going out of our way to find things that weren't meant to be there at all. Its kind of heartening to imagine that they just got lucky.
Feb. 21st, 2010 06:49 am (UTC)
Sometimes I'd think that way about literature analysis, too. It seems implausible that the author deliberately put so much cleverness into every sentence. I think often it is just luck - one-hit wonders are just as common in the literary world as in the musical world - but there are truly great authors who are successful too regularly to put it down to luck.

Even luck can be explained in part by the author having internalised the rules. It's like painting. Even the greatest painters alive (or dead) did not spend every second thinking about the mechanics of the bristles or the viscosity of the paint - practice has taught them all they need to know so that if they want to paint there, they paint there, without thinking further than that. Writing is the same (although it's much easier to edit writing) - you tell your mind where to create and it creates.

All of this is simple technique. Technique, just like in drawing (or dancing, or playing the piano) is a skill honed through practice. No matter how careful or daring an amateur piano player is, he won't be able to match the professional's agility and confidence in the medium. This applies to aesthetics, too - ask an amateur and a professional painter to paint a single line with the same brush, and the professional's will just look better (due to control of the brush, knowledge of how the medium works, muscle memory). It's the same with writing. Writing is often thought to be less dependent on skill and more dependent on pure creativity because it, along with music composition, are the only two arts I can think of that do not require mechanical skill - but composition is still a skill, nevertheless.

On the flip side, like other arts, writing also has a large creative component independent of the skill. Although a novice pianist cannot match the technical skill of the professional, he might still have an idea or two for a really great song, better than any the professional has ever played. Likewise, someone who's never written a book before might have a brilliant idea for a book that would put The DaVinci Code to shame (not hard in my estimation, since I'm not a fan, but my point remains).

Still (except in the modern art world), no matter how great your idea, you need technical skill to bring it to light. This is why the technicians are praised above the creators, because the biggest secret in all the arts is that ideas are cheap. Everyone has ideas. You need skill and dedication to put an idea down in a concrete form, though, and even greater skill to do it in a persuasive manner. Not that ideas aren't important - they're vital - but it's what you do after the idea occurs that really matters.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 12:40 am (UTC)
A game designer friend of mine harps on that point all the time: So many people come to him with ideas but no skill, who do they think they are?, and so on. It helps explain why some of the most simple, even inane ideas become so popular, though that doesn't make me any more happy about the Stephanie Meyers or Dan Browns of the world having their own cults.

I never really thought of writing in terms of the other arts before... I tend to approach it like acting, getting myself into the mindset of whatever character, but I never really paid much attention to technical skill in either discipline. I just let it happen and hope its passable, heh. I sort of resent the distinction we all make between mechanical skills like tennis and art and things like writing and logic. There was really no avenue in school to practice writing the way athletes practiced every day. Just like muscle memory, your brain's never going to adapt to and smooth over the process without rigorous training! Bah.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:22 am (UTC)
Exactly, it needs rigorous training just like physical disciplines. Would someone think they have a chance at an Olympic medal (or even getting to the Olympics in the first place) unless they sweat for it, train every day? Then why would they think they can write a masterpiece without the same kind of discipline and training? To be honest, I think a lot of people see writing as an easy out. Although you need skill to be good at it, pretty much everyone can do it without even trying, unlike, say, ice skating.

It must really annoy your friend; the problem is at its worst in the games industry, even more so than in writing - although writing has its fair share of the "don't steal my precious idea!" crowd, at least they don't go around assuming someone else will write their idea for them and then give them all the credit. A lot of people seem to think that if they spend a few minutes coming up with this really great idea for a game that's like Silent Hill crossed with Lemmings, that they should then share half the profits with the guy who spends five years (about the length of time for a modern production, and that includes a full time, not just one guy) actually making the damn thing. If you're passionate about your idea, go develop some skill already, because no-one got to the Olympics with a great idea. Look at Eddie the Eagle - he busted his ass for a dream.

Although I do wish there was an automatic game creation program that you could feed an idea into and get a game back - not for fame and glory, but just because I want to play it myself without having to put so much time and effort into making it!

Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
Haha, I hear you there. I did enough module-tinkering back when I was on my NWN kick to build a healthy respect for the people that finish those projects, and a fair amount of impatience with my own. I'd rather write my ideas, 'cause after eight or so hours at it I'd have a lot more to show for it. :S

I did have this one guy who had finished a novel (which was actually a pretty good one) ask me to do some editing and rewriting, things I love to do anyway, in exchange for putting my name on the book, too, if anyone picked it up. I thought that way too nice, but then I got the manuscript: No punctuation or capitalization at all, no quotation marks around dialogue, no paragraphs, a ton of misspellings... it was a nightmare! I thought, if you're going to go to all the trouble writing a book, why...? Yeesh. I told him that an editor was more than a punctuation-ist and if he really wanted it to happen he could do that part himself. Yikes.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:57 pm (UTC)
Most people would rather write the ideas. It's much easier. :D

Actually, it was at the point a while ago, for me, when I realised I would never be making any of the games I was thinking up, but I continued to write down ideas anyway, fully realising that I was doing it just because I liked to and these games would never become reality. I've started coding again after a long dry spell, though, so who knows; the other day I even downloaded the tools for making phone-based games, so I might even try my hand at that (I recently acquired a new phone, and it can run java games, so naturally I'm tempted to tinker).

It's just as well you gave the book back to the guy, and not just because of the state of his manuscript. Most editors wouldn't do the work for royalties, let alone a measly name on the cover, even if the author offered, because who knows how much the royalties will be? No, editors get paid a fee, just like most jobs. Writing, like the music industry (renting a studio, paying sound engineers and producers), requires that you put cash up front before you get any returns. I have a friend in Australia - actually, now that I recall where I met her, you know her too. Remember Badcat from Elftown? She's an editor (part-time, right now she's got some cool-sounding archaeology job that I know little about), and while she used to edit a couple of magazines for free (since the magazines were run on a volunteer basis), she charged for editing books, even for friends.

It was cool to watch her work, by the way. She might be somewhat crazy outside of work, but she knows her shit when it comes to editing (I saw her working a couple of times when she was editing a friend's book - and yes, this friend had paid her to do it). She had a spreadsheet to keep track of continuity and all sorts of tricks I'd never have thought of.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 10:20 pm (UTC)
I wish I had a java-friendly phone. Perfect for bus trips, waits between classes, and DS-less individuals.... I always enjoyed coding, although the codes I got to use in-module were pretty much as basic as it gets (not much trust in the newbies, I guess). No good at math, but there's a really satisfying preciseness to it all. Like a puzzle, but in your mind so you don't have to worry about losing the pesky pieces under the couch. If I'da discovered it sooner, I might've considered programming as a study.

Badcat! She was always fun. Jealous of the cool-sounding archaeology job, although as much as I'd love to go to work dressed like Indiana Jones, archaeology isn't usually half as fun as it sounds (I currently have an assignment to identify and catalogue a handful of old Roman coins. Oh boy.). Neat, though. Spreadsheets, actually, don't surprise me (although that is an idea I'll have to implement). BC was horribly, almost embarrassingly, well-organized about the Insult Arena. Co-Minioning was totally a race to see who could do it first and best, 'cause if she beat you to the chase there'd be nothing left for you to do!
Feb. 24th, 2010 03:12 am (UTC)
It helps to be good at math for programming, but it's not vital. What you really need to be good at is logic (which is a branch of math), especially boolean logic, and you also need to be good at structured problem-solving. This is why I prefer working on smaller, easier things these days, because on the more ambitious ones the structure overwhelms me.

Badcat had a pretty good idea of what it really involves, and she was still excited about it. She used to take kids out for fake digs when she worked for the Medieval Abbey in Brisbane; I never got to go on one of those, it was too far away (and I'm a public transport person, not a car person). And yes, Badcat is one of the most organised people I've ever encountered. She has a day planner and all that, and it's always full - she tends to know about a month or so in advance what she'll be doing pretty much every day. She tends to organise the people around her as a result, because she's telling them what they'll be doing next week. Might be annoying in a less awesome person, but she'd be talking about when the next cake party or trip to climb the Glasshouse Mountains was, so nobody minded in the least.
Feb. 24th, 2010 06:11 am (UTC)
Yep, it was because of my Logic course in college that I took an interest in programming. A lot of the stuff I encountered still goes over my head, and I'd never have the patience to crank out a finished product, though. Enough to do some minor supplementary stuff -- oh, that chair can't be sat in? Quick fix! -- for an existing project.

Aw, now that sounds fun. I went on a few fake digs back in the day, but I never found anything. Really, anything with kids sounds fun. I'm a bit like that myself -- not so much with the people around me, though if you wanna make plans to chill you better do it well in advance! (I just get uncomfortable when stuff comes up unexpectedly and wind up putting it off, even if it wouldn't take much to prepare for it; I'm working on accepting more spontaneity.) Definitely sounds like an Instigator of Awesome Things, though, a quality we could all afford!
Feb. 24th, 2010 07:31 am (UTC)
That's the way I started programming, back when I was a kid. I'd type in a program from a magazine (see how far back we're going here? :D), which itself would teach you a couple of things (like how to tell an O from an 0, because the difference became pretty important), run it, and after it was working I'd mess around with it to see what changing it did. Do that long enough, and you learn enough to copy bits of what you've done before to make your own program, and so on.

I'm the complete opposite. Jessie's organisation worked well for me because I never made plans, so if she said "hey, you want to go play laser strike from midnight to sunrise out at the Sunshine Coast next weekend?" then I'd say "hell yeah!" without needing to check my calendar. (That trip was awesome, by the way. Lots of people came, we booked out the entire laser strike venue, including the arcade machines, and we played until the sun came up, then went to the beach and messed around some more.) I'm pretty incapable of making plans further ahead than, say, a day or two. I forget too quickly, and I've double-booked myself more than once because of that, so I prefer to just do whatever I feel like doing that day. It gives me a lot of flexibility, but it makes it difficult to do things you really do need to get organised for.
Feb. 24th, 2010 02:38 pm (UTC)
Wow, that does sound fun! Maybe if I knew someone like that, I'd be up for more. Usually its "hey, I know its 10 PM, but I just got off work and do you wanna go see a movie/go out to eat?" "Even though I have to get up early? Hell no, that doesn't sound that fun." If I rely on the whatever I feel like doing approach, I won't wind up doing anything, hah, but I respond pretty well to the idea of "have to". I never used to be this way, though, just since college; I guess I have so many projects, its all much less stressful to have everything delegated ahead of time.
Feb. 24th, 2010 03:51 pm (UTC)
I usually say yes to those kinds of things. I even agreed to go out to the clubs one time even though I had to get up early for work the next day. Bad idea. I haven't done that again. :D I have, however, done random things if I know I can catch up on sleep the next day, or have already had enough sleep.
Feb. 24th, 2010 11:15 pm (UTC)
Hah! Usually going in to work is bad enough, nevermind after a nighttime outting. That's something you have to make extra worth it!
Feb. 17th, 2013 02:14 am (UTC)
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