Thursday, March 05, 2015

A classic error

One of the things you learn as an instructor is how to write tests - and for multiple-choice tests, that includes writing the distractors - the wrong answers. Here's a question from a Facebook quiz that illustrates one of the classic errors:

Do you see it? The grammar forces you to the right answer. "A ten thousand words" and "a unlimited words" aren't possible English phrases. The 'a" belongs with the answer, not as part of the question.

(I certainly have quibbles with the quiz, though: since when is "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" a proverb, let alone a "most important" one?)

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

A magical ride

I'm sure you saw the "baby weasel takes a magical ride on a woodpecker" photo. (In case you haven't, here it is, and here's the story.)


Of course, it wasn't a fairy-tale, magical ride; the (fully adult) weasel was trying to kill the wood- pecker to eat it. This was a last-ditch effort by the bird to escape, and when it landed near the photographer the weasel was apparently distracted so the bird managed to fly away sans unwanted passenger. Whether it survived is unknown.


However, the Internet of course began adding to the photo. And of course we got this one:
shirtless Putin on weasel on woodpecker












But my personal favorite is this one:
Netanyahu holding picture of shirtless Putin on weasel on woodpecker

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The leader of the free world

On the flip side, a Quinn Hillyer column at the National Review:
The leader of the free world will be addressing Congress on Tuesday. The American president is doing everything possible to undermine him.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a nation surrounded by enemies, a nation so small that it narrows at one point to just 9.3 miles. Yet, in a world where the Oval Office is manned by someone openly apologetic for most American exercises of power; and where Western Europe’s economy is enervated, its people largely faithless, and its leadership feckless; and where Freedom House has found “an overall drop in [global] freedom for the ninth consecutive year,” the safeguarding of our civilization might rely more on leaders who possess uncommon moral courage than on those who possess the most nukes or biggest armies.

Right now, nobody on the world stage speaks for civilization the way Netanyahu does.

...

Benjamin Netanyahu of course speaks first for Israel, but he speaks also for you and for me, for decency and humaneness, and for vigilance and strength against truly evil adversaries. Congress, by inviting him, is wise. Obama, by opposing him, is horribly wrong. And the civilized world, if it ignores him, will be well-nigh suicidal.
This is what Ed Kilgore says about that:
Throughout the last presidential cycle as just about every Republican presidential candidate not named Ron Paul called for outsourcing U.S. Middle Eastern policy to Israel, I kept wondering how these super-patriots justified explicitly subordinating our national interest to any other country’s. Hillyer goes a step further in basically pledging allegiance to a foreign prime minister and encouraging others to do the same.

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2 Comments:

At 9:09 AM, March 04, 2015 Anonymous Picky had this to say...

I wonder how many nations are so large that they do not at some point narrow to 9.3 miles.

 
At 12:39 PM, March 04, 2015 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

The U.S. narrows to much less than that in a number of places.

 

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A Common Interest

For both president -- Prime Minister Netanyahu and the hawks in Congress, mostly Republican, the primary goal is to undermine any potential negotiation that might settle whatever issue there is with Iran. They have a common interest in ensuring that there is no regional force that can serve as any kind of deterrent to Israeli and U.S. violence, the major violence in the region. And it is—if we believe U.S. intelligence—don’t see any reason not to—their analysis is that if Iran is developing nuclear weapons, which they don’t know, it would be part of their deterrent strategy. Now, their general strategic posture is one of deterrence. They have low military expenditures. According to U.S. intelligence, their strategic doctrine is to try to prevent an attack, up to the point where diplomacy can set in. I don’t think anyone with a grey cell functioning thinks that they would ever conceivably use a nuclear weapon, or even try to. The country would be obliterated in 15 seconds. But they might provide a deterrent of sorts. And the U.S. and Israel certainly don’t want to tolerate that. They are the forces that carry out regular violence and aggression in the region and don’t want any impediment to that.

Noam Chomsky via azspot.net

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Week in Entertainment

DVD: Several episodes from another good German series, Der Kommissar und das Meer (The Inspector and the Sea) about a German ex-pat working as a cop on a small island in Sweden. His wife is played by a rather well-known Danish actress named Paprika Steen. I know it's no different than, say, Pepper Binkley, but it strikes me as funny every time I see her name.

TV: The Mentalist - I am going to miss them, but I hate that they went out with a damned super-serial-killer-with-a-grudge-against-Jane arc. That was the worst part of the earlier seasons and they got away from it lately. I actually put off watching the last two eps out of this fear, but then the guy proved (a) not to be too smart and then (b) got comprehensively caught. So, it ended well. I was glad to see Van Pelt and Rigsby again, and it's funny how everyone is Episcopalian on TV - at least when they get married. :-) Modern Family - Luke's hair is awesome. The Middle - saddish episode about Darren and funny one about Weird Ashley. Agent Carter had a terrific season ending. And the final shot of Peggy on the bridge was genuinely moving.

Read: Karen Lord's wonderful The Best of All Possible Worlds. A very different book to Redemption in Indigo, an episodic low-key romance built on the destruction of a world, but equally wonderful.

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As I tell my students...

You have to watch those endings. The grammar tells you what is happening.

These photos are from Vox's photo-essay on the Nemtsov march today. They're they cover, and one showing the sign they translate as "the bullets are in each of us". But the Russian, as you can plainly see (and even plainly read assuming you can read Russian!) is Эти пули - в каждого из нас.

Каждого is the accusative case, not the prepositional, which would be каждом. The accusative is used for motion, the prepositional for location. That makes this sign mean "the bullets hit each of us." (edited to add: the Washington Post's photo album says "these bullets - for everyone of us" which isn't bad, either (though I'd have said "every one of us").)


 

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Dyyd Dewi Sant!

Look at this lovely UK Google Doodle for today:


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Thanks, New Zealand!

Whoo hoo! I'm getting $1978.50 NZD tax refund! They sent me an email and everything! All I have to do is give the Inland Revenue all my details. ...

What? I didn't actually earn any income in New Zealand and they should have my details if they have determined that I'm eligible for this payment? Why are you raining on my parade, common sense?


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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Seriously, why?

This story was posted on Facebook a yesterday. It's a rather usual, sad story about an old woman who was housebound by the snow and who ran out of food. She called the local 911 dispatcher, who sent some cops over. They shopped for her and made sure someone would be checking on her in future, and closed their post with a note that it's important to check on your neighbors, elderly people and family members during severe weather.

There are a lot of comments, mostly  of the "God bless them!" variety, but some of a more mundane "glad they helped her" or "great story". But the comment that really baffles me is the one that reads "God is good!!!"

Seriously: what about this story would prompt anyone to say that? A woman actually runs out of food and is starving, she has to call 911 and the cops respond and care for her. To merit that kind of praise, wouldn't God have had to provide food? And it's the state that provides the cops.

I really don't understand why some people give God credit for every thing that happens that isn't an outright tragedy.







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Friday, February 27, 2015

Goodbye, Leonard

He will be missed.

His last tweet:
“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”
Here's a memory that may make you smile:


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Monday, February 23, 2015

One translation all the time is almost never possible

Picture of Poroshenko and Obama, captioned Порошенко пообещал вернуть Крым
Okay, this is a bit of a hobby horse with me, but hey, it's my blog.

Порошенко пообещал вернуть Крым, reads the caption on the Russian paper's Facebook story. Poroshenko promised to вернуть Crimea. The verb вернуть is what I want to talk about.

Most of the Russian-English dictionaries I know say it means "to return". If you plug this sentence into Google translate, it yields "Poroshenko promised to return the Crimea". Interestingly, if all you put in is вернуть, Google offers you "retrieve". Interestingly, because that's a better translation than "return", though not entirely felicitous when you're talking about a peninsula.

The core meaning of вернуть is to put back, meaning to return to its proper place. In English, that may be - and often is - "to return". But sometimes "return" doesn't work. As here. Poroshenko most emphatically did not "promise to return Crimea".

He promised to "get Crimea back".

What English verb you use depends on whose the thing was and who's putting it back where it belongs. If Poroshenko succeeds, Putin will be "returning" it.

And yes, there is a definite argument to be made that Putin "took Crimea back", since it was Russian up until 1954 and Khrushchev's giving it to Ukraine was an empty gesture at the time. (There's an equally definite argument that the Crimean Tatars should be the ones who get it back, but that's not going to happen...) But regardless of your opinion on just where Crimea belongs, you must admit that when Poroshenko vows to regain control of the peninsula, "Poroshenko promised to return Crimea" is a poor translation. Even if you add "to Ukraine" as many papers did, it doesn't really work. You can't really "return" something you don't have hold of. If someone walks off with my cell phone, I can't say "I'll return the phone to me", can I? And you certainly can't just say "I'll return it". Context does matter.

Anyway, many of my students just automatically translate вернуть as "return". I'm showing them this in the morning.

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5 Comments:

At 9:17 PM, February 23, 2015 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Q. How many translators does it take to change a light bulb?

A. It all depends on the context.

 
At 9:20 PM, February 23, 2015 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Another example I collected today, of a very common problem I encounter with Google Translate:

[Stereotypically female first name], pois, fala de si...
[Stereotypically female first name] therefore speaks of himself...

 
At 9:26 PM, February 23, 2015 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

And this, just the other day, which combines not recognizing someone's name with incorrectly determining the person's sex:

Originial text: Vou telefonar à Eduardina Rocha para lhe pedir ajuda.
Google Translate: I'll call the Edwardian Rock to ask him for help.
My translation: I’m going to telephone Eduardina Rocha to ask her for help.

 
At 9:28 PM, February 23, 2015 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

I have an exercise I use in which Google switches back and forth between him and her and even my.

But in this case, plenty of my students would translate it as "return". It's the "one word in Russian has one meaning in English" syndrome.

 
At 5:15 PM, February 26, 2015 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Have you ever had your students search for contexts and alternate translations on the Linguée website? I find it sometimes useful:
http://www.linguee.com
Let us know if it helps with the instant example, or others, OK?

 

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