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emk
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 Message 369 of 1317
31 December 2012 at 4:48pm | IP Logged 
I just realized that I own a copy of Rendez-vous avec Rama, a French translation of Arthur C. Clark's award-winning science fiction novel. I've read 80 pages since yesterday morning, and I was pleased that I adapted to the unfamiliar style more quickly than before. And of course, this is just a fantastic book, full of grandeur and mystery and wonder.

The translator made some rather curious stylistic choices. For example:

Quote:
Rama, qui était peut-être une tombe, en possédait déjà le silence. Aucun signal radio sur quelque fréquence que ce fût. Aucune vibration qu'eussent pu détecter les séismographes, si ce n'étaient les micro-secousses dont, à coup sûr, la chaleur croissante du soleil était la cause.

That's an imparfait du subjonctif and a plus-que-parfait du subjonctif in two just two sentences. Now, I'm completely habituated to the passé simple, but this sounds a little heavy to my ear. My wife agreed, "Oui, c'est très lourd."

Nonethess, I'm game, and I'd love to figure out how these tenses were properly used. In Rendez-vous avec Rama, the translator appears to take the modern rules for the present tense and shifted everything back in time as follows:

Quote:
present -> passé simple
subjonctif -> imparfait du subjonctif
passé du subjonctif -> plus-que-parfait du subjonctif

If we undo this transformation, we would get:

Quote:
Rama, qui est peut-être une tombe, en possède déjà le silence. Aucun signal radio sur quelque fréquence que ce soit. Aucune vibration qu'aient pu détecter les séismographes, si ce ne sont (pas?) les micro-secousses dont, à coup sûr, la chaleur croissante du soleil est la cause.

This sounds semi-plausible to my ear, though I'm not entirely sure about that aient pu. But when these tenses were still in active use, it seems that the rules were a bit more complicated. There are some fairly hairy rules on Wikipedia and the excellent french.stackexchange.com. But how far back would I need to go to find some real, live examples?

If anybody could point me towards a better explanation of the literary subjunctive, I'd be greatly appreciative.

Edited by emk on 31 December 2012 at 5:06pm

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geoffw
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 Message 370 of 1317
31 December 2012 at 5:21pm | IP Logged 
I see those all the time in the medieval fantasy genre, though the plus-que-parfait seems to show up a bit less
often, to the point that I haven't quite grown accustomed to it. I'm sure it's used there to provide a period feel to
the reader, along with the selection of certain archaic vocabulary, etc.
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Expugnator
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 Message 371 of 1317
31 December 2012 at 5:38pm | IP Logged 
Mais-que perfeito do subjuntivo is current in Portuguese. I tend to think that this somplification and merecer of
tenses in French actually made it harder for us who come from an Iberian background than if they had just
kept equivalent pairs.
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emk
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 Message 372 of 1317
02 January 2013 at 5:46pm | IP Logged 
Hmm, I managed to find a passé du subjonctif on page 94 of Rendez-vous avec Rama:

Quote:
[La glace] se morcelait en centaines d'îles flottantes qui se bousculerait et se briserait les unes les autres jusqu'à ce qu'elles aussi aient fondu.


Now, why does Rendez-vous avec Rama mostly use the plus-que-parfait du subjonctif but sometimes use the passé du subjonctif? Neither my grammar books nor google.fr seem anxious to get into the nitty-gritty details of the old-fashioned literary subjunctive, and I haven't yet figured out what rules are used to choose between the two tenses when both are present in a work of writing.

Also, some small victories in the "popular French culture" department, largely thanks to sctroyenne's recommendation of Topito. Let's start with two articles about the recent French tradition of sending everyone an SMS message on New Year's Eve:

Top 10 des bonnes raisons de ne pas envoyer un SMS le soir du 31
Top 10 des SMS à NE PAS envoyer pour souhaiter une bonne année

Then a day later, I see the following on VDM:

Quote:
Aujourd'hui, j'ai reçu plus de "C'est qui ?" que de "Merci, toi aussi". VDM


It's nice how some of these puzzle pieces start fitting together, and the jokes start making sense.

I also saw some of the New Year's spectacle on France 2, which is apparently what you watch in France if you have nothing better to do. I have to say, it was a big improvement over the ball drop in Times Square.

As for New Years resolutions, well, I'm probably going to go with "buy some more interesting books, BDs, movies and TV shows in French". The more good French stuff I have sitting around the house, the more likely I am to pick it up.

Edited by emk on 02 January 2013 at 5:48pm

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emk
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 Message 373 of 1317
08 January 2013 at 9:45pm | IP Logged 
OK, I managed to lose my copy of Rendez-vous avec Rama, but À boire et à manger just reappeared in the middle of my bedroom floor. The kids must have finished looking at the pictures. :-)

Today's post is a love-letter to TV science fiction. If you grew up on Star Trek and Star Wars (or Babylon 5, Stargate and Firefly), this one's for you. We're going to set aside all considerations of mature artistic merit (or even basic scientific plausibility), and embrace Peter Graham's observation that "The Golden Age of science fiction is 12".

First, let's start with a really sweet montage of science fiction TV set to the lyrics of Nicki Minaj's "Starships were meant to fly". There's no language learning merit here, but hey, let's set the mood. If you want to watch it, click on Embed, download, notes and Download MP4 and relive your childhood for a while. As I write, it's looping in the other window.

Next, here's an ode to every anonymous red-shirted character who ever got eaten by a space alien. It's a French translation of Scalzi's Redshirts, fresh out from L'Atalante:



Quote:
Années 2460. Lʼenseigne Andrew Dahl vient dʼêtre affecté à bord de lʼIntrépide, le prestigieux vaisseau amiral de lʼUnion universelle. Génial ! Pas tout à fait. Les jeunes recrues de lʼéquipage ne tardent pas à sʼen apercevoir, les sans-grade comme eux ont une fâcheuse propension à trouver une mort spectaculaire au cours des missions dʼexploration alors que leurs supérieurs – le commandant, le premier officier scientifique et lʼhéroïque lieutenant Kerensky – sʼen tirent toujours à bon compte. Il faut bien lʼadmettre : les « redshirts » sont éminemment périssables. Compris. Sʼils tiennent à survivre en dépit de la couleur de leur tenue, Andrew et ses compagnons sont condamnés à résoudre le mystère et à trouver une parade.

Une farce éblouissante à se tordre de rire. Croyez-mʼen, jʼai réglé leur compte moi aussi à un certain nombre de Redshirts. —Melinda Snodgrass, scénariste en chef de Star Trek : The Next Generation.


I've already read this in English. It starts out as satire, but it winds up on a more serious note, with a plea to give fictional characters the respect they deserve. (And to not just feed them to an ice shark for a cheap thrill.) I look forward to tracking down the French translation.

This brings us to two classic génériques (opening credits) for science fiction TV in French:

Générique : Star Trek
Générique : Star Trek, La Nouvelle Génération

And these in turn lead to this marvelous collection of 76 opening credits:

Génériques des séries de mon enfance

If you've been working through Assimil and listening to weeks of news radio, you might be getting bored. If this happens, never forget that the world is full of things designed to delight your inner child (or your inner couch potato). As Khatzumoto keeps telling everybody, stock on up intellectual junk food and indulge yourself. You may not be able to learn a language in 10 days, but 10 of your favorite books and several seasons of television will make a huge difference. When you think about how long it takes kids to get good at their own languages, you'll feel like you're learning at warp speed. So to speak. :-)

There's no method to any of this—start wherever you can, look up any words or grammar you want to know, and keep watching and reading. And one day you'll pick up an easy kids' book or a BD and realize it's all familiar. You won't read the way you read in your native language. But you'll read the way you did back in elementary school. This, as the mathematicians say, reduces language learning to a previously solved problem.
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tastyonions
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 Message 374 of 1317
08 January 2013 at 10:23pm | IP Logged 
Great post. That Next Gen intro really brings back memories.
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Julie
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 Message 375 of 1317
08 January 2013 at 10:28pm | IP Logged 
Great post! Have I ever written that I love your log and enjoy every bit of it? :)

Edited by Julie on 10 January 2013 at 12:04am

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emk
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 Message 376 of 1317
09 January 2013 at 11:51pm | IP Logged 
Thank you, tastyonions and Julie, for your kind words!

For today, I have a short thought that I don't have time to unpack or explain. I've tried explaining this before, though never very well.

A small amount of explicit learning can often lay the groundwork for a huge amount of explicit learning. In other words, two weeks obsessing about always getting gender right can be leveraged into months of learning from input, because my brain often notices the gender of articles and adjectives, which in turn helps with nouns. An hour of flipping through Grammaire progressive can make interesting uses of the subjunctive a lot more noticeable in Rendez-vous avec Rama.

A huge amount of implicit learning can also lay the groundwork for a short bout of explicit learning. I never opened a grammar book until I passed B1 (and I only skimmed the lesson notes in Assimil). When I finally did read a grammar book, I blew through it in two hours and it was pretty much one non-stop revelation after another.

But if I try to do the explicit learning without the implicit learning, everything turns into a grueling slog and I just stop. If I try to do the implicit learning without the explicit learning, everything takes a lot longer.

Adult language learners are a bit weird. We're trying to learn a lot faster than kids do, generally from input that would be ridiculously insufficient for kids. Our brains have already spent decades optimizing for our native tongue. And something's just slightly off-kilter in the parts of our brains that deal with pronunciation and grammar—we can maybe get 99.5% of the way there, but that last 0.5% of spoken output is elusive, even for people with decades of full-time exposure. (…ceux qui s’intéressent à la langue en tant que telle… ne font que très peu d’erreurs… "Those who interest themselves in the language as such make only a very few errors."Desvaux)

So this is a place-marker for further thoughts about the Input Hypothesis, the Noticing Hypothesis and all that other SLA (Second Language Acquisition) stuff. I don't subscribe to any official form of the Noticing Hypothesis, but if I had to guess, I think that informally noticing details when reading can create "hooks" in the input where none existed. The hooks then become available to dusty subsystems in the corners of our adult brains. And in turn, our slightly dodgy intuitions give us much better access to things like grammar books.

All this is by way of saying, "Oh, forget the methods and just do whatever you want. Read, watch, look some stuff up if you want to. Read a grammar book when it seems interesting. Do drills, or write on lang-8, or speak from day 1, or anything else which seems like a good idea. And don't gripe about your aging brain if you're getting less input and practice than a heritage learner. Kids fail to acquire languages all the time."


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