Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The 'en/dove time

Venez dans mes bras
Closer to me dear 
Donnez-vous à moi 
Set aside all fear 
Restons enlacés pour léternité 
Yes you shall be mine 
Till the end of time.
Followers of The Tunnel (who may not include me for much longer, as it is becoming decreasingly plausible – I wonder if the writers of the first series have moved on) will recognize this little piece  as the title music (written by Charlotte Gainsbourg, yes that one, though I should warn you that the article has such authoritative claims as " Her career in music influentiates a lot of artists").  A little while ago we switched over to this series from a tennis match, for which we had the sub-titles on.

Machine-generated sub-titles can be a hoot. A gem from the tennis commentary was a mangled version of "nipped it in the bud". We had just reached peak-Shakespeare, and the sub-title-o-tron (or whatever it's called) very creatively (it must have had some sort of AI) read "nicked it in the Bard" (sic, even the capital B) – evoking thoughts of Autolycus, the original "snapper-up  of unconsidered trifles" [so THAT's where he got it from]. But dealing with French was rather more dictionary-based (or perhaps that should be -biased?).
I'm sailing fairly close to the wind here, as my theoretical linguistics knowledge is Best Before End May 1974 (though bolstered a bit by later language courses). So what follows is subject to ovifacial disfigurement [="getting egg on my face" #bouBoumTsh] . But...
The voice that sings this is whispered; and the sub-title-o-tron's mistakes* led me to think about whispering. The game Chinese Whispers is almost guaranteed to work, chiefly because of the lack of voicing  – '...we're going to advance' becomes '...we're going to a dance' partly because of the inaccurate transmission of the voiced /v/. I say partly because the change is strongly influenced by the fact that 'Send reinforcements...' has been misheard as 'Send three and fourpence' (though the 'has been' there is misleading as the misinterpretation is holistic – given this unreliable string of speech sounds, what interpretation can be put on the whole  message? the hearer asks themselves). I think, though, the trigger for the misinterpretation is the /v/.

In the three lines of French  in that lyric the sub-title-o-tron made only one mistake (involving a voiced consonant), and one also in the four lines of English. The mistakes were:

Set aside your fear 
Restons sans laisser

Taking the French  one first, the problem consonant is the /z/ between Restons and enlacés. In this whispered voice the /z/ sounds like an /s/ . So, despite "hearing" the liaison correctly in the third line, the machine goes to its dictionary (possibly it's some kind of lexical software module, though possibly the machine hands over some queries to a human post-editor, who uses a real book) and returns  with sans laisser. I haven't met that as an idiom, and the idiomatic sans cesse suggests that the infinitive is questionable in that context – although sans can certainly be followed by a verb in the infinitive in other cases. This leaves only the unstressed vowel in [z]enlacés/sans laisser:  /a/ becomes /ɛ/  – no great surprise in an unstressed syllable

As for the English one, it doesn't depend so clearly on a voiced sound. The sonorant /l/ (which occasions this mistake) has voiced and voiceless allophones, but – as the word sonorant suggests – it's more "l-like" when it's voiced. So "all" becomes "your".

Simples [possibly].

Back to the grindstone,


PS Some crossword clues:

Disappeared without resistance, covered with decorative coating.  (9)

Turning effect engulfing partial success giving part of work. (8)

Update 2026.05.19.08:40 – Added PPS

* Watching the next episode the other night, I noticed that the two errors covered in this post) had been fixed. Either the subtitles are generated anew every week, or the translators' work is subjected...
And there's a difference between subject to and subjected to, which I wish writers of official notices would observe. If trains – for example – are "subject to delay" they might be delayed. If they are going to be delayed sure as eggs is eggs they will be "subjected to delays".
to some kind of scrutiny, or m-m-m-maybe I'm being w-w-w-watched....Ooer...

Update 2026.06.01.14:15 – Added PPPS
<further_reflection type="post-series" theme="ha'porth of tar">
A crucial character – multifaceted, as is the tiresome custom in these dramas [aha, she's not a baddy after all, oh yes she is, but no, err... yes, etc ad nauseam, vamp till fade– after one of her habitual changes of face last night, being a fluent speaker of Russian, asked "Do you know what maskirovka is?" By chance, though I don't speak Russian, I did know, because last year I had heard an Analysis programme that explained this Russian-style system of deception (that was the word they used, though I'm still not sure what's special about it). 
I don't have Sky-Go, or whatever it is that lets you catch-up on Sky Living broadcasts, but I'm pretty sure the actress got it wrong. She used the word twice, and the first just put me on the Qui vive;  but I'm pretty sure whatever she said the second time matched the first and didn't begin /mask.../ (which is as  much as I remembered). Shame. I wish actors  would  check up on these things. My Willing Suspension of Disbelief daemon  was already working its little socks  off, without having to deal with linguistic paradoxes.

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