Sunday, October 12, 2008

Latin-English codeswitching

I have read Maureen Dowd, at least her NYT columns, for years and never been quite sure what to make of her writing. (I did learn a ton from Polyglot Conspiracy's smart post about Dowd here.) MoDo's column today dispenses with the ultra-gendered and / or faux potboiler styles she often uses in favor of the classics. Half the column, roughly, is in Latin, a loose translation of her play in the Gallic Wars done by the historian Gary Farney of Rutgers. But it's not simply an English chunk followed by a Latin chunk. There's plenty of written codeswitching and language play in both halves, starting with the title: "Are we Rome? Tu Betchus!" Then:
Amo Latinam, so I was happy to see ...
That's pretty simple, a switch at a clause boundary, but it gets more complex:
why the hyperventilating Republicans are not veni, vidi, vici-ing.
Kind of funny, with the three inflected verb forms getting treated as a unit — that's hardly novel — and then verbed. But the Latin half is just gut-bustingly funny, in a classic school-boy way (so I gather): There's all the inflection of names, some anachronistic bits (Sabbatis Nocte Vivo!) and stuff like this:
Ioannes McCainus, mavericus et veteranus captivusque Belli Francoindosinini, et Sara Palina, barracuda borealis …
Or, the not-merely-coined-but-more-like-faked Latin:
Cum Primus Dudus, spousus Palinanus, culpari attemptaret “Centurionem-Gate,” …
And some nice switches to English:
Tamen Sara et Ioannes bury Obama, not praise him.
OK, maybe I'm a sucker for cheap humor, but there's a little point in here: One aspect of this kind of text is the illusion of a Latin text, but something that is readable even if you didn't do too much of the old amo, amas, amat or hic, haec, hoc, huius, huius, huius. Many of the reader comments at this writing seem to take the text very seriously — as if it were Cicero or something.

A lot has been written about "Mock Spanish", most notably by Jane Hill (see Ben Zimmer's very accessible overview here — a key point is the presumed racist intent of such language). Tu Betchus is an example, I suppose, of Mock Latin.

Image from here.


Anonymous said...

There's no Latin-English babelfish?!?!?!?

Translate English Indonesian said...

Good Posting !