Will.Whim

A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

La grammaire

I came across this quotation in an email today:

La grammaire, avec son mélange de règle logique et d’usage arbitraire, propose au jeune esprit un avant-goût de ce que lui offriront plus tard les sciences de la conduite humaine, le droit ou la morale, tous les systèmes où l’homme a codifié son expérience instinctive.

(Marguerite Yourcenar, Mémoires d’Hadrien). Here’s my translation:

Grammar, with its mixture of logical rules and arbitrary use, provides a child with its first exposure to the frameworks for human conduct that will confront it later: law, morality, every system that humanity has devised to order instinctive experience.

Grammar, with its mixture of logical rules and arbitrary usage, provides a child with its first exposure to the sciences of human conduct that will confront it later: law, morality, every system that humanity has devised to codify instinctive experience.

Any comments on errors or infelicities in the translation?

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4 responses to “La grammaire

  1. Faré February 9, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    arbitrary customs? arbitrary usages? arbitrary uses?
    keep “sciences” instead of “framework”?
    “formalize” instead of “order”?
    *his* instinctive experience?

  2. Will February 9, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    I think I agree on ‘arbitrary uses.’ But I’m not sure about the others. Maybe I should just use ‘codify,’ which is a perfectly good English word. ‘His’ I avoided for the impled sexism.

  3. ---dean February 10, 2006 at 6:39 pm

    Only that German, with its inherently stronger grammatical rules, is thereby less prone to “errors or infelicities in translation”. ;=)

    Teutonic family / social systems impact on youth seem diminished by the resulting lack of arbitrariness.

    Perhaps that’s why both France and Germany desire the Alsace; the happiest blend of both worlds ? Oh well, my grandfather was named “August Strasbourg” after all…

  4. Will February 10, 2006 at 11:16 pm

    Der Mann, Die Frau … the rule is ‘if the noun refers to an object which has sexual gender, then it has the same grammatical gender.’
    Der Junge … check!
    Das Mädchen … whoops.

    And remember, in traditional descriptions of German grammar, strong verbs are those which break the rules; following the rules are for the weak verbs.

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