Saturday, September 23, 2006

Tacos in Translation

There are no Mexican restaurants in the town where I live, so every once in a while when I am really desperate, I go to the local Taco Bell. Recently this has been more fun than usual, since the little packets of taco sauce, which previously were unadorned, now sport "cute" sayings in both French and English. I like them for two reasons: first, they illustrate the conciseness of written English compared to written French, and second, because they illustrate how difficult it is to translate while retaining all the nuances. "You had me at Taco", for example, is evidently an illusion to the line "You had me at 'hello'" from the movie Jerry Maguire, while the translation (as far as I can see) doesn't even try to come up with a similar movie allusion from a French movie. (Readers, please correct me if I am wrong.)

On the other hand, if the folks at Language Log get hold of this, I'll probably learn why everything I just said is wrong.


M@ said...

Let me recommend a new restaurant, The Mayan Grill, that recently opened up in Cambridge. It's on King Street in Preston just past the KFC (marked on this map).

Tt's a bit of a hike from Waterloo, but these guys make great food and I'd like to see them succeed. If you like good, authentic Mexican food, give 'em a try.

Kind of off topic for your post -- sorry.

Anonymous said...

Grew up in Southern Ontario. I took a trip to San Jose and ate something at a Mexican restaurant. I didn't know I liked Mexican food until then.

Any way, I'm not sure if you check your old posts for comments or not. I wonder if the lengthier French sayings illustrate the consiseness of written english. Would it be more likely that translated text can't reproduce an expression as consisely no matter what target language. What do you think?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

My personal experience shows that French is generally more verbose than English, and that one can often translate long French passages into much shorter English ones.

Apropos of nothing, did you know there is no French single word for the English word "shallow" (as in, the river is shallow)? You can only say something like "peu profond", which translates literally as "only a little bit deep".

I don't think expansion is necessarily the result of any translation from language A to language B. For example, in programming languages, one can often replace a long Java program by a very short APL one.

Just came back from driving to Tucson, Arizona and back. Lots of great Mexican restaurants along the way!