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Here be dragons (and salt)

Sometimes the ties between the English language and Latin are interesting. Anglophones often pronounce Latin in an unexpected way, at least for the speakers of south-European languages like Spanish and Italian, who think they are closer to Latin anyway and therefore pronounce it right as a matter of fact. Many seem to believe so anyway (does anybody know how Latin was really pronounced? Theories abound). Perhaps the southerners are right, at least they do not diphthong vowels, which the Romans did not do either. Translators usually do not have a problem with this, as they have the written text to work on. Interpreters, howerver, can suffer. First they have to understand what the speaker is actually saying, then they have to decide if they want to repeat the Latin with a southern accent, so their listeners have a chance to grasp the Latin as it is, or if they would rather translate the Latin into Spanish (or Italian, in our example). So when an English speaker utters cogito ergo sum, which I have earnestly heard pronounced in non-intuitive and, at least for southerners, unexpected ways, the interpreter has to decide if he wants to say pienso, luego existo or if he repeats the Latin pronounced in a more Spanish way. This is, of course, one of the easier examples. The interesting case arises when a standard phrase in modern English is of Latin origin, has long ago been translated literally into English, but not into other languages, so the translation into these languages has to be into Latin. I know two examples that might illustrate what I mean: here be dragons and with a pinch (or grain) of salt. The first should be translated into Spanish and into German as hic sunt dracones, the second as cum grano salis. So are those expressions untranslatable? It depends on how you define untranslatable, but one could plausibly argue so. There is no equivalent in German or Spanish, so they might count as untranslatable into both languages. But they can still be translated into Latin. The interpreter can only hope his listeners understand these expressions in that language. In those cases, my gut feeling is that cum grano salis is generally known to Spanish and German speakers, hic sunt dracones less so. But as con una pizca de sal or mit einer Prise Salz and aquí hay dragones or hier gibt es Drachen don’t make any sense at all, the translation will have to be into Latin in both cases. What other possibility could there be?
By the way, the original expression cum grano salis seems to be modern Latin translated backwards according to contemporary grammatical rules. The original phrase is attributed to Pliny the Elder who in his Naturalis Historia, XXIII, 149, regarding an antidote to a poison, actually wrote addito salis grano.


Am 24.02.2014 um 03:34 von G. Himmelein
I have read the phrase "mit einer Prise Salz" plenty of times. But these occurrences may just be bad translations, hence my assertion may have to be taken with a grain of salt. I would probably write "mit Skepsis begegnen" and forego the florish.
Am 24.02.2014 um 04:51 von Jordi
Dear Mr. Himmelein,
you are right, of course, one can simply say ¨mit Skepsis begegnen¨ and forego the florish, the latin and all the unnecessary embellishment. But! Please take my musings with a pinch of salt too, they are not to be taken unduly seriously. I do not pretend that they are more than casual observations. I hope you enjoy them nonetheless. I do :-)
Am 09.03.2014 um 10:30 von Bill George
I was delighted to read the following: "does anybody know how Latin was really pronounced?" The question should also include the proviso "at any given point in time", as Latin in various guises was around for rather longer than the time it takes to read "De Bello Gallico". Unfortunately, what I can only describe as "language snobs" seem to want to impose upon us all the hypothetical pronunciation which was in its turn taught to them. I have always found it amusing when People at Latinate Conventions" et cetera (they must only be written about with capital letters, as they are So Important) try to speak to others who have learned a quite different way of pronouncing the language (which, as far as I can see, was in fact never actually spoken in the form still taught in some European schools today).

Sorry if this post has gone off "at a bit of a tangent" (can that idiom be literally translated into other languages, by the way?)
Am 09.03.2014 um 11:01 von Jordi
Thanks for your reply, Bill. I´m glad you enjoyed the post. A former teacher of mine once remarked that when participating in international conventions, other priests (yes, he was that kind of teacher) tried to communicate in Latin with each other. He remarked that ¨French¨-Latin and ¨English¨-Latin seemed to be mutually incromprehensible. So much for the mith of a lingua franca. Today we have bad English, and it can truly be awful. Ask any conference interpreter.

Spanish has the expression ¨salirse (o irse) por la tangente¨, meaning exactly the same as the English expression you refer to. German may be more difficult ;-)
Am 16.03.2014 um 08:33 von Martin
Here de Dragons, ist ja wohl als Warnung gedacht vor der man sich hüten und wappnen sollte.
Im diesen Sinne würde ich den bei uns berühmten Auspruch der Kanzlerin Merkel verwenden.: "Das Internet ist für uns alle Neuland."
Naja, war nur so eine Idee. ;-)
Am 14.05.2014 um 03:22 von Chatman
"Cum grano salis" ist im Deutschen "mit einem Körnchen Salz". Diese Version wird schon in J.H. Campes Verdeutschungswörterbuch von 1813 angeführt und darf als geläufig gelten.
Am 14.05.2014 um 04:36 von Jordi
Danke, Chatman, wieder etwas gelernt. Weit verbreitet ist es heute nicht (mehr), aber immerhin hat es bereits eine lange Geschichte hinter sich. Finde ich gut

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