Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Tu"

I am struck by the second to last paragraph on page 81:

Of this instructive session, Gerard retained one imprint and no more: namely, the moment when Elisabeth had addressed him for the first time by the familiar “tu.”

Although I like to think that I can speak French, I do not remember enough high school French to pass as fluent. However, I remember enough to know that “tu” is the familiar form of you, while “vous” is the proper form of you. This happens as she is taunting Paul with the crayfish and Paul has just hurled a glass of milk at her. I think it is strange that although Elisabeth is familiarly acquainted with Gerard, she refers to him in the proper form. I think that Elisabeth is too self-centered to consider someone else being above her. I guess I am just not understanding the relationship that she has with Gerard and the significance that Gerard finds in this occasion.

We talked in class about Les Enfants Terribles being translated to The Holy Terrors. I think we could all agree that The Holy Terrors accurately fits the characters in this book, but I still don’t think that it is an accurate translation. The Bad Children to The Holy Terrors. I am really curious as to what liberties a translator has in translating a book, and how my small knowledge of French is affecting how I am interpreting this story. Obviously some things are not easily translated, English does not have a familiar and a proper form of “you” so the “tu” had to be kept in the text to make a point.

2 comments:

DJ Kessler said...

Interesting that you mention the importance of translation. That sentence stood out to me as well, mostly I think because in an Old English class I took a couple of semesters ago, we were asked to focus focus on a text and determine the difference between "thou" and "ye." "Ye" is now "you" and used to be used to formally address someone. Most of us in the class had it wrong because people were addressing God as "Thou" so we assumed that was the more formal one.
When reading that sentence, I was trying to determine what it meant that she addressed him as "tu." Basing it on my absolute confusion of Old English, I replaced "tu" with "you" making it formal. Now that I think about it, I think that may be wrong. "Tu" might be Old English's version of "thou." It does change the context though. The way I was reading it, Elisabeth was beginning to show Gerard respect. But what it actually meant was that she was beginning to be more comfortable and personal with him. Thanks for clearing that up for me!

Carl Kitchen said...

In the passage you mentioned, GĂ©rard fails to take notice of Elisabeth's appearance: "mad she looked-a madwoman hunched over a dead child and cramming it with food"(81), as he is overjoyed that she has finally started to refer to him by "tu"... something that he interprets as a personal victory, Elisabeth dropping her guard toward him.

The French (moreso than other francophone countries) have always payed a lot of attention to the tu/vous distinction. They even have special verbs ("tutoyer" and "vouvoyer") that mean referring to someone either as tu or vous and use them quite a bit, especially in litterature, to show the evolution of a relationship between two characters.

To "vouvoyer" someone is much more proper and polite, implies a great deal of respect for the other person, but among friends can also imply keeping them at a distance.

"Tu" is much less formal, implies familiarity and equality, and (maybe only in the world of books) is often interpreted as a form of flirtation... like when someone refers to someone else as "tu" for the first time, or does it constantly even when "vous" would still be considered more appropriate.