Posted on Leave a comment

Dreaming in Danish gibberish

I’ve heard people talk about dreaming in a foreign language as a sign that they’re getting really fluent in it. I have a step that is much, much, much earlier in the process, and that is dreaming in foreign language gibberish. Yesterday I watched two hours of The Eagle (because Netflix is taking it away from me! WOE!), and last night I went to bed and dreamed that people were speaking in Danish I couldn’t quite hear and mostly couldn’t understand. The vowels were right, the proportions of consonants–it was clearly Danish. It was clearly Danish like listening to hockey announcers with the sound turned down gets your clearly northern North American accents.* I don’t speak Danish; I’m certainly not fluent in Danish. But I now dream in Danish gibberish; oh good.

(I cannot see anyone else to blame for this but myself.)

I really don’t understand why the subtitler made some of the choices they did when they were phonetically obvious and not false cognates. I write for kids even though this blog is not for kids, so I’m going to be a little coy here: there are all sorts of English obscenities and profanities that sound exactly like their Danish counterparts. “Like which ones, Mris?” All of them. You cannot get away with fooling a 7-year-old by swearing in Danish, so why would you subtitle a heartfelt obscenity as “No”? Also, the phrase “after min mor” is practically identical to English–when someone compliments a new grandmother on her granddaughter’s name and she says that it is “after min mor,” you don’t have to speak anything but English to know that she has said that the baby is named after the speaker’s mother (the baby’s great-grandmother)–why, then, would they translate that as, “Yes, it is a lovely name”? Why not just say what she said?

One of the most systematic differences between the spoken Danish version of S1 of The Eagle and the subtitled English version, though, was the obscuring of ethnicity. I complained before that the switches in language were not marked, and this is true–people spoke all sorts of languages at all sorts of times, and the only one that was marked is that English was not subtitled. But within the commentary the characters were making, almost all ethnic and religious references were obscured. “Islamisk” is not a subtle word, people. Even people who can’t pick out what the rest of the sentence is will know if it has “Islamisk” in it and you did not use “Islamic” or “Muslim” in the translation, there’s something missing. Frequently the original Danish talks about something happening all through Scandinavia or someone being the Scandinavian this or that, and the subtitles say nothing of the sort, leaving the linguistically inert viewer not knowing whether someone or something is global, European, Scandinavian, Danish, local to Copenhagen, what. This is important to the plot. And I can’t really see saying, “Americans don’t care about this,” if you’re already dealing with a subset of Americans who are willing to watch subtitled Danish cop shows in the first place. And having to come in at the end and say, “Oh, by the way, these people are Serbs, these other people are Chechens, it matters, now you know,” is just less effective. And frankly weird. And I don’t get it.

(The Protectors is even worse about subtitles in the current Netflix iteration. I hope they get it back, but with better subtitles; there are places where two people are talking and the dialog of only one of them gets translated. Not what we do.)

*That, for those of you just tuning in, is how I became a hockey fan: I was a homesick Minnesotan in California, looking for vowels in all the wrong places.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.