Sunday, 11 November 2007
I remember from years back encountering some purportedly French poems and their translations. For instance: Reine, reine, gueux éville / Gomme àgaine, en horreur, taie (Queen, queen, arose the rabble / Who use their girdles, horrors, as pillow slips). Some obscure rhyme from the French Revolution? No, it comes a 1967 book by Louis d'Antin van Rooten, Mots d'Heures: Gousses, Rames, which is a compilation of a supposed "d'Antin Manuscript" - actually English nursery rhymes translated into French spelling and accompanies them with scholarly notes (see some examples here).
The always excellent Language Log, a weblog written by professors of linguistics and closely related fields, mentioned this book recently, and took an excursion into the whole territory of this cross-language play. See Autour-du-mondegreens: bunkum unbound. "Mondegreens" are mishearings of song lyrics; the name derives, as Mondegreens: A Short Guide explains, from the Anerican writer Sylvia Wright hearing a line in the folksong Lord Moray as They had slain the Earl of Moray / And Lady Mondegreen (actually they laid him on the green).
Language Log looks at the phenomenon when the source is in another language. While such mishearings can be spontaneous, there's also a popular genre in deliberating deconstructing songs into pseudo-English for comic effect. One Tamil choreographer, actor and film director Prabhu Deva Sundaram, is now widely known in the West as "Benny Lava" after such treatment of the vid of his Bollywood-style song Kalluri Vaanil (there's a somewhat out-of-synch proper translation here). Some of the English words are non-accidental, songs in Indian films being generally macaronic; the song comes from a movie featuring a love story between medical students, hence the words "stethoscope", "scanning" and "operation".