02 September 2015


Life as a Language Learning Challenge, Step 3

So what did my identical triplet sisters do in early childhood? If they were anything like me (and of course they were), they watched a lot of TV. And if they grew up in 80s Bundesrepublik Deutschland and 80s Italy, then they would have both sat through endless reruns with little Grisu.

It's probably not so strange that an Italian cartoon about a Scottish dragon * (?!?!) would prove to be a huge hit in Germany, but given the odd things I like bringing into alignment, an arrangement this perfect is practically a gift from Heaven. ** Deo Gratias!

I've been watching the Italian and German episodes back-to-back. Sometimes the German first; sometimes the Italian first. And it has been highly diverting to see how meanings are lost (and found!) in translation. While the Italian proverb Traduttori Traditori ("Translators [are] traitors") holds true, that Grisu has turned out to be as beloved in his adopted country as in his native land, for identical reasons, means that the adapted script hit the same notes in young German hearts as the original did in young Italian hearts. Let me share a bit of the fun I had comparing and contrasting certain lines . . .

"Io voglio proprio essere un pompiere!"
(I really want to be a fireman!)

"Ein Feurwerhmann will ich werden!"
(I will become a fireman!)

As you have seen from all the images so far, Grisu does not want to set things on fire, but to put fires out. But in his pursuit of his passion, he sometimes gets a little excited--and when he is excited, he breathes fire without meaning to. A lot of fire. And then people get angry when he was only trying to be good. (I think Grisu is my spirit animal.)

I love the innocence and sweetness of Grisu's German voice more, but the drama of his Italian self never fails to crack me up.

"Perdona mi, Papa, si io ti do un dolore!"
(Forgive me, Papa, if I give you sorrow!)

"Verzieh mich, Papa, wenn ich dir wieder weh tun!"
(Forgive me, Papa, if I hurt you again!)

The drama of all the Italian characters is really something! Fume, Grisu's opera-singing father, is understandably disappointed to learn that his unico figlio doesn't want to follow in his claw prints. But he is also the first to defend Grisu whenever the latter's pursuit of his dream gets him in trouble with others! What a dad!

By the way, yes, I know that dolore can mean "pain" as well as "sorrow"--but I laughed out loud at Grisu's line precisely because I understood it as "sorrow" rather than "pain," so that is how I am rendering it into English here.

"Sono desolato!" . . . "Ma va al infierno ti e le tutte tue storie!"
("I am sorry!" . . . "But go to hell [with] all your stories!")

"Ich werd' es nie, nie wieder tun!" . . . "Ach, fahr doch endlich zur Hoelle mit deine ewigen Versprechung!"
("I'll never, never do it again!" . . . "Yeah, right. Drive to hell at last with your eternal promises!")

Shocking to hear such a sentiment in a children's show, aye? Does anyone remember an English-language cartoon character being similarly harsh?

The hardest word to translate was "doch," because there really isn't an equivalent for it in English. "Doch" is like "yes"--but it's an affirmative that is used to counter a negative. If someone asks, "Do you want ice cream?" and you do, then go ahead and say "Ja!" But if someone says, "You don't want ice cream, do you?" and you still do, then you should say, "Doch!" Since the bird's "doch" is both an affirmative and an expression of his skepticism of Grisu's promise, I decided that the sarcastic English "Yeah, right" would do as a stand-in.

"Ma, Stufy, tu pensi proprio che c'e la posso fare? Hai visto quello che ho combinato."
"Successe! Vedrai che non ti succedera piu."
"Io spero tanto!"

("But, Stufy, do you really think I can do it? You have seen what I have done."
"It will happen. You will see that [the other] won't happen any more."
"I greatly hope [so]!")

"Ich weiss mich, Staffi! Ich habe solche Angst, dass ich es wieder nicht schaffe. Vielleicht rutscht mir der Feuerstrahl wieder raus."
"Wenn du gut auf passt, denn werde der Feuerstrahl nicht wieder raus rutschen."
"Ja? Das hoffe ich auch!"

("I know myself, Staffi! I have such anxiety that I won't make it again. Maybe a blast of fire [will] slip out of me again!"
"If you pay good attention, then the blast of fire [will] not slip out of you again."
"Yes? That is what I hope, too.")

Mille grazie to one friend from Italy and vielen Dank to one friend from Austria, who helped me understand what Grisu was saying to Stufy/Staffi!

Looping lines over and over can only go so far in Italian. (That is, only so far, so far!) Knowing what a word means is one thing; knowing how the native speakers use it is quite another. So after I was 100% sure that Grisu was saying "Hai visto che ___ combinato," I assumed that the pesky syllable in the middle was "e"--which made a sentence that my English-speaking mind understood as "You have seen what was combined." Unfortunately, that made no sense in the context of the story.

I presented the problem to my Italian friend, who immediately knew that the sentence was "Hai visto che ho combinato." You have seen what I have done. Because, she explained, "combinare," though most frequently used to mean "to combine," can also sometimes be used to mean "to do." Oh.

On my own, I never would have guessed that the mysterious syllable was an "ho."

As for Deutsch, I've got so used to it that when the characters say unfamiliar words, I can look them up successfully in the Deutsch-Englisch Woerterbuch and learn something new. But when the best I could do for Grisu's worst case scenario was the obviously incorrect "Vielleicht durch mir ein Feuerstrahl wieder raus" ("Maybe out through to me a blast of fire again"), I knew it was time to ask someone with a lifetime of listening experience.

My Austrian friend told me that my mystery word was the verb "rutschen" ("to slip out"), conjugated in Grisu's sentence as "rutscht." Which is close enough to "durch" both in sound and in context for someone with my limited vocabulary to think the the latter is the right word. A ridiculous mistake . . . but one that I'm really happy about!

You see, this game of fill-in-the-blanks is something I play even in a language I know quite well--as I did the first time I heard Maroon 5's Moves Like Jagger and thought the opening lyric was "A shoe full of stars." (It's actually "Shoot for stars.") And I can't be the only one making these fun mistakes: not when misheard lyrics are A Thing. I'm going to take this as a sign that my brain is starting to work in German--and that it will get better and better as long as I keep going!

* The Scottish bit is totally random where I'm concerned. Scotland and I have had nothing to say to each other for centuries. But I guess the animators had to set their cartoon somewhere exotic and the Philippines was too far away.

** I guess my friends would beg to differ. One reason I wrote this post was that all my gushing over Grisu in real life made my best friend give me That Look. You know: the look you get when you're boring someone to death over something you really love and he just doesn't want to hurt your feelings. So I decided that I'll only blog about Grisu from now on. Even if you all give me The Look, too, at least I won't see it. ;-)

Image Sources: a) Grisu Il Draghetto, b) Grisu Der Kleine Drache

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