Thursday, March 11, 2010

French to English: Earthquakes, Part 1

I frown and complain when it's snowing outside.  Snow is merely an irritant, snowstorms and avalanches do not faze me.  These natural disasters can dampen my spirits, but they don't provoke fear in me.  I don't quiver with dread.

Earthquakes, however, are a different story.  They create fear to the point that I can't help but think "end of the world."  One earthquake is all it takes.  What happens to my psyche when there are several?

The year 2010 woke us from our peaceful and cozy slumber when Haiti got hit by a monstrous quake.   The disaster touched some raw nerves.  We asked, how can that kind of tragedy happen without warning?

The film footage gnawed at us:  piles of bodies strewn here and there, cries from under the debris and starving, crying infants were heart-wrenching.  We were jolted out of our complacency, stirring our compassion and sense of philanthropy. Haitians will be scared and scarred forever.  This earthquake left painful memories.  Weeks after the quake, we're still reeling from the shock.  

Then earthquakes in Turkey and Chile were reported last month.  Three weeks ago,  mild tremors (about 3.0 in the Richter scale) were felt in the north of Quebec.  We were much luckier.  No damage, no rescue teams were required.  Montrealers didn't even feel it. 

Today, I read on Yahoo that another quake measuring 7.2 hit Chile again.

Let's hope that these earthquakes take a sabbatical; otherwise 2010 will feel like 2012.
Pascal Bernard in Qu'est-ce qui fait trembler la terre? (What makes the earth tremble?) wrote about the earthquakes that occurred all over the world and dissects them, tracing earthquakes to their origins.  In Part I of his book, he mentioned the 1755 quake that decimated Lisbon.  The destruction was so massive it shocked Voltaire who turned to poetry to express his grief:

Philosophes trompés, qui criez « tout est bien »,
Accourez : contemplez ces ruines affreuses,
Ces debris, ces lambeaux, ces cendres malheureuses.
Ces femmes, ces enfants, l’un sur l’autre entassés
Sous ces marbres rompus, ces members disperses ;
Cent mille infortunés que la terre dévore
Enterrés sous leurs toit, terminent sans secours
Dans l’horreur des tourments leurs lamentable jours ? »

A translator who specializes in literary translation would no doubt come up with a good rendering in English of Voltaire's poem and with skill, capture the philosopher's anguish accurately.

Alas, I did not train in literary translation; I am told it is one of the most difficult fields.  I will translate Voltaire in my own barbaric and unschooled way so that you get the gist of his sorrow (I wish now I had taken a literary translation course):

They are mistaken - philosophers who shout "all is well"
Rush over here and look at these atrocious ruins,
These debris, these fragments, these pitiful ashes
Women and children, their bodies piled up one after the other
Underneath these broken marble stones, pieces scattered about;
One hundred thousand unlucky souls that the earth has devoured
Bleeding, torn, their hearts still beating
Buried under their roofs...they die; no help comes
Trapped in the horror of their lamentable days

I gave that my best shot, but if there are literal translators who are reading this post and have a better translation, please feel free to share them!

It's time for this initial batch of earthquake terms:

tremblement de terreearthquake
accélérogrammeaccelerogram (recording of the acceleration of the ground during an earthquake
asperitéaccident (an area on a fault that is stuck)
rejet-pendagedip slip (occurs when the blocks have shifted vertically).
hypocentre (ou foyer sismique)hypocenter (point within the earth where an earthquake rupture begins)
plaque tectonique (ou plate lithosphérique)tectonic plates (large, thin and rigid plates on the outer surface of the earth that move relative to each other)
inversion géomagnétiquemagnetic polarity reversal (when the earth's magnetic field changes to the opposite polarity)
faillefault (fracture)
glissement de terrainlandslide
sismogrammeseismogram (earthquake record)

Please drop by again for your next set of earthquake terms!


  1. 要愛你的仇敵,為那些逼迫你的人禱告........................................

  2. Hello,
    Thanks for your comment which I had Google translate for me: Love your enemies, and pray for them. I agree that we should pray, but the only enemies I can think of are earthquakes, not the people who are victimized by them.
    Thanks for dropping by. Please let me know if google translated your comment correctly!