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September 14, 2011

J. K. Gayle quotes a story about French high school students who had trouble understanding a banner in Beijing that said 沒有共產黨, 沒有新中國 (“No communist party, no new China.”) (Actually Kurk’s point was completely different from where I am going in this post.  I am also aware of the irony that I wrote this phrase using traditional characters rather than the simplified characters usually found in Mainland China.)

Would American high school students have had trouble with this phrase?  I would like to think not.  It is an example of a figure of speech called “parataxis,” and most of us learned it in high school (remember learning “Veni, vidi, vici“?) Most American high school students probably know the phrase “no justice, no peace.”  And many of us have seen signs that even more closely parallel the Chinese phrase, like this flashing highway sign:


or this protest sign


These signs portray a pro-immigrant message (at the expense of trivializing the Hispanic contributions to American culture.)  But we are able to parse them.  Perhaps it is different among the dialect of French spoken by French high school students.

HT:  Language Log

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2011 10:14 am

    the irony that I wrote this phrase using traditional characters

    Clever! 聰明! 聪明!

    The signs in your post remind us of Sergio Arau’s mockumentary, “A Day Without A Mexican.”

    So much of this is political, viz. “Veni, vidi, vici”

  2. September 15, 2011 1:03 pm

    Sadly parataxis seems today to primarily be used for politics — it suits our sound-bite era (although note the play on “drill baby drill” here: “”Good lord. She is a walking, talking Jerry Springer episode.”) In the Victorian era, Dicken’s Mr. Jingle could use parataxis — and even Mark Twain’s Simon Wheeler could use a not dissimilar effect.

    But in our own television era, it seems limited to those making political points. Somehow Julius Caesar, more of a prophet than Marshal McLuhan or Jean Baudrillard, foresaw that three words were the maximum history would allow (thus his dying words: Et tu, Brute?)

  3. September 15, 2011 3:51 pm

    Your mention of Baudrillard reminded me of the blender to recreate the tv coverage of the USA presidential elections. And of McLuhan, can we really believe Timothy Leary that the one gave the other, “Turn on, tune in, drop out“?

    As for Caesar, his dying words were surely parataxis,

    whether he spoke Latin, as Shakespeare says (Et tu, Brute?),

    or Greek as Plutarch suggests (ἀδελφέ, βοήθει;),

    or Greek, as Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus himself writes of this possibility, in Latin (etsi tradiderunt quidam Marco Bruto irruenti dixisse: καὶ σὑ, τὲκνον;)

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