Saturday, May 29, 2010

Causative Funny Business in Swedish

Finally saw the excellent Swedish film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor). While I don't speak Swedish, I noted that the word mörda 'murder' was translated into English as killed. Since the cognate murder is clearly available, I had to wonder if there was some good reason for this choice. Is mörda less causative than murder?

I used Google to translate I accidentally murdered him into Swedish and was given Jag mördade av misstag honom. But when I translated that back into English, I got I accidentally killed him. Some causative funny business going on here methinks.


Alon said...

My Swedish is still in its early stages, but I'd say that mörda and murder are quite close as regards causativity. *Mördade av misstag is quite evidently deviant from the verb's standard semantics.

I am under the impression that Swedish has a somewhat more limited scope for döda than English has for kill, though (the verbal noun dödare [=killer] is very seldom used in its literal sense, for example) which makes me guess that the statistical engine behind Google Translate might be somewhat skewed against it.

On an unrelated side note, the two sequels to this admittedly brilliant thriller are unfortunately much less gripping. They make for good Swedish learning material, though.

Chris said...

Alon, interesting point about dödare. And I'm sure you're right about the stats behind Google's engine. I thought about that when I translated the Swedish back to English and it gave me killed. I'm sure accidentally is statistically far more common with killed than murdered.

And I would like to see the sequels, but here in the states, we were lucky to get the first one, hehe.

lotsson said...

I'm a native speaker of Swedish, and I can't explain the translation. The Swedish verb "mörda" is the equivalent of murder, both in law and in colloquial speech. That is, to kill with intent and planning.

Chris said...

thanks lotsson

lotsson said...

The expression "accidentally murdered" might confuse any translation engine, since if it is an accident, it is manslaughter, not murder. This might be what made the translator change the word: if you discover a dead person, you might draw the conclusion that they've been killed by somebody. Whether they've been murdered would perhaps not be obvious, and is for a court of law to determine.

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