3

The question arose in my mind from the sentence that opens Book 1 chapter 2 of L'Étranger by Albert Camus, together with some translations as below.

I am quoting more in French than in translations for context. Meursault, the narrator, is recalling a conversation he had with his boss a few days before.

En me réveillant, j’ai compris pourquoi mon patron avait l’air mécontent quand je lui ai demandé mes deux jours de congé : c’est aujourd’hui samedi. Je l’avais pour ainsi dire oublié, mais en me levant, cette idée m’est venue. Mon patron, tout naturellement, a pensé que j’aurais ainsi quatre jours de vacances avec mon dimanche et cela ne pouvait pas lui faire plaisir. Mais d’une part, ce n’est pas de ma faute si on a enterré maman hier au lieu d’aujourd’hui et d’autre part, j’aurais eu mon samedi et mon dimanche de toute façon. Bien entendu, cela ne m’empêche pas de comprendre tout de même mon patron.

Stuart Gilbert:

ON WAKING I understood why my employer had looked rather cross when I asked for my two days off; it’s a Saturday today.

Matthew Ward:

As I was waking up, it came to me why my boss had seemed annoyed when I asked him for two days off: Today is Saturday.



QUESTIONS

  1. Is there an option to replace avait with avait eu without making the Camus sentence ungrammatical or changing its meaning? The result would be:

(R1) En me réveillant, j’ai compris pourquoi mon patron avait eu l’air mécontent quand je lui ai demandé mes deux jours de congé.

  1. Is there an option to replace ai demandé with avais demandé (or eus demandé) without making the sentence ungrammatical or changing its meaning (particularly if, as per question 1, avait has become avait eu)? The result would be:

(R2) En me réveillant, j’ai compris pourquoi mon patron avait eu l’air mécontent quand je lui avais demandé (eus demandé) mes deux jours de congé.

  1. Suppose the narrator recalled his boss's saying no. Which of the following would properly express that?

(A) En me réveillant, j’ai compris pourquoi mon patron dit non quand je lui ai demandé mes deux jours de congé.

(B) En me réveillant, j’ai compris pourquoi mon patron avait dit (eut dit) non quand je lui ai demandé mes deux jours de congé.

(C) En me réveillant, j’ai compris pourquoi mon patron avait dit (eut dit) non quand je lui avais demandé (eus demandé) mes deux jours de congé.

  1. Please explain the answers (see Background below).

Whatever else you may do please give definite yes or no to 1 and 2 and definitely choose one (or more) of A through C for me.

BACKGROUND

Here might be an 'explanation' for the Gilbert translation. If we mark each verb instance with (grammatical tense, time of occurrence), it may go like this.

ON WAKING I understood(1, 1) why my employer had looked(2, 2) rather cross when I asked(1, 2) for my two days off; it’s a Saturday today.

The boss's had looked is both grammatically and in reality one step further into the past, hence (2, 2) as opposed to (1, 1) for the narrator's understood. The narrator's asked is grammatically even with understood but in reality contemporaneous with the boss's had looked; hence (1, 2).

This (1, 2) in the when-clause (which may be called 'doubly subordinate') may seem weird (when the 'merely subordinate' why-clause already has (2, 2)); but it is almost always done this way in English I notice. I've only seen a few exceptions, i.e. (2, 2) for 'doubly subordinate,' in Henry James. Just to be clear what I mean, a 'Henry James' sentence would go like:

ON WAKING I understood(1, 1) why my employer had looked(2, 2) rather cross when I had asked(2, 2) for my two days off; it’s a Saturday today.

By explanation for the French sentences, I have these things in mind.

Suppose the answer to question 3 is that we say (B), i.e.:

(B) En me réveillant, j’ai compris(1, 1) pourquoi mon patron avait dit (eut dit)(2, 2) non quand....

If so, why a different treatment for the Camus sentence--i.e. (1, 2) below as opposed to (2, 2) above?

En me réveillant, j’ai compris(1, 1) pourquoi mon patron avait(1, 2) l’air mécontent quand.....

Maybe grammatical aspect matters (avoir l'air having an imperfect aspect while dire has what is called a "perfective," not to be confused with a "perfect" in tense).

Maybe there is a connection to a special treatment of imperfect in indirect discourse, whereby imperfect in direct discourse remains imperfect in indirect (when most other tenses undergo a change).

Alternatively, the answer to question 3 may be (A).

If so, I would want to know what explains this exceptional treatment when, as it seems to me, French is generally more strict than English when it comes to sequence of tense.

Je te dirai quand elle sera partie.

compared with

I will tell you when she is gone.

As an aside, I am quoting two German translations. I don't know whether they are slavishly copying the French syntax or German has its own reasons to do what it does.

Uli Aumüller:

Als ich aufwachte, ist mir klargeworden, warum mein Chef verstimmt aussah, als ich ihn um zwei Tage Urlaub gebeten habe: heute ist Sonnabend.

Georg Goyert und Hans Georg Brenner:

Als ich erwachte, wurde mir klar, weshalb mein Chef so unwirsch war, als ich ihn um zwei Tage Urlaub bat: heute ist Samstag.

I have put a related question to the German board.

1

To discuss the examples in (3), I would suggest switching from DIRE to RÉPONDRE because its present tense and its simple past have different forms minimizing confusion.

(A1) En me réveillant, j’ai compris pourquoi mon patron répond non quand je lui ai demandé mes deux jours de congé.

(A2) En me réveillant, j’ai compris pourquoi mon patron répondit non quand je lui ai demandé mes deux jours de congé.

(B) En me réveillant, j’ai compris pourquoi mon patron avait répondu non quand je lui ai demandé mes deux jours de congé.

(C) En me réveillant, j’ai compris pourquoi mon patron avait répondu non quand je lui avais demandé mes deux jours de congé.

Both (A1) and (A2) seem agrammatical. The others, (B) and (C) with the pluperfect on RÉPONDRE seem ok. Having no intuition whatsoever about the use of Subjunctive imperfective like most French speakers, I cannot comment on the other alternatives.

In (B), the time index of RÉPONDRE looks equalled to that of DEMANDER (TREP=TDEM), while in (C), it seems to be extending after (TREP≥TDEM).

Another part of your question as to do with lexical aspects of the verbs used avoir l'air is a stative verb while DIRE and RÉPONDRE are not. Someone else might be able to shed light on that part...

  • Thank you. By "the other alternatives" that you have no comment on, do you mean (R1) and (R2)? (I added those labels for easy reference.) If yes, can you explain how they are in the subjunctive? (I thought they were in the indicative.) Maybe you had someone other grammatical term in mind? Maybe when a verb has a stative aspect, it is not intuitive to put it in the plus-que-parfait? – Catomic Dec 19 '16 at 1:28
  • I was referring to Subjunctive imperfective which is not part of my intuition as a native speaker. And now, looking back at your examples, I see that you used anterior past in the alternate forms in parenthesis. I'll revise my answer accordingly but they all sound strange... – GAM PUB Dec 19 '16 at 2:20
0

Référence: L'imparfait français et ses traductions en anglais: approche méta-opérationnelle
auteur: Jean-Pierre Gabilan Université de Savoie

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.