1

On this website, there was the following quote:

“La curiosité est une des caractéristiques les plus permanentes et certaines d’une intelligence vive.” – Samuel Johnson

I'm having trouble parsing this sentence, as I try to translate it. Below shows my attempts at translating it, and the problems with parsing that I am running into.


La curiosité est une des caractéristiques les plus permanentes et certaines d’une intelligence vive.

I understand "La curiosité est une des caractéristiques":

Curisoity is one of the characteristics

and then I read "les plus permanentes" as modififying the noun "characteristics". So I have, so far:

Curiosity is one of the most permanent characteristics
(or)
Curiosity is one of the characterstics that is the most permanent

1.

Suppose the sentence ended here. That is, suppose the sentence was:

"La curiosité est une des caractéristiques les plus permanentes."

I'm not sure what this means.

  • Does it mean that out of all possible characteristics, curiosity is the most permanent?

  • Or does it mean that out of the set of "the most permanent characteristics", that curiosity is one of characteristics in this set?

2.

Continuing trying to translate the original French sentence, my confusion starts with "et certaines d’une intelligence vive".

If I translate this outside of its context, I have "and certain of a sharp intelligence".

a) I don't really know what this group of words ("and certain of a sharp intelligence") actually means, though! The word "certain" (or "certaines") is the trouble.

b) I don't know how to parse the full sentence. (Part of the reason is the word "et", and part of the reason is knowing what "d'une intelligence vive" is "attached" to.)

How do I parse this sentence? Is it one of these? :

  • "les plus" applies to both "permanentes" and "certaines", and both "attach" themselves to "d'une intelligence vive":

    La curiosité est une des caractéristiques
    les plus permanentes et les plus certaines
    d’une intelligence vive.

    So: "Curiosity is one of the characteristics
    that is the most permanent of a sharp intelligence,
    and that is the most certain of a sharp intelligence".

    But I don't know what this sentence even means. I don't even know what the simpler sentence "Curiosity is one of the characteristics that is the most permanent of a sharp intelligence" means. I know what "Curiosity is one of the characteristics that is the most permanent" means, but add "of a sharp intelligence", and the sentence stops making sense to me.

  • "les plus" only attaches to "permanentes".

    La curiosité est une des caractéristiques les plus permanentes
    et [la curiosité est] certaines d’une intelligence vive.

    So: "Curiosity is one of the most permanent characteristics, and
    curiosity is certain of a quick intelligence".

    But here, I also don't know what this means.. .

Neither of these attempts at parsing the sentence make a sentence that makes sense to me.

QUESTIONS:
1. What does "La curiosité est une des caractéristiques les plus permanentes." mean? (See #1 above for my attempts and thought process, please).
2a. What does "et certaines d’une intelligence vive" mean? (See #2a above for my thought process).
2b. How do I parse the full sentence, and what does the full sentence mean? (See #2b above for my thought process).

2
"La curiosité est une des caractéristiques les plus permanentes."

I'm not sure what this means.

  • Does it mean that out of all possible characteristics, curiosity is the most permanent?

  • Or does it mean that out of the set of "the most permanent characteristics", that curiosity is one of characteristics in this set?

It means "curiosity is one of the most permanent characteristics", so definitely more along the lines of #2 than #1.

If I translate this outside of its context, I have "and certain of a sharp intelligence"

Despite their proximity in the sentence, "of a sharp intelligence" is not a complement of "certain", it is a complement of "caractéristiques", hence your confusion.

You could rephrase the original sentence as:

Parmi les caractéristiques d’une intelligence vive, la curiosité est une des plus permanentes et certaines.

2

I'm not sure about the right choice of English words and adjectives but avoiding lookalikes ones might help to better understand the sentence.

1.

Curiosity is one of the steadier traits

2a.

[Curiosity is one of the] clearer traits of a sharp intelligence

2b.

Curiosity is one of the steadier and clearer traits of a sharp intelligence.

By the way, Samuel Johnson was British so his quote was written in English and reads:

Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.

Most was "unlost" in translation...

To better stick with the English, that might have been translated:

La curiosité est l'une des caractéristiques permanentes et certaines d’une intelligence vive.

  • doesn't "les plus X" mean "the most X"? – silph Jun 28 '18 at 6:44
  • Yes, "the most steady" and "the most clear". – jlliagre Jun 28 '18 at 6:48
  • is there a reason that the French sentence uses "les plus permanentes" instead of just "les permanentes"? – silph Jun 28 '18 at 14:27
  • 1
    The former has the same meaning than the real original sentence (in English), but the extra les plus in the second one obviously introduces a difference. – jlliagre Jun 28 '18 at 14:45
  • 1
    I use l' because I feel the sentence sounds better with it but this article is definitely usable and optional in both cases. See druide.com/fr/enquetes/un-des-ou-l%E2%80%99un-des – jlliagre Jun 28 '18 at 15:35

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