Thursday April 24, 2008

Green Smurf and Smurf Green

"In Schtroumpf vert et vert Schtroumpf, published in Belgium in 1972, it was revealed that the village was divided between North and South, and that the Smurfs on either side had different ideas as to whether the term smurf should be used as a verb or as a noun: for instance, the Northern Smurfs call a certain object a bottle smurfer, while the Southern Smurfs call it a smurf opener."  (from here)

Has anybody read this story?  I wonder if the two smurfalects also differed in other ways.  Did the position of nominal modifiers vary, as the title seems to imply?  And what's the structure of the title—is schtroumpf vert a variety of smurf and vert schtroumpf a shade of green?  Is either of the diasmurfs consistently smurf-initial or smurf-final, or do they have relatively free smurf-ordering?

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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The French Wikiepdia has an article: Schtroumpf vert et vert Schtroumpf which says "Le titre est tiré de l'expression «chou vert et vert chou» (équivalente à «bonnet blanc et blanc bonnet»)" Which seems to equate to the American "tomayto, tomahto". «chou vert et vert chou» is "green cabbage or cabbage-green", which is a noun-adjective alternation, rather than noun-verb. I wonder if «chou vert et vert chou» is Belgium-specific, as opposed to the more widespread «bonnet blanc et blanc bonnet» of France. It would link to Brussels sprouts, somehow. Smurfs of course are blue, not green.

Posted by: mollymooly at Apr 24, 2008 4:52:49 PM

I see the article for «bonnet blanc et blanc bonnet» defines that expression as «Se dit de choses présentées comme différentes mais en fait identiques ou très similaires.» If I'm translating correctly, that means, "Said of things presented as different but in fact identical or very similar". That makes it sound more similar to the English "six of one, half a dozen of the other".

My sense is that "tomayto, tomahto" is used more specifically to dismiss a difference in pronunciation or vocabulary. Suppose somebody asked, "Is it hot in here, or am I overdressed?", you could say, "six of one...", but "tomayto, tomahto" sounds a little odd, because "hot in here" and "overdressed" aren't paraphrases of each other. But suppose someone asked, "Did he quit or was he fired?" Replying "six of one..." would mean, "It doesn't matter -- the result is the same." Replying "tomayto, tomahto" would mean, "That's two ways of saying the same thing."

Is the expression «bonnet blanc et blanc bonnet» based, like "tomayto, tomahto", on actual dialectal variation in France between [noun]-[color word] and [color word]-[noun]? I ask because it strikes me that the equivalent expression in English ("white hat and hat white") doesn't work because "hat white" is flatly ungrammatical. Does it work in French because some adjectives go on one side of the noun and some on the other?

Posted by: The Tensor at Apr 24, 2008 6:02:03 PM

Riight. Not being American, I interpreted "tomayto, tomahto" more broadly than I ought to have. "Six of one..." works, though in the case of Jacques Duclos' famous quip I think "Tweedledum and Tweedledee" works better.

Although in French some adjectives go before the noun, most, including colours, usually go after. However, the rule is not as absolute as in English, so «blanc bonnet» is not ungrammatical. An English approximation might be "a white hat and a hat of white".

Posted by: mollymooly at Apr 25, 2008 2:21:29 PM

My hypothesis: Modern Smurf arose as a result of an influx of French speakers (Francophone Belgians?) into territory previously inhabited by proto-Smurf speakers--the Smurfs, presumably. French was adopted as a prestige language--its speakers were, after all, an order of magnitude larger--but a subsmurfum of proto-Smurf can still be smurfed through close analysis. Diasmurfs of Modern Smurf are distinguished by the smurf in which the proto-Smurf "smurf" smurfs in them.

Smurf A: Tentatively Reconstructed Smurf of Proto-Smurf:

*smurf - (v) perform an action, exist (in a state)
*smurf - (n) a thing
*smurfy - (adj) exhibiting a quality

Posted by: Matt at Apr 26, 2008 4:47:09 PM

OK, Matt wins.

Posted by: Pious Agnostic at Apr 26, 2008 6:21:23 PM

However, the rule is not as absolute as in English, so «blanc bonnet» is not ungrammatical.

Adjectives can be put before the noun for emphasis. Often happens with extrême and énorme.

Posted by: David Marjanović at Sep 5, 2008 3:56:01 PM