The Passion

March 08, 2004

The Languages of The Passion

Posted by Ed

Languagehat has linked to this fascinating Chicago Tribune article profiling the Jesuit scholar who wrote the script for Mel Gibson's The Passion. It sounds like the Rev. William Fulco, a Jesuit priest and professor of ancient Mediterranean studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, had some fun when he wrote the script and subtitles for the movie:

Fulco left Greek out of "The Passion," substituting Latin in occasional cases where Greek might have been used. He also made mostly imperceptible distinctions between the elegant Latin of Pilate and the crude Latin of soldiers, thanks to an X-rated source he found on his shelf.

"I tracked down some obscene graffiti from Roman army camps," Fulco said. "Somebody who knows Latin really well, their ears will fall off. We didn't subtitle those words."

Fulco even confessed to some linguistic mischief.

"Here and there I put in playful things which nobody will know. There's one scene where Caiaphas turns to his cohorts and says something in Aramaic. The subtitle says, `You take care of it.' He's actually saying, `Take care of my laundry.'"

Other linguistic tricks of Fulco's serve a function in the script.

For example, he incorporated deliberate dialogue errors in the scenes where the Roman soldiers, speaking Aramaic, are shouting to Jewish crowds, who respond in Latin. To illustrate the groups' inability to communicate with each other, each side speaks with incorrect pronunciations and word endings.

Later, "there's an exchange where Pilate addresses Jesus in Aramaic, and Jesus answers in Latin. It's kind of a nifty little symbolic thing: Jesus is going to beat him at his own game," Fulco said. "One line [in that exchange] I kind of enjoyed is when Jesus says, `My power is given from above, otherwise my followers would not have allowed this.' That's [spoken in] the pluperfect subjunctive."

As Languagehat points out, the film seems to have taken quite a few liberties with the script... I'm very wary of the politics behind this movie, but the linguistics are really interesting.

Posted by Ed at March 8, 2004 04:41 PM

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