La Guadeloupe en Traduction

Le blog bilangue d'une traductrice du français vers l'anglais en Guadeloupe


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Voici une vidéo amusante d’Elsa Perry, graphiste et réalisatrice de films d’animation documentaires, sur le tchip. Aucune idée de quoi il s’agit ? Regardez.

Here’s a fun little video created by Elsa Perry, a graphic artist and director of documentary animation, on teeth-sucking. Haven’t a clue what that would be? Watch. (Translation provided below.)

Actually, it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized that not everyone sucked their teeth. As far back as I can remember, I’ve heard the people around me sucking their teeth. Of course, I have to tell you that my father is Togolese et my mother is Guadeloupean, and that in both cultures everyone sucks their teeth.

Let me explain what sucking your teeth means. Teeth-sucking is a sound produced by the mouth that is characteristically African. Indeed, it’s found in the majority of African cultures, whether in Africa itself, or in the Caribbean or North America. Incidentally, African-Americans say “to suck your teeth.”
In fact, that describes it precisely: sucking in the lips against the teeth while moving the tongue in the opposite direction. Like so. In short, when you suck your teeth, you employ your entire mouth. Or rather, your entire face. Because sucking your teeth isn’t complete without the right expression.

There are several kinds of teeth-sucking and a whole host of rules to follow if you don’t want to find yourself in a delicate situation. The first function of teeth-sucking is to signal disapproval and annoyance. And don’t you dare suck your teeth at whomever or whenever! Teeth-sucking abides by certain specific codes that are aligned with social hierarchy. Therefore, peers can suck their teeth at one another, or you can suck your teeth at your subordinate, but it would never occur to me to suck my teeth at an older person or at my employer, for example. If someone sucks his or her teeth during a conversation without directing it at anyone in particular, it’s a form of general disapproval.
Another kind of teeth-sucking is the maternal teeth-sucking. I distinctly remember my Caribbean mother sucking her teeth while chastising me with her eyes when I said or did something foolish. My grandmother and aunts did the same. This sort of teeth-sucking is used more frequently by women, even if men use it too.

You must know, of course, that you can suck your teeth in a variety of ways. There’s the short and sharp teeth-sucking, equivalent to a “You’re talking nonsense” or “Knock that out,” to the drawn-out, contemptuous—deadly, even—teeth-sucking. Of course, the accompanying facial expressions heighten its impact, even if the surly, dare I say contemptuous, curve of the mouth alone is rather sufficient.
And then there is the super teeth-sucking, the one that ends with a click of the tongue at the back of the palate, letting you know that there really is no point to saying more. The super teeth-sucking is typically African; West Indians don’t use it.

The super teeth-sucking can be a bit surreal. One day, in the metro, I was given a super teeth-sucking by an African mother who apparently didn’t like the look of my face. Surrounded by her offspring, she eyed me from head to toe, and openly sucked her teeth at me, for no apparent reason. I never found out what I’d done to offend her.

I bet you’re going to tell me that all this teeth-sucking sounds the same. That’s because you don’t have the ear for it yet. Apply yourself!

Incidentally, in the past few years, I’ve met more and more French people, with no Caribbean or African ancestry, who suck their teeth. Individuals who move in Caribbean or African circles, or who have black friends, and who have appropriated teeth-sucking. Such as my friend Charlotte, whose family is from Poitou Charente, and who was raised around Paris, blithely sucks her teeth in conversation. You’ll see, soon, everyone in France will be sucking their teeth!

Written by May

August 2nd, 2014 at 5:52 pm

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