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November 16[edit]

French: “portés à terre” in Captain Grant's message [edit]

In Jules Verne, Les Enfants du capitaine Grant, chapter 3.21. (see full text), I'm trying to understand this sentence from the French version of the bottled message Captain Grant has sent.

Portés à terre, deux matelots et le capitaine Grant ont atteint à l’île Tabor.

I'd like to know what “Portés à terre” means here. I tried to look at Wiktionary: wikt:fr:porter, but there's so many meanings I'm not sure which one applies here. If it were standing alone, my guess would be “having reached (dry) land”. That, however, would be completely redundant with the last part of the sentence, “ont atteint à l'île Tabor”, which definitely means “have reached Tabor island” according to wikt:fr:atteindre#Verbe, and so seems unlikely in context.

The translation of the novel by Bartócz Ilona gives a translation of the message which completely omits this phrase: “Két matróz és Grant kapitány partra vetődött a Tabor-szigeten.”

Please explain what that clause means, and possibly point me to which sense of wikt:fr:porter applies, if any. Thanks, – b_jonas 20:11, 16 November 2014 (UTC)

This translation of the novel renders it "Making for the shore, two sailors and Captain Grant are about to land on the continent...". So it's Wiktionnaire's sense 28, "(Marine) Se diriger vers", which indeed includes the phrase porter à terre as one of the examples of its possible use. --Antiquary (talk) 20:27, 16 November 2014 (UTC)
"Porter à" apparently has a specific meaning when used by sailors: it means "se diriger vers" so "to go towards", "to direct your course towards" (see 28th meaning in wikt:fr:porter). So "portés à terre" (for "s'étant portés à terre") means "having gone/directed their course towards land/the shore" and the whole sentence "having directed their course towards land two sailors and captain G. reached the island of Tabor." Contact Basemetal here 20:35, 16 November 2014 (UTC)
Oh, how could I have missed "terre" there! I did notice the "(Marine)" label and how it means to navigate a ship towards a goal, but read only the "Porter au sud" part of the example.
So then in this case, does the "porter à terre" mean they tried to direct the ship towards the land during the storm, whereas "ont atteint à l'île Tabor" means only those three people have reached the land after the ship got destroyed close to the island? – b_jonas 20:48, 16 November 2014 (UTC)
I don't think it necessarily means that, especially since "portés" is plural. I rather think it means that those three, having abandoned ship, made for land. (But I don't know the story, so that might not fit in fact). --ColinFine (talk) 21:22, 16 November 2014 (UTC)
No, it means that those three people made for land and, having made for land, reached the island as, first of all, "portés à terre" can only refer to those three people who are the grammatical subject of "ont atteint", and second, the two events must be directly related, "portés à terre" is what caused them to reach the land, so it can't mean that, some time previously, they tried to make for land and then, some time later, in some unconnected manner, they happened to reach the island. Contact Basemetal here 21:45, 16 November 2014 (UTC)
Ok, so then it means the three survivors have directed themselves towards the land after the ship has sunk, and that is why they had reached the island? – b_jonas 21:55, 16 November 2014 (UTC)
Yes. Contact Basemetal here 22:02, 16 November 2014 (UTC)
A small note of caution here. The basic meaning is not in doubt. However note "porter à" is not a transitive verb so it cannot have a passive. The meaning of the past participle "portés" is passive. So how do we reconcile the two? I'll try to take a look at more detailed dictionaries than wikt and at the text of the passage. The use of the passive past participle suggests that their making for the shore happened not through their own decision and actions but through some external agency such as the current. But for that to be grammatical "être porté à" has to exist alongside "porter à" sort of independently. That's not automatic. You cannot automatically from "porter à" derive "être porté à" in the meaning "be caused to make towards". For example you can say "rouler vers Rouen" ("to drive in the direction of Rouen") but you cannot form *"être roulé vers Rouen" ("to be driven in the direction of Rouen") like you can in English. In any case note the English translator seems to have missed that distinction: they translate as if the phrase had been "ayant porté à terre, etc." or "portant à terre, etc.". As to the Hungarian translator she completely bypassed the problem by ignoring that part of the sentence. I'll get back to you if I find something more. Contact Basemetal here 04:30, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
Basemetal: indeed. Ilmen proposed (outside this wiki) that "porter" here is not used in the meaning to direct themselves towards. He explains that if the sentence were to mean that the crew members directed themselves towards the land, then the crew members would have to be the subject of "porter", and then you would need to write "Ayant porté à terre, deux matelots et le capitaine Grant…". Instead, the crew are the object of "porter", and so it means that something (presumably the storm) has carried or brought the survivors to dry land. This would match my original first attempt, but I still think it's redundant with the end of the sentence, and is unlikely to be what Captain Grant has meant. (That said, how ironic would it be if, unknown to Captain Grant, Captain Nemo had already been near the island, and had carried Captain Grant to the land just as he had carried Cyrus Smith in the next novel.)
Note further two sentences from the novel. Firstly, in the same chapter, Captain Grant had explained that after the ship broke, the three survivors have reached the island after many failed attempts: "nous parvînmes à gagner la côte après vingt tentatives infructueuses". This, however, doesn't clearly exclude any interpretation. Secondly, Paganel suggests in the novel that the British captain need not have had a perfect command of French: "il a été écrit par un Anglais, auquel les idiotismes de la langue française pouvaient ne pas être familiers".
b_jonas 08:50, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
As a French native speaker, I understand: "Portés à terre [par les flots], deux matelots [...]", "Carried by the waves [to the land], two seamen [...]". The phrase is porter par. Meanings 1 and 5 from wikt:fr:porter apply. Do not hesitate to correct my English translation — AldoSyrt (talk) 09:07, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
Jules Verne wrote "[ils] ont atteint à l'île Tabor…" Note the "à" and note that the ellipsis are by the author. The sentence is interrupted, the object complement of atteindre is missing. So, the translation: "they reached Tabor island" would be wrong, it would be: "On Tabor island, they reached…" AldoSyrt (talk) 10:38, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
AldoSyrt: I believe "Tabor" is the last word of that sentence of the message. The ellipsis is there because Paganel interrupts Captain Grant recounting the message. Grant then goes on to tell the next sentence of the message: "Là, continuellement en proie à une cruelle indigence, ils ont jeté ce document par 153° de longitude et 37°11' de latitude." Captain Grant certainly wouldn't have omitted half a sentence after Paganel and Lord Glenarvan has specifically asked him for its contents. – b_jonas 10:46, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
I can assure you that in French "atteindre à l'île Tabor." [with a full stop] is not grammatically correct (and I doubt that it could be a mistake usually done by an English native speaker) . It could be a typo... I'll try to check, I lost my copy (Les Enfants du capitaine Grant), years ago AldoSyrt (talk) 11:04, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
But I already linked to wikt:fr:atteindre#Verbe which says under the heading "atteindre à" that it is correct, it's a specific idiom, and it means they reached the island. – b_jonas 11:11, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
Atteindre à (atteindre au sommet, atteindre au large, atteindre au pôle, etc) is as correct as atteindre tout court (atteindre le sommet, atteindre le large, atteindre le pôle, etc). It does sound slightly more recherché or unusual than atteindre tout court, and there is a slightly different shade of meaning (see wikt article), but it wouldn't shock me outre mesure even if it was used as a quasi-synonym. More later. Contact Basemetal here 11:59, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
Of course you're right! And, while a little bit "old fashion", it is better because pour qu’on ne puisse pas y arriver sans quelque effort fits well the situation. Apologies. — AldoSyrt (talk) 12:47, 17 November 2014 (UTC)

There remains the question of how to understand "portés à terre". If one takes this (as Ilmen, whoever he is, and AldoSyrt) to simply mean "carried to shore" ("portés à terre [par les flots]") and if that shore is the shore of the island of Tabor then, if not exactly redundant with "reached the island" (because it gives some additional information as to how they reached the island), it is certainly clumsy, as much in English as in French incidentally: instead of writing "having been carried to shore they reached the island" just write "they were carried to the shore of the island" ("deux matelots et le capitaine ont été portés [à terre] à l’île de Tabor"). So rather than believe Jules Verne could write a sentence many 9 year olds would know better than to write, I prefer to stick to my idea that in this instance "portés à terre" means something else than simply "carried to shore". And the most probable to me is that it is that "porter à" phrase from maritime jargon we were talking about. There remains to account for the syntactical oddity that I mentioned and that is bothering every one. If this is uttered by an English speaker then I think we might have a plausible explanation. Contact Basemetal here 20:03, 17 November 2014 (UTC)

The problem is that this clause doesn't appear in any of the translations of the fragmented documents, so it doesn't seem to be constrained by the plot at all, so I see no reason why Jules Verne would have written it with bad grammar. – b_jonas 20:37, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
Only a speculation of mine. If J. Verne had choosen to use the nautical phrase, he would have written: "Après avoir porté à terre" or "Ayant porté à terre". But the sentence would be clumsy, because it would have been the boat that had done this or the crew (not only the three survivors). Better?:"Après qu'il [le bateau] a porté à terre.." . But he wrote "Portés à terre..."; this phrase looks like and sounds like a nautical phrase. Syntax oddity? no. Bad style? I don't think so. @b_jonas. Even great writers make mistakes or write poor passages — AldoSyrt (talk) 21:57, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
For those who want to know different interpretations of the bottle message without reading the book (in French), please refer to [1]AldoSyrt (talk) 22:29, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
Not in the fragmented documents? The English version of the message can be seen here. Note that the word "aland" is used. "aland" = "ashore" = "towards or onto land from water", according to the Webster's dictionaryAldoSyrt (talk) 22:59, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
Ah, right! I'm sorry, it is there. So the “à terre” translates to “aland”, and that's in the fragments. And indeed the first two interpretations contain “Se dirigeant à terre, deux matelots et le capitaine Grant…”.
Ok, let's give all the chapters together then: 1.2. gives the three fragments and the first interpretation that leads to Patagonia, 1.24. gives the second interpretation that leads to Australia, 3.19. gives the third interpretation for New Zealand, and 3.21. gives the actual text. – b_jonas 06:57, 18 November 2014 (UTC)
Antiquary: I think that translated sentence you mention, because it is not the translation of the actual text of the document. It is the translation of Lord Glenarvan's first guess of the text (from chapter 1.2.), which he makes after having seen only the word “aland” in that phrase. In the original novel, his guess is “Se dirigeant à terre”, which indeed means “making to the shore”. The translation you link to is an old translation of unknown date Edited By Charles F. Horne, Ph.D., of which you can find a better digitization on Project Gutenberg. This edition does not translate the actual text of the message in chapter 3.21., giving it only in French (and with a typo too).
There is, however, another English translation of the novel in public domain, from 1874, Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co., also available digitized in Project Gutenberg. This translation does give the French text of the message in English, and says “Carried by the waves, two sailors and Captain Grant reached Tabor Island”. This supports the first interpretation. – b_jonas 21:33, 24 November 2014 (UTC)
I have cross-posted this message to French Language Stack Exchange, where I have summarized the evidence so far in my answer.b_jonas 22:12, 24 November 2014 (UTC)