Thursday, January 03, 2013

d in "django"

i'm not sure that i will ever see django unchained (i've gotten tired of the tarantino revenge fantasy schtick), but i am curious whether the film explains why the main character has a silent "d" at the beginning of his name. the "dj" thing is usually a french transliteration convention to represent the sound of a "hard j" (by that i mean the "j" we have in english, or a voiced palato-alveolar affricate if you want to get all phonetic), as opposed to the "j" sound in french (which is a voiced palato-alveolar fricative. that is, a "j" in a french word sounds like the "s" in "treasure", a sound which is sometimes transcribed in english as "zh").

when french people write a "j" they would naturally assume that the letter stands for the sound it stands for in their own language. so when they want to transcribe a word from a different language and make it clear that the sound they are representing is more like the english "j", they often write it as "dj". which is why, for example, the country of djibouti is spelled "djibouti" instead of "jibuti". it probably would have been "jibuti if the british had colonized it instead of the french. another example: when i was in tunisia years ago, french-language maps spelled the island of جربة "djerba" while english language maps spelled it "jerba". i also saw a similar phenomenon in kazakhstan. the "j" in american names was written in cyrillic as "дж" and "tajikistan" was written "таджикистан". that is, the cyrillic "d" (д) plus the cyrillic zh, or french j sound (ж).

anyway, whenever i see something about the movie "django unchained", i think about that "d" at the beginning of the lead character's name. the movie is about a slave in america, so his name would have been transcribed as "jango", unless maybe he made a stop in a francophone place first. but it's probably more likely that tarantino spelled it "django" just because he thought it looked cooler. or maybe he is just a fan of django reinhardt. or, probably most likely, it is a reference to the lead character in a bunch of italian spaghetti westerns.