After the accident – language barrier

So perished our comrades! For the space of half-an-hour we remained on the spot without moving a single step. The two men, paralysed by terror, cried like infants, and trembled in such a manner as to threaten us with the fate of the others. Old Peter rent the air with exclamations of "Chamounix ! Oh, what will Chamounix say?" He meant, Who would believe that Croz could fall?
Did Old Peter really say that? He spoke in a German patois Whymper could not understand. Would he be concerned with what Chamounix will say? The only one of the party he knew was Lord Francis Douglas and who has just gone to his death when the rope linking them broke. Surely his first thoughts would not be for Croz, but for Douglas, his employer and climbing companion, and from a noble English family. Whymper's story is baloney. Even if Old Peter said what Whymper claimed he said why did Whymper resort to fiction to tell us what he thinks Old Peter was really thinking. That is impossible.

Croz was the only one of the party Whymper knew and what he claimed Old Peter said and was thinking were, in fact, his own thoughts i.e. "Chamounix ! Oh, what will Chamounix say?" At the instant the accident happened, Whymper was looking at Croz and saw him drop. He asked himself the question: Who would believe Croz could fall? Nobody is going to believe Croz fell, least of all Chamounix.
  • Because of Whymper's limited view behind the rock, if he says Croz fell it will be denied.
  • Despite Whymper's limited view behind the rock, he says Hadow fell and it is believed.
Croz could NOT be the one who falls, so Whymper said the novice climber Hadow fell and knocked Croz down.

==========================================
I was ready to leave, and waiting for the others. They had recovered their appetites and the use of their tongues. They spoke in patois, which I did not understand.
At length the son said in French, "Monsieur."
"Yes."
"We are poor men; we have lost our Herr; we shall not get paid; we can ill afford this." 1
"Stop!" I said, interrupting him, "that is nonsense; I shall pay you, of course, just as if your Herr were here."
They talked together in their patois for a short time, and then the son spoke again.
"We don't wish you to pay us. We wish you to write in the hotel-book at Zermatt, and to your journals, that we have not been paid."
"What nonsense are you talking? I don't understand you. What do you mean?"
He proceeded "Why, next year there will be many travellers at Zermatt, and we shall get more voyageurs."2

Who would answer such a proposition? I made them no reply in words,3 but they knew very well the indignation that I felt. They filled the cup of bitterness to overflowing, and I tore down the cliff, madly and recklessly, in a way that caused them, more than once, to inquire if I wished to kill them.

1 They had been travelling with, and had been engaged by, Lord F. Douglas, and so considered him their employer, and responsible to them.
2 Transcribed from the original memorandum.
3 Nor did I speak to them afterwards, unless it was absolutely necessary, so long as we were together.

Whymper and the Taugwalders have only been together for the first time on this day. They have just seen four of their companions fall to their deaths. Whymper is on edge and quite likely so are the Taugwalders. Whymper does not understand their patois.

Young Peter speaks to Whymper in French but how good is his French? Translating his patois into French could result in strange words that may be unlike normal French. And how good is Whymper's French? He may also be imperfect in the language. Put the two speakers together and neither may understand what the other is trying to say. That something was lost in translation may be putting a mildly.

Whymper hardly lets Young Peter say more than a few words before he interrupts. He thinks he understand what is being said, but how can he when he repeatedly refuses to listen? Note Whymper's words. They hardly suggest he really knows what Peter is saying:

"Stop!" I said, interrupting him,

"What nonsense are you talking?

I don't understand you.

What do you mean?"
How can Whymper know what young Peter is trying to say when he talks that way? Young Peter may be being deferential to Whymper – he is a very important person in Peter's eyes. Also, the order of words in in which Germanic languages are spoken differs from English. This may have lead to a misunderstanding of what was being said or meant. Does Whymper get it wrong?

==========================================

(from 'When the Alps cast their spell'):

[young Peter]... On the descent he describes the rocks on the north face as being 'entirely free from snow' although Whymper refers to the 'snow-filled interstices of the rock face ... at times covered with a thin film of ice'. but the principal differences between his account and Whymper's relate to his resentment, and vigorous denial of the discussions over pay that are alleged by Whymper to have taken place on the mountain after the accident. It was he who conversed with Whymper in French, having acquired a smattering of the language during military service in the French-speaking canton of Vaud. He added: 'various expressions which he [Whymper] put into our mouths were absolutely without foundation. He described the vision of two crosses in the sky following the accident, which forms a striking frontispiece to scrambles amongst the Alps, as an invention of Whymper. While there are no startling revelations in young Peter's account, he emphasized the fact that his father's firm stance – referred to by Whymper as his 'wonderful feat of strength' – at the moment of the accident, saved Whymper's life. His words leave little doubt about his bitterness towards Whymper, whom he regarded as unfriendly, ungenerous, and as the source of unwarranted accusations against his father.

Top | Index