Monday, November 26, 2007

The things a translator has to cope with

I've admired the work of Siân Reynolds, translator from French into English of the crime novelist Fred Vargas and the historian Fernand Braudel. In particular, I liked a note that Reynolds appended to Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, her Dagger-winning translation of Vargas' Sous les vents de Neptune.

That novel takes Paris police Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his colleagues to Quebec, where tension ensues with their Canadian counterparts. Among the sources of the tension is misunderstanding due to idiomatic differences between Quebecois French and the French spoken in France. Reynolds explains that she excluded that aspect of the misunderstanding from her translation, fearing (probably rightly) that it would be impossible to render successfully into English.

Debout les Morts (The Three Evangelists), also a Dagger winner, contains a similar necessary loss in translation, though on a smaller scale. Readers may recall that the novel begins when a worried singer finds that a beech tree has materialized overnight in her yard. Who or what, poor Sophia wonders, is haunting her in this strange manner? The uncanniness of the situation is magnified by the identical pronunciation in French of the words for beech (hêtre) and a being (être). Perhaps, Sophia wonders, she is being confronted by something less innocent than a tree. ("Un hêtre. Un être?")

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Bonjour, Peter. I do hope you are enjoying your holiday.
Your beech (hêtre) and a being (être) pronunciation query made me wonder about the American pronunciation of herb as erb; was it that Lafayette fellow at work again.
A clause in the European Union treaties should have insisted on simultaneous translation of all crime fiction into English.

November 27, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Ha! Then you'd have had endless discussions about the form of English to be used: American, British, Australian...

As I recall, there was an uproar about how bananas were defined in EU documents. "It must be NLT 12cm but NGT 24cm..."

November 27, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Uriah: The hêtre/être homophony did give rise to some interesting dinner conversation about wordplay that is rendered difficult or impossible in translation. Sartarelli's rendering of Catarella's malapropisms was on the menu.

Re the Lafayette question, I'll drop by his department store tomorrow and ask him.

November 27, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Linkmeister, I've had that conversation, but not this time. I posted a discussion a while back about Shane Maloney's thoughts on such matters at He is amusing on this subject, just as he is on many others.

November 27, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

You might enjoy this post and link from an Australian group of which I am a member:

Brian Kavanagh wrote:
> Given that this article deals with Cornwell's sexuality, you've got to
> love the headline. That is if you're Australian :-)

If that link failed you, use

November 27, 2007  

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