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The natural heavens for translators

Report on the seminar “Traducteurs, redécouvrons les richesses du français” held on 7 August 2015

What translator has not lamented the extraordinary wealth (or precision, or concision) of “the other language”, this source language that sometimes offers so much resistance to our efforts? As though there was a common “inaccessible heaven” for translators?

In Europe for the seminar On traduit à Chantilly, François Lavallée, from the Magistrad school of translation, agreed to pass by Brussels to shine some light on this “French heaven”.

The idea is as simple as it is brilliant. Take a newspaper article, an annual report, a novel, doesn’t matter. Read it, focusing on its linguistic dimension. Pause on each word. Do you use it in your translations? If you revise, do you see it in the translations you’re revising? If the answer is no, make a note and look for the word or expression in the source language for which it could be the translation. Found it? You’ve just learned a new English/French word pair.

Do the same with the syntax and with the wording. What do you see? The disconnected epithet, very useful in French adds a bit of rhythm. Yet, it’s used very infrequently in English syntax. Perhaps you’ll notice that the subject/verb inversion, or the interpolated clause, so off-putting for English translators, is a powerful aid for adding rhythm to a phrase or making it intelligible when the topic is so very long…

Try it! Open your newspaper, or better yet, an on-line document that is comparable to the one you’re in the process of translating, and tick these neglected words. Analyse the text, use your finds and you’ll see your translations get lighter, clearer and more idiomatic. In the process, the translator’s great challenge will doubtless be to set aside the tendency to find fault. We’re hunting for treasures not trash, because it’s these that make us better.

Dominique Jonkers