Monday, 24 September 2012

Franglais and Intense Driving Sensations

Matt Prior in Autocar (12th September 2012) reviews a new, more powerful version of the Peugeot RCZ remarking ‘it will offer “intense driving sensations”, according to the Franglais’.

This highlights one of the main differences between French and English.

English is a language which is Germanic in origin but which over time has acquired much vocabulary from romance languages, particularly French.

French has remained first and foremost a latin-based language with a few borrowings from elsewhere. ‘Calanque’ (inlet or creek) from the Visigoth ‘kalanka’ has always stuck in my mind. 

Many French nautical terms come from the language of the Vikings, who settled in Normandy and from whom William 1st (The Conqueror) was descended. Ironically he would have spoken Norman French.

This allows English to benefit from many different registers thanks to this choice of vocabulary.

We are all aware of the difference between mutton (Fr. mouton) and sheep, or pork (Fr. porc) and pig reflecting the cultural and class differences between Norman and Saxon following the Conquest.

The English speaker can neatly switch from perceived ‘earthy’ terms of Saxon or Germanic origin to Latin based expressions, which seem to be either more impersonal or more verbose in tone.

The French speaker cannot help but using latinate expressions and may sound verbose or overly elegant to the anglophone ear, even when being extremely earthy.

So the “intense driving sensations” offered by this car might be translated into English as ‘belting drive’...

Monday, 17 September 2012

Outside the Box

Extract from a recent article by Sam Taylor in the FT on the art of translation.

‘What you are translating is never simply a series of signs or letters on a page but a set of unspoken assumptions and can’t translate a have to think laterally. Which is how the British leader Zebigbos becomes Mykingdomforanos’ (in Astérix)’.

Ah yes, translation is often thinking laterally, thinking outside the box. Now that is very difficult to translate into French. In fact French thinking is likely to be anything but lateral or outside the proverbial.

How would you translate it ? ‘Sortir des sentiers battus’, ‘sortir du cadre’ ?

As you can see the French seems to see this as leaving the road or breaking out of a frame (cadre), a type of transgression. 

The English (by which I mean English language) mind sees it as a brilliant solution to difficult puzzle.

This is now languages somehow manage to see the world differently.

Monday, 10 September 2012

On the difficulty of translating Mallarmé

A review by Ian Thomson in the FT 25th August 2012 of a new translation by Peter Manson of Mallarmé’s poetry reminded me of my own attempts to come to grips with this most innovative of poets. It took place in a dissertation on Un coup de dés which was part of my degree course many years ago.

It all seems so simple - ‘La chair est triste et j’ai lu tous les livres’ is translated by ‘The flesh is sad and I’ve read all the books’.

‘Un coup de dés’ (title of his most mind-blowing poem) is translated by ‘A dice-throw’. 

This could have been rendered by ‘a throw of the dice’ but of course this implies that some person or agent is throwing the dice, whereas the translator has chosen dice-throw because of its more disembodied impersonal feel. 

After all chance is just that, a random phenomenon, for which no one or no thing is responsible.

But of course the main feature of this particular work is its typography.

The words seem to fly off the page in some great primeval explosion, in which  language is rendered meaningless and becomes the robotic utterance of mere words.

Here Mallarmé seems to have intuited the paradox of a world in which order and chaos are hand in hand, one threatening to overwhelm the other, but never quite succeeding.

Not really translatable. You either appreciate this train of thought or not.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Back to School

In France this is the period of ‘la rentrée’, which is literally ‘the return’.

A return from where or what, you might ask ?

The return in question is a return to business as usual after a spell of inactivity due to holidays, or in the case of a star of stage and screen, after a period out of the limelight, or in the case of politicians, after a recess.

Usually the word is used in conjunction with ‘des classes’, or ‘...politique’, and it is an important time in France where people often do take several weeks off in July-August, and life does seem to slow down 

In times gone by, France used to almost close completely in August, with the whole country gone to the beach or the family house in the country. This is not so much the case now, but the end of the holiday period is still a big deal.

Our August Bank Holiday by contrast seems pitifully short.