Category Archives: Translation

À la table du seigneur… 

Travailler sur des romans historiques m’a permis d’en apprendre beaucoup sur les habitudes culinaires de nos ancêtres. Certes, les romans que je traduis se déroulent surtout dans l’Écosse médiévale, mais pas toujours, et au plaisir de la découverte et de la plongée dans une certaine couleur locale se sont ajoutés la difficulté de surmonter certains écueils ainsi qu’un travail de recherche terminologique plutôt conséquent.

 

Banquet
Source : Stevie-B, Banquet, CC : https://flic.kr/p/myJot

Un festin de groupe dans la grande salle

Ce qui m’a d’abord marquée est que tout le monde prend son repas ensemble dans la salle d’apparat où viennent parfois jouer des acteurs et jongleurs itinérants ou des musiciens (luth, harpe, pipeau…). L’espace peut rapidement se libérer en démontant les tables qui sont de simples plateaux de bois montés sur tréteaux et assortis aux bancs grossiers, parfois ornés de gravures, sur lesquels on s’assied. Les chaises étaient considérées comme un luxe et on ne les utilisait pas pour prendre son repas. À la limite, un tabouret pouvait faire l’affaire.

Le seigneur et ses proches ou ses invités de marque prennent place sur une estrade faisant face aux tables du bas et généralement surmontée d’un dais. Dans certains romans, l’estrade n’existe pas, mais le dais marque la séparation entre les gens “du haut” et les autres.

Dans les foyers plus modestes ou dans certaines familles, on mange dans la pièce à vivre, à son bureau ou au beau milieu de sa chambre à coucher, l’usage des pièces n’étant pas établi comme à l’heure actuelle.

Un tranchoir ?

Quel concept étrange, et cela même si je vis en Norvège, le pays du sandwich “ouvert” qui ne présente qu’une seule tranche de pain sur laquelle s’étale la garniture. C’est un peu la même chose. Les assiettes modernes n’existant pas, on pose sa nourriture sur un tailloir, une plaque de bois ou de métal, selon sa position sociale. Le tranchoir constitue la base du plat, sur lequel on dispose le reste des aliments, que l’on découpe avec son couteau personnel et que l’on mange avec les doigts, la fourchette étant plutôt une sorte de brochette commune qui sert à attraper les aliments dans le plat. À cet égard, il est d’ailleurs important de se laver les mains avant et après le repas et de faire preuve de civilité, puisque les ustensiles sont utilisés par tous, y compris le verre, que l’on partage parfois avec son voisin.

Pour l’anecdote, j’ai rencontré dans un de mes romans l’expression anglaise qui se traduit littéralement par “ouvrir des yeux grands comme des tranchoirs” (à comprendre : comme des soucoupes – très anachronique) et j’ai hésité entre conserver le petit trait d’humour et ajouter une note ou bien modifier l’expression (en remplaçant les tranchoirs par des ronds de charrette). J’ai opté pour la deuxième option.

Dans un autre livre, la romancière avait utilisé le mot plate (assiette) dans le texte source, alors que l’objet n’était pas usité à l’époque. Puisque le plat en question était du haggis, plat écossais s’il en est, ma correctrice et moi l’avons traduit par écuelle, qui était, avec la cuillère en bois qui l’accompagne, un des objets de base de la table médiévale.

Scandinavian Pie
Source : Vrangtante Brun, Pie, CC : https://flic.kr/p/6yPj3z

Du gibier à tout va

Si dans les maisons privées, les personnages de romans se nourrissent de haggis, de tartes, ou encore de pain et de fromage, au domaine des lairds, on consomme du gibier (sanglier, cerf, faisan…). Les plats sont souvent en sauce et les fruits secs ont la part belle. Les pâtés sont également des incontournables de la table médiévale.

Le matin, on consomme du jambon, du pain, du beurre, des œufs… mais en temps de disette ou comme cela se produit lors de certaines histoires, les personnages sont contraints d’engloutir des écuelles entières de bouillie d’avoine (le fameux porridge), à peine égayées de quelques fruits secs.

Pensez-y la prochaine fois que vous lirez une scène de banquet et… bon appétit, bien sûr !

 

Quelques liens pour en apprendre plus

http://www.lecerclemedieval.be/histoire/A-table-au-Moyen-age.html

http://voyageurs-du-temps.fr/Comment-dresser-la-table-d-un-repas-banquet-festin-avec-recettes-de-cuisine-moyen-age-medieval_868.html

http://www.la-cour-des-saveurs.com/fr/75-mettre-la-table-au-moyen-age

 

 

 

Lass : la fameuse jeune fille écossaise

Si vous avez la chance d’être bilingue et que vous avez lu en V.O. quelques romances historiques se déroulant en Scotia, vous avez certainement remarqué cette étrange épithète : lass (ou lassie), qui se retrouve dans la bouche de tous les Scots dès qu’ils sont en présence d’une femme. S’il s’agit simplement d’un terme écossais des plus communs pour désigner une jeune fille ou une jeune femme, sa fréquence et surtout son emploi sont parfois déroutants pour les lecteurs de traduction en langue française. Il semblerait donc que quelques explications soient nécessaires.

30044737415_030c1671c9_z
Source : Flickr, Tatters, Old Scotland, CC : https://flic.kr/p/MLX8G4

Une étrange apostrophe

Philippe Safavi, le traducteur d’Outlander de Diana Gabaldon, le dit lui-même : quand on essaye de rendre les particularités du parler écossais en français, notamment en piochant dans nos accents régionaux pour en recréer l’impression, cela peut parfois devenir un peu “plouc”. Incompatible donc avec la romance… Alors que faire ?

Utilisé comme apostrophe, lass peut faire penser au “ma belle” dont nous affublent volontiers les Sudistes ou à “ma petite dame”, mais sans connotation de classe ou d’origine paysanne. Plus familièrement, on pourrait aussi le comparer au “femme !” qu’utilisent parfois certains hommes envers leurs épouses ou tout autre personnage féminin (surtout quand celles-ci les contrarient, n’est-ce pas ?). Certes, c’est sexiste et horripilant, mais pour la petite histoire, quand j’habitais à Glasgow, j’ai été surprise de m’entendre interpeller à longueurs de phrases par des inconnus qui me disaient man. Mate (mon pote) me fait déjà grincer des dents, alors un changement de sexe imposé…

Dernière remarque. Attention, comme l’ont suggéré certaines lectrices dans leurs critiques en ligne, le terme ne possède aucune notion affective (bien au contraire, puisqu’on en infère que les locuteurs n’utilisent ni une formule de politesse, ni le prénom de la personne), et n’est pas non plus un surnom. Il s’agit simplement d’un de ces tics de langue auxquels on ne peut pas couper.

Quelques astuces pour le traducteur de romans écossais

La solution de facilité, et qui aurait également l’avantage d’expliciter cet usage et de mieux faire connaître la culture écossaise, serait d’ajouter une explication. Deux choix : insérer une note de traduction après le premier usage de l’expression “jeune fille”, ou bien conserver le terme lass en italique tout au long du texte, après une explication initiale sur son utilisation si particulière.

Dans une optique cibliste et pour rendre la lecture plus aisée, on peut tenter d’en diminuer la fréquence en rendant le propos plus formel ou, au contraire, plus personnel, en prenant en compte les relations entre les interlocuteurs. Par exemple, si l’un des guerriers du groupe s’adresse à l’héroïne de haute naissance, on pourra le remplacer par “Mademoiselle”. D’un autre côté, si c’est un prêtre âgé qui est touché par la détresse d’une pauvre prisonnière, sa bienveillance sera mise en valeur si l’on traduit lass par “ma jeune dame” ou une formule de ce genre.  Ce ne sont que quelques exemples. Libre à vous d’en trouver d’autres et de m’en faire part ; je serais curieuse de connaître vos petits trucs.

Cela étant, je ne suis pas forcément partisane du changement trop violent ou de la suppression pure et simple, mais les chroniques de lecteurs passionnés et familiers du genre soulignent souvent que l’usage répété de “jeune fille” ou “jeune femme” au sein de la narration est perçu comme lourd, incorrect (encore pire !), ou parfois même niais, alors qu’en langue anglaise et pour les gens qui ont, comme moi, vécu en Écosse, il s’agit d’une des marques de fabrique du dialecte écossais.

 

mackinnon
Page, ma première héroïne écossaise, se prêtant d’autant plus à l’emploi continu de “lass” qu’elle ne possède pas vraiment de prénom (elle occupe les fonctions de page du château).

En conclusion, il est important d’écouter les remarques des lecteurs du genre qui sont peut-être habitués aux romances ayant subi le traitement Harlequin, destiné à faciliter la lecture d’un texte cible que la traduction a rendu parfaitement lisse, et ce, peut-être, au détriment de la couleur locale. D’un autre côté, il est bon d’informer les lecteurs, car la plongée dans un contexte historique ne passe pas seulement par un respect des costumes ou bien des us de l’époque, mais également par certains tics de langage, aussi déroutants qu’ils puissent paraître.

 

Pour aller plus loin :

Cliquez ici pour lire une fantastique interview du traducteur Philippe Safavi sur Outlander France.

 

 

 

 

 

Making decisions in literary translation: translating dialects

Translating is a lot like solving an enigma or a riddle, or even reading a crime book with a pencil and a pad of paper at hand, trying to guess who did it. Though one might argue that there are no right or wrong answers for an experienced translator, only an enlightened decision, making the right choice of word, or finding the best solution to the original clue, if you want, can be of capital importance to the success of the book.

On the topic of historical novels or dialects

“Aye, pray thee, bonnie lassie, dinna ye ken wot that mon is sayin’?” Errr, probably no more than a translator who has not lived in Scotland, no. And what about those historical novels that take you to the Southern States before the Civil War? Or take one of my translations, featuring a main character that could barely speak English when she moved to America, prompting the novelist to write all her dialogues in a broken mix of English and Spanish that I was, for a moment, at a loss to translate.

There are several choices translators can make to allow their readers to grasp the feeling that, let’s say, a dialect or an archaic language is being spoken, without it being too strenuous on the eyes nor obtrusive.

Though not a favourite amongst translators of fiction, as it slows down the reading process, is the option of inserting a translator’s note at the bottom of the page. It could be used to explain a foreign word that cannot be translated without losing a huge part of its meaning (referring for example to a plant, an animal, or even a custom that is present only in this specific region of the globe, and that the narrator has chosen not to elucidate elsewhere in the text).

Having to deal with a Scottish romance, for example, I would chose to keep exclamations like “Ach”, or “Och” in French, as well as Scottish Gaelic phrases, provided that I juxtapose a French translation of the word. Meeting the words uisge beatha in a narrative, I would probably keep it in italics, followed by “du whiskey” or “de l’eau de vie” (or something in the vein of “that famous Scottish water of life”), depending on the century the action is set in.

As far as Southern or foreign variations of the language that are represented in phonetics to underline the fact that the speaker does not master the language fluently, I have always had problems working on those. I would certainly not have managed to produce a faithful rendering of Gone with the Wind or To Kill a Mocking Bird into French, as I would probably have chosen to have the characters use poor or mangled grammar, and that’s it, and not to make them use what I consider child speech, which would only serve, in my eyes, to belittle them. Don’t ask me, I’m certainly wrong, but it tickles my moral bone, though I am well aware that some communities are proud to have developed their own lingo. You is kind, you is strong.

How to make an enlightened decision?

  • Read other books (or samples) of the same genre that were written directly into your target language or translated into it.
  • Wait… Isn’t that plagiarism? Nope, it is drawing inspiration from what other translators have done to solve the same riddle you are facing, while creating the right mood for their narratives.
  • Work closely with your proofreader, or have a sample of your text (with the permission of the author/publisher) be submitted to a panel of readers in your target language. In the end, all linguistic considerations put aside, these people will be the ones to please; they will be the ones who should forget that the book they have in hand was written in a foreign language in the first place.

I hope you enjoyed these few considerations. These are good examples of the decisions a literary translator has to make on a daily basis. Next time, we will be covering the process of finding the right title and the importance of marketing considerations in that respect.

Feel free to share your experience!

Translating a first-person narrative: What I learned in the process

The work of a literary translator is not limited to fiction. Over the course of the past few months, I have worked on a short story and a novel told in the first person, as well as memoirs and a non-fiction book in which the author uses “I”, instead of the more academic and general “we”.

But who is this “I”? It has struck me that I, as the French voice of that imaginary or real person, have been affected in my work as well as personally by the permanent use of a first-person pronoun I needed to distance myself from.

Here are a few points that I learned:

1- Translating a fictional “I” is easier. It may be psychological, but it was easier to separate myself from a fictional I, even when I worked on a short story in which the narrator was an alienated artist. This first-person narrator is not omniscient and the text is coloured by their inability to control all aspects of the plot. Even if the character is not particularly likeable, it’s easier to see them as a “vehicle” to travel through the story. Of course, those who have translated books like Les Bienveillantes into other languages will tell me that it’s not that easy, and I can understand how working on translating the (fictional) confessions of a horrible character has affected them.
And this bring me to my second point.

2- You will judge that narrator, or operate a transfer and become them. You may not always agree with the author. Translating literature is also having to write political opinions contrary to yours in the first person, transmitting advice you may differ with. You may think the narrator brags, or embellishes the truth. Of course, should your personal opinions differ too much from the message the text wants to convey, this is a matter of deontology. As a personal example, I often browse the platform Elance, and I see job offers for translation of religious based books. Not a problem in itself, but, after having leafed through some of them, I discovered homophobic opinions confidently expressed by an “I” I could not differentiate myself with. As far as non-fiction goes, there are personal opinions I simply could not bear to translate.

On the other hand, I have often fallen prey to becoming too attached to the character. Translating A Good Day to Die, by David Danish, was sometimes difficult, as I liked the first-person narrator, for his naïveté and openness, and I felt I was living through him the turmoils Iran knew at the beginning of the 1980s. Okay, it was based on real-life events, but it was still a fiction, or even a catharsis for the veteran writer who fought in the war and needed to communicate something about it.

But translating Outcry, a Holocaust memoir by Manny Steinberg, proved extremely taxing emotionally. How many times had I had to read, translate, edit and proofread a sentence that began with “I” and ended in horrors, tortures and beatings?

I realised I was becoming too involved when I started putting adjectives in the feminine form in the French version, as if it was me, Angélique, who was talking: I had lost myself.

3- To avoid this, keep your concentration and find the narrator’s voice. Try to write all you know about the character. How would they speak in French? When and where were they born? Who are they talking to?

For the memoir From the streets to Wall Street, written in English by a French native, I was lucky to have him correct the street slang I had tried to use. After having done some research, I had got most of it right, but his help proved invaluable during the copyright process, in giving his character the adequate voice, the one the author had when he was younger.

And you, have you had any experience working with first-person narratives?

Publication #4: Un bon jour pour mourir, by David Danish

Un bon jour pour mourir (A good day to die), authored by Iranian author David Danish, currently residing in the Netherlands, is the first war narrative that I translated.
It is no secret that I would like to make the topic of war narratives, focusing particularly on trauma and PTSD, the subject of my academic research, as well as a translation specialisation of mine. Translating this novel has proved interesting and challenging.

It is Wednesday, and the narrator is dying. His life flashes before his eyes, from the evening he got arrested for seeking the services of a prostitute in a Teheran hotel, to his visit to his grandfather, and his drafting into the war against Irak.
Baber, the young man, is indecisive, never knowing if he should escape or face his destiny, flee to Europe or go to war, and to what purpose or according to which ideology? Through his daily struggles and qualms, Danish describes how life was in the 1980s in the Iran of the Ayatollahs.

As a twist to keep me on my toes, I was not given the entire book in one go, but fed two chapters at a time, and could see the character slowly evolve and get more decisive… until the final goodbye.

Un bon jour pour mourir, par David Danish. Disponible sur Amazon et Smashwords.

Welcome to 2015!

I’ll come clean: 2014 has been a tough year. Trying to juggle a string of health issues that forced me to become a recluse while slowly building up my translation activities has been quite an act, but, like you, I have so much to look forward to in 2015.

In 2014, I have worked on several books and gained returning customers (new projects to come this month), set up this website and a Facebook page, dedicated my Instagram to books and gained a steady flow of followers, and, most importantly, seen my writing and translating skills improve and flow more easily, page after page. I have also joined a MOOC on a topic I would like to specialise in (see here) and read avidly to feed my mind.

On the downside, my health problems have prevented me from really developing this business and, on a personal side, from joining a Master’s programme in comparative literature at the University of Bergen like I had counted on doing. See you next summer, UiB! In the meantime, I have my eye on an online literary translation course that could certainly allow me to hone my skills and, in the long run, open countless doors.

Plans for 2015:
-Get my health back!
-Revamp this website and blog more regularly
-Develop my skills through formal training and CPD
-Work on more books
-Follow Marta Stelmaszak’s January Bootcamp for translators and get on track!

Using slang in literary translations, or telling a story in words that I would never use

My current translation is taking me to extraordinary places… namely the suburbs of Paris in the 1990s, before the infamous riots, right during the rise of rap, hip-hop and black feminism.
A word of explanation: the narrator of the book is a French guy of African origin, who grew up in France before making his way up from the streets and their gangs to the offices of Wall Street. He wrote his book in English and I now have to translate back into our mother tongue the savoury dialogues he exchanged with his gangsta friends or his bandmates.

But, ”our” mother tongue? As I started working, I realised that the voice could be quite playful and familiar and that this manner of speaking should carry into my translation. I went back on some of the text I had already translated and I started using contractions, stock phrases that were a little bit more visual (ok, graphic) as well as some words that only people who have grown up in France in the 1990s (preferably in the projects) use, sometimes on a daily basis… our particular form of slang: the verlan.

Now, the verlan is a special form of slang that basically means ”backwards”’, but à l’envers, ”wardsback”. Femme meuf; choper pécho; cité téci. Get it? You simply have to switch the order of the syllables in order to create a new noun, adjective, verb, or even name. Some letters might be omitted and the spelling can change a little, but that’s basically it and it became the language young people used to communicate and recognize each other.

Wait? Did you notice what I just wrote? ”Language”, not slang. At one point in the book, the narrator admits that when he and his friends (most of whom are of foreign extraction) are in a public place surrounded by white people, they would only talk verlan among themselves, as if to re-emphasize their own differences and their feeling of exclusion. Verlan has also become the official language of rap and hip-hop but is not limited to non-white users. A popular singer like Renaud (and by popular, I mean in touch with the workers and the poorest classes of society) often uses verlan in his songs.

As we discussed with the author using a verlan word in the title of the book, my first reaction was to think that it would seem unnatural to me and that some readers might not really understand it… And then it hit me that the work I had done listening to old rap videos and researching some ”suburb speech” was actually honest and that I could not have translated accurately the struggle of growing up in the suburbs if I had point blank avoided to use verlan. And if the readership the book will attract has gone through the same story as the narrator, then it will not seem like a few words of slang thrown here and there, but like a language as close to their heart as any mother tongue would be.

So, to slang or not to slang? In that particular case, it’s not like I had to translate a story that takes place in the Bronx or in a Londonian suburb, and phrases will have to be transcreated into French or point-blank invented. Those are real words I’ve heard in the street, on the radio, in the bus, and some of them reactivate quite unpleasant memories. The funny thing is that French, my native language, is the only one that I speak without a regional accent and I very seldom use slang or dialect words. But I needed to overcome that affective block and… let it go. I managed to sound like a gangsta hanging out in the streets with his bros, and it was worth the sacrifice.

Publication #3: A guide of the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam

It was a pleasure to translate into French and expand this guide written by Liesbeth Heenk and Marko Kassenaar over the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. The book is part of a series of guides released by Amsterdam Publishers over the most popular museums in the Dutch capital. They have been translated in multiple languages and are both popular and informative.

The first of Anne's diaries
The first of Anne’s diaries

I read Anne’s diary when I was a little girl and it had prompted a life-long interest in the stories of those who had to live in captivity to escape persecutions, as well as in the heroism of their helpers.

Far from being a simple “tour” of the building, this guide doubles as a detailed biography of the two families who shared the Annex, but also explains the historical circumstances surrounding the writing and publication of the diary, as well as its cultural impact. Reading it before visiting the house and its annex will allow the visitor to understand the wider implications of the museum. It could also be read by schoolchildren who would like to learn more about Anne and the general history of the second world war.

Paperback available in French on Amazon by clicking here.