About English to French Translation

Canada is officially a bilingual country but, with nearly 60% of the population speaking English as their mother-tongue, and only 24% speaking French as their first language, some people are questioning whether Canada is truly a bilingual nation or rather, a bilingual nation on paper only. French is not the only linguistic minority in Canada, and some of the languages spoken, in order of popularity, are Chinese, Italian, German, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Ukrainian, Arabic, Dutch, Tagalog, Greek, Vietnamese, Cree and Inuktitut (Statistics Canada, 1996). This paper shall focus on French, however, as not only is this official language a linguistic minority in this supposedly bilingual country, but also has, for quite some time, been at the centre of political conflict.

There are two varieties of French in Canada: Acadian and French-Canadian (or Quebecois French), and they differ in terms of accent and local lexis. Acadians are descendents of 17th century settlers in the province of Nova Scotia, and French-Canadians are generally known as descendents of French settlers in the province of Quebec in the same century.

The French language spoken in Canada (both Quebecois and Acadian varieties) is substantially different from Standard French from France. This is because of a long history of French in Canada, with the original settlers coming from parts of France other than Paris, who continued to use the French from the Ancien Regime, while the Standard French in France used today evolved instead from 18th century bourgeois Parisian French. The pronunciation and vocabulary of French in Canada is quite different from International French, and a French person or a Belgian might find it difficult to understand a Quebecer, like a Texan might find it hard to understand a Welsh-speaker, for example.

Canadian French also contains a large number of Anglicisms, which is to be expected, since Canada is a bilingual country, and Quebec borders the United States (although while French people say ‘weekend’ and ‘parking’, French-Canadians say ‘fin de semaine’ and ‘stationnement’). Some popular anglicisms in Quebec are: anyway (anyway); chum (male friend, boyfriend); checker (to check); cute (cute); whatever (whatever).

Some aspects of Canadian French are sociolinguistically stigmatized, and this variety is sometimes considered second-rate compared with International French (Grenier, 2001), with even the Quebecois sometimes becoming self-conscious of their supposed lack of education (Couture, 2000). However, it is still French, and it is not creole, dialect or patois, and it is not a regional French. It is a unique language, and is a result of the rich history and soul of French-Canada’s people.

Quebecers whose mother-tongue is French comprise 82% of the local population, thus being a linguistic majority in the province. But outside Quebec, it is indeed a minority language, with 33.9% of the population speaking an Acadian variety of French, 4.4% in Manitoba, 4.1% in Ontario, and less than 2% in other provinces (Chevrier, 1997).

In spite of being officially a bilingual country since 1982, these figures show that this is not a reality, and perhaps it would be more accurate to describe Canada as an English-speaking country, with French as its second language. Although in any government-run organization you may find both English and French speaking clerks, this does not mean that French is widely used by its supposedly bilingual population. Only 9% of Anglophones outside Quebec can communicate in French. In contrast, one-third of Quebec francophones can communicate in English.

A full 95% of French speakers in Canada live in Quebec, and just 5% in other parts of the country, and one concern is that this figure will decrease as these Francophones become assimilated into English Canada. This may be due to the fact that some English-speaking provinces are reluctant to spend tax dollars on language policy. The federal government has tried to counteract this tendency by implementing an official bilingual policy, which attempts to encourage the use of both languages by giving francophones the same language rights to a number of services, particularly those run by the government, like libraries, employment and immigration offices. Outside Quebec though, you would be hard pressed to find French signs and businesses with French speakers, and it seems that this language policy has not achieved its goal of bilingualism, but has simply slowed down the trend towards what Grenier (2001) refers to as `the overriding use of English`.

In this country of bilingualism, it can be seen that, with English being the lingua franca, it has come to dominate the economy, as having a dual-language communication system would simply not be an efficient one (Grenier, 2001). Even in Quebec, until recent years, English was the language of prestige and choice for business, and French-speakers were often discriminated against when applying for work, and received incomes 35% lower than that of the Anglo-Quebecer.

That changed in 1974, when French was made the official language of this province, after a growing concern that the francophone minorities in Canada were gradually being assimilated. This does not mean that English was disposed of, especially as the English minority until today has had a great influence in developing policies to ensure that it can go about its every day life without needing to speak a word of French (although this is becoming less common as time goes on). And it does not mean that, for this reason, the status of French and French speakers improved (this occurred more likely because of the introduction of Bill 101, which the Parti Quebecois brought into law in 1977 to restrict access to an education in English in the province). However, French is now in the majority in both social and economic life, with 68.3% of companies with 100 or more employees being francophone, and 84% of those with 50 to 99 employees (Grenier, 2001).

This is enforced in the business sector by the so-called ‘language police’- a term coined by the right-wing English language press – who are responsible for dealing with complaints about violations of the language laws. These civil servants are also allowed to make investigations themselves, hence the media’s use of ‘language police’. For example, they ensure that business signs are written boldly in French and, if an English sign is required too, that it is one third of the size of the French sign. In fact, there are French-language extremist groups like the ‘Front de Liberation du Quebec’ that have bombed or threatened to bomb businesses with English signs, like ‘Second Cup’ (a coffee house chain) and Schwartz’s (a popular Jewish delicatessen in Montreal). Another example is when a store does not serve its customers in French. It could be because the owner is stubborn, or more likely that immigrants have been hired who do not yet speak French. A situation like this is often resolved by the owner hiring a clerk who is able to communicate with customers in French.

Quebec’s birth rate is one of the lowest in the world, with 1.6 births per woman (Chevrier, 1997) and this, coupled with an increase in immigration, has heightened the realisation that French as the language of communication might once again be at risk. Quebec’s immigration Minister, Sylvian Simard, recently stated that only 45% of last year’s immigrants were either francophone or bilingual. This has led to a new policy of seeking French-speaking immigrants from North Africa (Canadian Press, 2001).

Some believe that the only way to protect the French-speaking societies’ language and culture is for Quebec to separate from the rest of Canada. The central motivation to becoming a separate nation is the issue of language, although many French-Canadians feel that Quebec would also benefit economically if it were to separate from Canada. What many Quebecers fear is that, without the Canadian government recognising Quebec as a distinct society, with its own unique language, culture and economy, it will be lost in this increasingly globalised world. The `Bloc Quebecois` is the political party that represents this desire for sovereignty but, at the last election, lost many seats to the Liberals, and has become less and less popular with the Quebec population, as has the issue of separation.

French Translating vs French interpreting

A distinction is made between translation , which consists of transferring ideas expressed in writing from one language to another, from interpreting , which consists of transferring ideas expressed orally , or by the use of gestures (as in the case of sign language), from one language to another. Although interpreting can be considered a subcategory of translation as far as the analysis of the processes involved is concerned ( translation studies ), in practice the talents required for these two activities are quite different.

French Translation Process

The translation process , whether it be for translation or interpreting, can be described simply as:

  1. Decoding the meaning of the source text, and
  2. Re-encoding this meaning in the target language.

To decode the meaning of a text the translator must first identify its component ” translation units “, that is to say the segments of the text to be treated as a cognitive unit. A translation unit may be a word , a phrase or even one or more sentences.

Behind this seemingly simple procedure lies a complex cognitive operation. To decode the complete meaning of the source text, the translator must consciously and methodically interpret and analyses all its features. This process requires thorough knowledge of the grammar, semantics , syntax , idioms and the like of the source language, as well as the culture of its speakers.

The translator needs the same in-depth knowledge to re-encode the meaning in the target language. In fact, often translators’ knowledge of the target language is more important, and needs to be deeper, than their knowledge of the source language. For this reason, most translators translate into a language of which they are native speakers.

In addition, knowledge of the subject matter being discussed is essential.

In recent years studies in cognitive linguistics have been able to provide valuable insights into the cognitive process of translation.

Measuring Success in Translation

As the goal of translation is to ensure that the source and the target texts communicate the same message while taking into account the various constraints placed on the translator, a successful translation can be judged by two criteria:

  1. Faithfulness, also called fidelity , which is the extent to which the translation accurately renders the meaning of the source text, without adding to it or subtracting from it, and without intensifying or weakening any part of the meaning; and
  2. Transparency, which is the extent to which the translation appears to a native speaker of the target language to have originally been written in that language, and conforms to the language’s grammatical, syntactic and idiomatic conventions.

A translation meeting the first criterion is said to be a “faithful translation”; a translation meeting the second criterion is said to be an “idiomatic translation”.

The criteria used to judge the faithfulness of a translation vary according to the subject, the precision of the original contents, the type, function and use of the text, its literary qualities, its social or historical context, and so forth.

The criteria for judging the transparency of a translation would appear more straightforward: an unidiomatic translation “sounds” wrong, and in the extreme case of word-for-word translations generated by many machine translation systems, often result in patent nonsense.

Nevertheless, in certain contexts a translator may knowingly strive to produce a literal translation. For example, literary translators and translators of religious works often adhere to the source text as much as possible. To do this they deliberately “stretch” the boundaries of the target language to produce an unidiomatic text. Likewise, a literary translator may wish to adopt words or expressions from the source language to provide “local colour” in the translation.

The concepts of fidelity and transparency are looked at differently in recent translation theories. The idea that acceptable translations can be as creative and original as their source text is gaining momentum in some quarters.

The concepts of fidelity and transparency remain strong in Western traditions, however. They are not necessarily as prevalent in non-Western traditions. For example, the Indian epic Ramayana has numerous versions in many Indian languages and the stories in each are different from one another. If one looks into the words used for translation in Indian (either Aryan or Dravidian) languages, the freedom given to the translators is evident.

Translation Problems

General problems

Translation is inherently a difficult activity. Translators can face additional problems which make the process even more difficult, such as:

  • Problems with the source text:
    • Changes made to the text during the translation process
    • Illegible text
    • Misspelt text
    • Incomplete text
    • Poorly written text
    • Missing references in the text (e.g. the translator is to translate captions to missing photos)
  • Language problems
    • Dialect terms and neologisms
    • Unexplained acronyms and abbreviations
    • Obscure jargon
  • Other
    • Rhymes, puns and poetic meters
    • Highly specific cultural references
    • Subtle but important properties of language such as euphony or dissonance

The problem of "untranslatability"

The question of whether particular words are untranslatable is often debated, with lists of “untranslatable” words being produced from time to time.

These lists often include words such as saudade , a Portuguese word (also used in Spanish ) as an example of an “untranslatable”. It translates quite neatly however as “sorrowful longing”, but does have some nuances that are hard to include in a translation; for instance, it is a positive-valued concept, a subtlety which is not clear in this basic translation.

Some words are hard to translate only if one wishes to remain in the same grammatical category. For example, it is hard to find a noun corresponding to the Russian ????????? (pochemuchka) or the Yiddish ?????? (shlimazl), but the English adjectives “inquisitive” and “jinxed” correspond just fine.

Linguists are naturally enthusiastic about obscure words with local flavour, and are wont to declare them “untranslatable”, but in reality these incredibly culture-laden terms are the easiest of all to translate, even more so than universal concepts such as “mother”. This is because it is standard practice to translate these words by the same word in the other language, borrowing it for the first time if necessary.

For example, an English version of a menu in a French restaurant would rarely translate pâté de foie gras as “fat liver paste”, although this is a good description. Instead, the accepted translation is simply pâté de foie gras , or, at most, foie gras pâté . In some cases, only transcription is required: Japanese ?? translates into English as wasabi .

A short description or parallel with a familiar concept is also often acceptable: ??? may also be translated as “Japanese horseradish ” or “Japanese mustard “.

The more obscure and specific to a culture the term is, the simpler it is to translate. For example, the name of an insignificant settlement such as Euroa in Australia is automatically just “Euroa” in every language in the world that uses the Roman alphabet , whilst it takes some knowledge to be aware that Saragossa is Zaragoza, Saragosse, etc. or that China is ??, Cina, Chine, and so forth.

The problem of common words

The words that are truly difficult to translate are often the small, common words. For example, the verb “to get” in all its various uses covers nearly seven columns of the most recent version of the Robert-Collins French-English dictionary. The same is true for most apparently simple, common words, such as “go” (seven columns), “come” (four and a half columns), and so forth. Cultural aspects can complicate translation. Consider the example of a word like “bread”. At first glance, it is a very simple word, referring in everyday use to just one thing, with obvious translations in other languages. But ask people from England , France or China to describe or draw “bread”, du pain or ? ( bao ), and they will describe different things, based on their individual cultures.

Differing levels of precision inherent in a language also play a role. What does “there” mean? Even discounting idiomatic uses such as “there, there, don’t cry”, we can be confronted by several possibilities. If something is “there” but not very far away, a Spaniard will say ahí ; if it is further away he or she will say allí , unless there are connotations of “near there”, “over yonder” or “on that side”, in which case the word is likely to be allá . Conversely, in colloquial French, all three “there” concepts plus the concept of “here” all tend to be expressed with the word .

Expressions may also exist in one language which refer to concepts that don’t exist in another language. For example, the French ” tutoyer “‘ and ” vouvoyer ” would both be translated into English as “to address as ‘you'”, since the singular informal second person pronoun is archaic in English. Yet this simplistic translation completely destroys the meaning of the verbs: “vouvoyer” means to address using the formal “you” form (“vous”), whereas “tutoyer” means to use the informal form (“tu”). Indeed, when English was using the “thou” pronoun, “thou” as a verb would have been a translation for “tutoyer”; today, it is difficult to give a concise translation that captures the nuances of “tu” vs. “vous”.

The problem often lies in failure to distinguish between translation and glossing. Glossing is what a glossary does : give a short (usually one-word) equivalent for each term. Translation , as explained above, is decoding meaning and intent at the text level (not the word level or even sentence level) and then re-encoding them in a target language. Words like saudade and ?????? are hard to “gloss” into a single other word, but given two or more words they can be perfectly adequately “translated”. Similarly, depending on the context, the meaning of the French word “tutoyer”, or Spanish “tutear”, could be translated as “to be on first name terms with”. “Bread” has perhaps a better claim to being untranslatable, since even if we resort to saying “French bread”, “Chinese bread”, “Algerian bread”, etc. we are relying on our audience knowing what these are like.

Machine translation (MT) is a form of translation where a computer program analyses the text in one language – the “source text” – and then attempts to produce another, equivalent text in another language – the target text – without human intervention.

Currently the state of machine translation is such that it involves some human intervention, as it requires a pre-editing and a post-editing phase. Note that in machine translation, the translator supports the machine and not the other way around.

Nowadays most machine translation systems produce what is called a “gisting translation” – a rough translation that gives the “gist” of the source text, but is not otherwise usable.

However, in fields with highly limited ranges of vocabulary and simple sentence structure, for example weather reports , machine translation can deliver useful results.

Machine translation (MT) is the application of computers to the task of translating texts from one natural language to another. One of the very earliest pursuits in computer science, MT has proved to be an elusive goal, but today a number of systems are available which produce output which, if not perfect, is of sufficient quality to be useful in a number of specific domains.

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Legal translation is the translation of texts within the field of law . As law is a culture-dependent subject field, legal translation is not a simple task.

Only professional translators specialising in legal translation should translate legal documents and scholarly writings. The mistranslation of a passage in a contract , for example, could lead to lawsuits and loss of money.

When translating a text within the field of law, the translator should keep the following in mind. The legal system of the source text is structured in a way that suits that culture and this is reflected in the legal language; similarly, the target text is to be read by someone who is familiar with another legal system and its language.

Apart from terminological lacunae , or lexical gaps, the translator may focus on the following aspects. Textual conventions in the source language are often culture-dependent and may not correspond to conventions in the target culture. Linguistic structures that are often found in the source language have no direct equivalent structures in the target language. The translator therefore has to find target language structures with the same functions as those in the source language.

Translators of legal texts often consult law dictionaries , especially bilingual law dictionaries. Care should be taken, as some bilingual law dictionaries are of poor quality and their use may lead to mistranslation.

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If the translation of non-literary works is regarded as a skill, the translation of fiction and poetry is much more of an art. In multilingual countries such as Canada , translation is often considered a literary pursuit in its own right. Figures such as Sheila Fischman , Robert Dickson and Linda Gaboriau are notable in Canadian literature specifically as translators, and the Governor General’s Awards present prizes for the year’s best English-to-French and French-to-English literary translations with the same standing as more conventional literary awards.

Writers such as Vladimir Nabokov have also made a name for themselves as literary translators.

Many consider poetry the most difficult genre to translate, given the difficulty in rendering both the form and the content in the target language. In 1959 in his influential paper “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation”, the Russian -born linguist and semiotician Roman Jakobson even went as far as to declare that “poetry by definition [was] untranslatable”. In 1974 the American poet James Merrill wrote a poem, ” Lost in Translation ,” which in part explores this subject. This question was also explored in Douglas Hofstadter ‘s 1997 book, Le Ton beau de Marot .

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Like pharmaceutical translation, medical translation is specialisation where a mistranslation can have grave consequences.

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Translation practiced as a means of learning a second language.

Pedagogical translation is used to enrich (and to assess) the student’s vocabulary in the second language, to help assimilate new syntactic structures and to verify the student’s understanding. Unlike other types of translation, pedagogical translation takes place in the student’s native (or dominant ) language as well as the second language. That is to say that the student will translate both to and from the second language. Another difference between this mode of translation and other modes is that the goal is often literal translation of phrases taken out of context , and of text fragments, which may be completed fabricated for the purposes of the exercise.

Pedagogical translation should not be confused with scholarly translation.

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The translation of technical texts (manuals, instructions, etc.).

More specifically, texts that contain a high amount of terminology, that is, words or expressions that are used (almost) only within a specific field, or that describe that field in a great deal of detail.

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Translation of Religious Texts

The translation of religious works has played an important role in world history. For instance the Buddhist monks who translated the Indian sutras into the Chinese language would often skew the translation to better adapt to China ‘s very different culture. Thus notions such as filial piety were stressed.

For many centuries, translation in the West was almost exclusively confined to the Christian Bible .

One of the first instances of recorded translation activity in the West was the rendition of the Old Testament into Greek in the third century B.C.E.; this translation is known as the Septuagint , alluding to the seventy translators (seventy-two in some versions) that were commissioned to translate the Bible on the island of Paphos , with each translator working in solitary confinement in a separate cell. Legend has it that all seventy versions were exactly identical. The Septuagint became the source text for later translations into many other languages including Latin , Coptic , Armenian , and Georgan .

St. Jerome , the patron saint of translation, is still considered one of the greatest translators in history for his work on translating the Bible into Latin . The Catholic Church used this translation (known as the Vulgate) for centuries, but even his translation met much controversy when it was released.

Computer Assisted Translation

Computer-assisted translation (CAT), also called computer-aided translation, is a form of translation where a human translator creates a target text with the assistance of a computer program. Note that in computer-assisted translation, the machine supports the translator .

Computer-assisted translation can be seen to include standard dictionary and grammar software; however, the term is normally used to refer to a range of specialised programs available for the translator.

For example, translation memory (TM) programs store and align previously translated source texts and their equivalent target texts in a database.

They split the source text into manageable units known as “segments.” Typically, each source-text sentence or sentence-like unit (headings, titles, elements in a list) is considered a segment, although texts are sometimes segmented into paragraphs instead of sentences. As the translator works through a document, the translation memory displays a source segment and a previous translation for re-use, if such a previous translation exists, or prompts the translator to enter a new translation. After the translation for a segment is completed, the program stores the new translation and moves onto the next segment. The translation memory, in principle, is a simple database with a pair of entries for each segment: an entry for the source segment and the corresponding entry for the segment translation provided by the translator. See the huge e-reference list coming soon!

Cultural Translation

This is a new area of interest in the field of translation studies . Cultural translation is a concept used in cultural studies to denote the process of transformation, linguistic or otherwise, in a given culture . The concept uses linguistic translation as a tool or metaphor in analyzing the nature of transformation in cultures. For example, ethnography is considered a translated narrative of an abstract living culture.

Criticism of Translation

From time to time, criticism can be made of the act of translation. One such criticism is the lack of “coherence” in translation. The criticism can be stated as follows. If a story originally written in English, and taking place in an English speaking country, is translated into French, for example, it can lose its logic because of sentences like “Do you speak English?” The critic asks what the translation should be. “Parlez-vous anglais?” or “Parlez-vous français?”. According to this criticism, the answer will be self-contradictory. If the answer to the question were yes, for the first translation this would mean something like, “Yes I speak a language you are not using and that is absolutely irrelevant”. For the second translation it would mean “Yes, this is an English speaking country, and yet everyone, including myself, is speaking French.” The gist of this criticism that one of the main rules in translation is to “keep the context”, and that the language of the document is itself the heart of the context.

This criticism can be rebutted in several ways. First, this kind of situation arises rarely in real-world translations. When it does, the translator can use techniques to avoid the problem by, for example, translating “Do you speak English?” by “Do you speak my language?” or “Do you understand what I say?” Another point is that a French-speaking reader who is reading a book written by, say, Agatha Christie describing a murder in an English stately home , most likely realises that the characters were speaking English in the original.

Another criticism is of a more philosophical nature. It claims that translation can be described as writing what you have read in another language. The question arises whether the reader can know whether the translator understands the original author perfectly. While this is the translator’s job, it is the author who is praised for the work; but can a translation of Asimov be considered as Asimov’s work? According to this criticism, translation could even be seen as “legal plagiarism “. Translations can be quite different from the original: for instance, the name of Zaphod Beeblebrox in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams was translated into French by Jean Bonnefoy as Zapi Bibici . While this is not a huge difference, it is there. Adams may not have been completely happy with this change, and it is by a series of such small changes that a translation becomes an adaptation, according to this criticism.

This is a long-time complaint of translation, that is expressed in the Italian expression Traduttore, traditore – every translation is a betrayal . On the other hand, rarely is a work of fiction translated without a negotiation as to rights, and many an author will be happy to put aside reservations about the names of characters for the opportunity to increase his readership.