Monday, September 28, 2009

Out of English, into French: A translation question

I hadn't read Michael Connelly before. Now I'm reading him in French in preparation for my panel at Bouchercon 2009.

Deuil Interdit (The Closers in the original version) brings Harry Bosch back to the Los Angeles Police Department after a three-year retirement. Among other things, I learned in the opening chapter that the French word for badge is badge.

Elsewhere, the police chief asks Harry if he had heard talk of the décret dit de consentement (roughly decree — that is, of consent) under which the department now operates. The term has the air of something the translator thought needed explaining to French readers, and I presume it means consent decree. This raises an interesting question: When translating legal and other technical terms, how does one strike a balance between fidelity to the original sense, and comprehensibility to readers in the target language?

(Michael Connelly's French translator, Robert Pépin, will be a member of my panel on crime fiction and translation at Bouchercon 2009.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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6 Comments:

Blogger Janet Rudolph said...

The French have a specific way of handling this (well there's a rule of thumb-whether or not it's practiced) in journalism. Is it the same with translating fiction into French? Just another question for the panel. I hope to be there! Oh...and reading it in French. How cool are you?

September 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Janet, I found examples of the more straightforward décret de consentement from French newspapers and legal journals, and all dealt with American cases. This led me to three conclusions: That there is no precise counterpart to a consent decree under French law; that there is, however, an accepted French translation of the term; and that Robert Pépin thought this translation insufficiently well-known to be included in a work of popular fiction without a bit of explanation. Perhaps I'll find out during the panel if any of my conclusions are right. In any case, I hope such a question would open the way into a larger discussion of how translators handle concepts and terms that may not have precise equivalents in their target languages.

This is precisely the sort of thing I hoped to find by reading the novel in French.

September 28, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Given the French aversion to all things Anglais, I wonder if a French translator's task becomes more difficult than that of translators translating English into some of the other European languages?

September 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Interesting you should raise that point, since the French attitude to things americain, if not anglais, is one of fascination rather than aversion. This is especially true of the darker side of American crime fiction. Robert Pépin has translated a fair amount of American crime writing, none of it from the cozy side, and I do plan to ask how the French fascination with American crime writing factors into his work.

September 28, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Yes, I really meant just the French aversion to the use of English words. The French have long had a love-hate relationship with America. And of course it was the French fascination with a certain style of American filmmaking of the 1940s-50s that gave us the evocative term "film noir" by which this genre is known across languages today. Are the French more fascinated by our "romans noir" or our "films noir"? I think I’ve seen a tendency on the part of the French to see the two as more closely linked than either the Germans or Italians, for example. Perhaps speaking to this books/films topic might be OT for the French-language panelist but I find it interesting.

Several of your blog entries have dealt with a novel's title changes from British English to American English, from non-English to English, etc. Taking the difficult-to-translate example of Connelly's "The Closers" I also found it interesting how the Germans and Italians dealt with the dicey issue of coming up with a title for the novel, which became "Vergessene Stimmen" and "La Ragazza di Polvere," respectively. And none of the 4 titles bears the remotest resemblance to the others. The decision-making behind these selections seems puzzling at times.

September 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've thought about the title, and I may ask about that (though I doubt I'll have time to ask more than a fraction of my questions). Deuil Interdit seems, at least from the novel's first chapter, to pick up nicely on the choir of forgotten voices that is the chapter's climax. The German title is a direct reference to this. I haven't read enough to determine what the Italian title refers to.

An online article about the Italian version of the book says the original title comes from the basball term closer, a translation of which would obviously work not too many places outside the Dominican Republic, Cuba or Japan.

September 28, 2009  

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