Monday, February 09, 2009

Don't add, just translate!

Inspired by a thought-provoking little column today by Chantal Hébert about the ongoing failure of Quebec politics to transcend the grievance game, I have finally picked up my copy of André Pratte's edited collection Reconquering Canada: Quebec Federalists Speak Up For Change. As it happens, I also own the French version, published as Reconquérir le Canada: Un nouveau projet pour la nation québécoise. I'm hoping to have a review up at some point in the future. However, being an occasionally lazy reader (and fighting a cold, although that's not really my excuse), I'm reading the English translation. The translator is Patrick Watson, a long-time writer, director, and broadcaster perhaps best known for his work with the CBC.

While reading the first article, by Daniel Fournier, I came across the following passage:

Whether it was the Manitoba Schools Question of 1890, which created publicly funded separate schools for French and English students, or the Manitoba Language Question in the 1980s, which required all provincial laws and legislative documents to be translated into French, French Canadians generally, and French Quebeckers in particular, have been wary of attempts by some of their fellow-citizens to shape Canada in their own image.

I found this rather startling, since the Manitoba Schools Question of 1890 did not create publicly funded separate schools - it abolished them, and only permitted religious instruction after regular school hours - and only allowed French language instruction in a limited capacity until this too was eliminated in 1916. I was questioning Fournier's history, and indeed the rest of his argument. But then I turned to the original French, which reads as follows:

Que ce soit lors de la question des écoles au Manitoba, dans les années 1890, ou de la querelle linguistique, dans la même province, dans les années 1980, les Canadiens français en général, et les Québécois francophones en particulier, ont légitimement exprimé leurs préoccupations devant les tentatives de certains de leurs concitoyens de façonner le Canada à leur guise.

The bilingual among you will note that there is nothing in the French version which explains what the 1890 Manitoba Schools Question or the 1980 Manitoba language question were - Watson (or the editor) introduced that content themselves. Now, being married to a translator, I'm not the best person in my household to expound on theories of translation. But I imagine that you'd be hard-pressed to find a theorist who advocates introducing new material which is factually incorrect into the target text.

Unfortunately, a sadly low percentage of this country's population is sufficiently bilingual to read in the other official language. As such, they rely on translators. Especially in a book such as this - which is attempting to explain and promote the positions of federalist Quebeckers to English-speaking Canadian readers - one needs to be careful to do so as faithfully to the original as possible. Hopefully, the rest of the text will be cleaner, but I'm now wondering whether I would be further ahead to read the French version.

[...end rant]

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At 8:18 am, Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist said...



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