C’est Fantastique! French Translation Success

Mr C Dodd – Staff Editor

Harriet Blackman (Year 13) was runner-up in an A-Level French translation competition organised by the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Kent. Harriet translated a short passage on the theme of immigration written by contemporary author Patrick Chamoiseau from Martinique.

Shared below are the French passage, described by Mr Hele, Head of French, as ‘very challenging’, and Harriet’s prize-winning translation. Read through the French passage and have a go at translating some of the words and phrases in the text. See if you can identify the theme or message of the text. How close can you get to a full translation? Next, read through Harriet’s translation and see how well you did in comparison. Can you identify where Harriet’s translation might have been improved?

Before you start, here are a few words of advice from Harriet…

In terms of tackling the translation, I used several different online dictionaries, because seeing different possible definitions of words helped in a way to think about the different kinds of associations they had. I found that after working out the meaning of the passage, it helped to write down lots of potential translations. I then spent a while reading back over it and editing it until it sounded more fluent in English. It was definitely interesting to get some sort of idea of what translating more literary prose is like, compared to the very literal translations we normally do.

Harriet Blackman

French Text

‘Aucune douleur n’a de frontières !

Aucune douleur ne demeure orpheline !

Aucune souffrance infligée au vivant n’a de limite en elle.

La victime est en nous et le bourreau aussi. Les menaces font alliance et nous affectent ensemble. Chacun de nous est une cible sans abri. Une ligne de front et une antenne de transmission. L’inaction confère à la moindre indécence une impulsion terrible. Un enfant qui meurt en Méditerranée récapitule les ignominies tolérées durant des millénaires par la conscience humaine, et nous accuse avec. Et ceux qui l’ont laissé mourir se réclament de nous, et nous installent à leur chevet comme en complicité. La Traite a prospéré à un niveau de conscience nourri par les Lumières. Notre actuel niveau de conscience, qui est celui – phénoménal – d’une conscience connectée, s’infecte de la moindre lâcheté, mais il accueille avec autant de force et de rapidité un simple refus, un rien d’indignation, une colère, un sourire, un café… le moindre éclat où se voit protégée l’intégrité vitale, et soutenue, comme un ultime flambeau, la dignité humaine.’

Patrick Chamoiseau, Frères migrants (2017)

B

Harriet’s Translation

No pain has borders!

No pain remains orphaned!

No suffering inflicted on the living is self-contained.

The victim is within us, but so is the torturer. Threats unite and affect us collectively. Each of us is an exposed target. A front line, and an antenna. Inaction confers a terrible weight upon the slightest indecency. A child who dies in the Mediterranean reiterates the disgraces tolerated over millennia by the human conscience, and condemns us with them. And those who let it die use our name, and take us to their side as though complicit. The Slave Trade prospered under a consciousness fostered by the Enlightenment. Our current state of consciousness, which is – perceptibly – that of connected consciousness, infects itself with the slightest cowardice; but it recognizes with as much force and rapidity a simple refusal, a hint of indignation, a burst of anger, a smile, a coffee … the tiniest fragment where vital integrity can be seen protected, and human dignity, like a final torch, sustained.

Patrick Chamoiseau, Frères migrants (2017) – translated by Harriet Blackman

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