Monday, February 29, 2016

If it's French in the original English, how does it translate?

I am reading and enjoying the French translations of the Harry Potter novels, published by Folio Junior. Through this experience, I am seeing the Potter stories in a new light, improving on my French comprehension and learning a thing or two about the practice of translating literature from one language into another.

Translator Jean-Francois Ménard seems, to my untrained eye, to have done a wonderful job translating Rowling's prose, remaining true to her intent but exercising enough creative/translator's license to ensure that the writing is as lively, accurate and interesting in French as it is in the original English.

After all, sometimes a literal translation just doesn't work. Especially with language as idiomatic as that used by J.K. in these books.

As I started the fourth novel, Harry Potter et la Coupe de Feu, I was quite interested to see how Ménard would deal in his translation with the fact that the English-speaking main characters encounter and interact with French-speaking people from Beauxbatons.

The first encounter between English and French speakers in Rowling's fourth book takes place in the wooded area that offers refuge for Quidditch World Cup fans who want to get away from the frightening march of the masked Death Eaters through the camp ground.

Harry, Hermione and Ron have encountered Draco Malfoy and are just starting to search for the rest of the Weasley kids when they hear a group of young people speaking loudly to each other.

This group is, of course, made up of Beauxbatons students, who are frightened and looking for Madame Maxime,their head master.

In the original English novel, Harry and his pals speak English, the Beauxbatons students speak French, and no one understands each other so they just move on.

But in the French translation, everybody speaks French. Yet, the two groups still don't seem to understand each other and so they just move on. When a French reader reads an English book in translation that involves French characters, does she keep in mind the fact that two different languages are at play, even though everyone is speaking French?

I have to admit, this has gotten me all turned around inside my head.

When I read a French novel in translation (into English), what language do English speaking characters speak in the English translation?

It's a strange moment. One of the French students says something to Ron, he says "Pardon" and the French student says, "Il ne comprend rien, celui la." ("He doesn't understand anything, that one there") As the French students move off, the English students hear clearly a mention of "Potdelard", which of course is a mispronunciation of the French version of the name of the English school of witchcraft and wizardry -- Poudlard.

In some ways, the translation is wonderfully written with fun plays on the language. For example, Ron says "Pardon", which means the same thing in French and in English, only the pronunciation is different.

As a native English speaker, I heard in my head Ron say "Pardon" in English, to remind me that there is a language barrier here. But would a native French speaker read this, hear Ron pronounce "Pardon" in the French manner, and get confused as to why Ron and the Beauxbaton student cannot communicate?

Would a native French speaker think that the Beauxbaton student is implying that Ron is not smart enough to understand her, or has a development disability of some kind, since both characters were speaking the same language prior to this exchange?

And I wonder if I read "Potdelard" differently than would a native French speaker. I read it immediately as pot (rhyming with "hot") -de-lard. Would a French speaker read it is Poh (rhyming with the French word "mot") -de-lard?

I am very interested to read how Ménard approaches these questions as the story goes along. How will he deal with the heavily accented English that characters like Madame Maxime and Fleur Delacour employ in J.K.'s prose? Will they speak an accented version of French?

Another interesting note on the translation of this scene: in the original English, Rowling merely mentions that Harry and the gang notice a group of young people talking in loud voices nearby.

Ménard, the translator, actually inserts some extra dialogue to capture what the Beauxbatons students were saying. "Enfin, c'est incroyable!" the one French student says. "Qu'est-ce que c'est que cette organization?" (I'm no translators but I read that as, "Finally, it is incredible. What is this organization?")

These quoted lines, in which the Beauxbaton student appears to be critical of the security at the World Cup, do not appear in the original Rowling novel. Ménard has invented them for the purposes of his translation.

I will have to watch for more such creative indulgences in this book!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Finally, Book 8 joins the Harry Potter canon

Word that J.K. Rowling's play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, will soon be released in book form has created something of a buzz around my office.

Personally, I am delighted with this development since there really was almost no chance that I would be able to see the play performed live, until and unless it were brought to Canada and, even then, I probably wouldn't be able to obtain/afford a ticket.

And I think it's interesting how many Harry Potter fans all over the world had somewhat under-reacted to the release of this, the eighth canonical tale in the Harry Potter collection when it first arrived on the London stage. Remember, since The Deathly Hallows was released in 2007, we've been left to make do with rather poor film adaptations of the books and an ongoing trickle of special releases from Rowling herself to satiate our hunger for new Harry Potter material.

When The Cursed Child first arrived, I would have thought that Potter fans the world over would have gone into a massive series of celebrations.

But the limitations of the medium -- a play, staged in one city, with a limited number of tickets selling at a fairly high price -- seemed to have dampened that enthusiasm.

I'm not saying Rowling was wrong to try her hand at play writing. In fact, I'm excited to see her remarkable writing skills tested in this new medium. But the limitations inherent in a stage play, from the stand point of universal access, have certainly impacted how the fandom reacted to the release of the play.

It will be very interesting to see if the script's release (scheduled for midnight on Harry's birthday [July 31, if you didn't know]) will prompt the same kind of excitement that the release of the original novels did around the world.

I think it will. I think The Cursed Child has sort of developed into a well-kept secret about which everyone knew. I plan to keep myself as much in the dark as possible about the plot and characterizations in this new story until I hold the new book in my hot little hands.

I plan to buy the script, then spend every second of reading it in pure, ecstatic enjoyment.

Then I will read it again, I think.