Literary Translation

An engrossing conference on literary translation, confronting authors with their translators (Claude Delarue and Vivienne Menkes; A. S. Byatt and Jean-Louis Chevalier) was held at the London French Institute in January. The following conclusions possibly emerged:
  1.  Ambiguities are more common in fiction than in other texts, since the language is connotative.
  2.  French is restricted to a smaller vocabulary and a stricter, narrower word-order and grammar than English.
  3.  French is more philosophical and metaphysical (i.e. more abstract and opaque) than English.
  4.  The gulf between written and spoken language is greater in French than in English. (It is partially bridged in English by phrasal verbs.)
  5.  The English translator tends to break up long French sentences (particularly relative clauses).
  6.  The more explicit the sentence, the fewer the options (possible variations) for the translator.
  7.  Incomplete sentences, being connotative, are the hardest to translate.
  8.  All language is provisional. When author meets translator, both parties change their minds, have second thoughts, are not sure or forget what they originally meant. But the word in print gives the translation a certain permanence. (Je crois à l'imprimé. J-L. Chevalier). In any event this apparent fluctuation, which appears to challenge the status of translation (Sarah Marsh), is greatly restricted in its scope, and should not go beyond the deficiencies of the source language text, the grammatical and lexical gaps of the target language, and the tastes of the translator.

Peter Newmark (1993) Paragraphs on Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 149-150.

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