Adaptation in French Translation

When all other strategies for rendering the source text into the target language fail, the French translator resorts to adaptation. Adaptation occurs when it is impossible to find a semantic equivalent in the target language for a word or a concept that exists in the source text. Adaptation in French translation introduces drastic changes in the lexis and the concepts of the source text. Hence, it creates a text that reads quite differently from the original source text; it creates a text that is the too far from literal translation.

Adaptation in French translation is not only about overcoming linguistic barriers, it is also about making a path through cultural differences. As a term, cultural difference is all-encompassing: it includes concepts as diverse as the geography, the values, the institutions, etc. that exist in a society. Greater differences in culture will create bigger obstacles in the path of the translator. England and France have been closely linked to each other for centuries, yet several insuperable differences exist between the two countries. In this unit and the next we will take a look at some of the differences that are most likely to make the translator employ adaptation in French translation.

English lacks the familiar French form of address, the ‘tu’. Rendering it in English can be quite challenging for the translator. A verb like ‘tutoyer, se tutoyer’ has no English equivalent; the translator can compensate for it by explicitly stating that the relation between two persons has changed from a formal to an informal one. He or she can also make the speakers address each other by their first names to denote the same change.

Differences in the way people greet each other often need to be adapted to the norms of the source culture to avoid misunderstanding and even mistranslation. In the Mediterranean region, men belonging to the same family usually kiss. However this custom might send a wrong signal to the English-speaking people who are not used to it. In order to elude the problem, the French translator will have to change a sentence like “Les deux homes se sont embrasses” into “The two men gave each other a hug.” The way of addressing a letter is the same in the two languages.

The French and the English use different terms to refer to units and measures. For example, the French use kilometers while the English (in America) use miles, the former use liters while the latter use quarts and gallons. Whether or not to convert French units and measures into English units and measures is a matter of debate. The French translator can perhaps resolve the issue by taking into account the nature of the target audience and the purpose of the target text.

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