Compensation in French Translation

The fact that semantic, linguistic, syntactic, prosodic and other differences exist between a source and a target language is a commonly known fact. These differences often create barriers for the French translator trying to convey all the effects of the source text in the target text. A literal French translation of the above features can be attempted but, often, it has the contrary effect of producing an incorrect translation or an unnatural translation. In order to minimize the chances of mistranslation and any other form of translation loss, French translators frequently resort to a tool known as compensation’.

Purpose and Use

Compensation in French translation is motivated by a single purpose, which is reproducing accurate and as faithful effects of the source text in the target text. In order to fulfill this purpose, compensatory techniques generally adopt features and methods that differ from the ones used in the source text. In a nutshell, compensation in French translation enables the French translator to recreate the effect of the source text with the help of alternative grammatical, linguistic or syntactical techniques.

The use of compensation in French translation is marked by deliberation rather than compulsion. The French translator is not being forced by the rules of the target language grammar, phonics and prosody to adopt compensatory techniques. In fact, the grammar, phonics and prosody of the source language might be literally transferred to the target language, but this might be more counterproductive, since it distorts the meaning of the source text and dampens its effect.

The French translator may be sacrificing economy and the cultural values of the source text by resorting to compensation in French translation, but he or she is doing so in order to preserve something more vital, that is the effect and the message of the source text. Since compensation in French translation is a deliberate technique, it must be a well-thought-out decision made in the light of certain vital factors. The factors that exert the greatest control over the use of this technique are the nature and purpose of the source text, the purpose of the target text, the nature and needs of the target audience, etc.

On the part of the French translator, compensation demands that he or she be alert enough to discern the matters of consequence in the source text and be imaginative enough to render those matters in an original way in the target text. The French translator should be able to choose between the lesser of the two evils, judge which loss is potentially more harmful: the loss of meaning or the loss of style as in grammar, semantics, prosody, etc. and he has to alight upon innovative ways of regulating or eliminating that loss.

Literary texts demand the most frequent use of the compensatory technique. Technical texts like legal documents, business proposals, user manuals, scientific theses, etc., which have a factual and non-imaginative nature, free the French translator from concerns about compensation.

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