Forms of Compensation in French Translation

Successfully conveying meaning across languages

Making it explicit

The particular form that compensation in French translation will take is determined in the light of factors such as context, style, genre and purpose of the source and target texts. Depending upon the situation, compensation in French translation may consist of making explicit in the target text what is implicit in the source text. The reverse may also happen, that is, the target text may make implicit what is explicitly stated in the source text. For example, the English verb system, unlike the French verb system, does not distinguish between the tu’ and the vous’. An English translation of a French source text has to spell out this difference to facilitate the understanding of the target reader.

Compensation in Kind

Another form of compensation in French translation is compensation in kind, where the literally untranslated source text expression is broken down and explained in the target text. The contrast between imperfect and historic past in French often has to be compensated for in this way in an English target text. In a third form of compensation, the connotative meaning of an expression in the source text can be replaced by its literal version in the target text. Subtlety is lost, but the effect is conveyed. Humor, as a literary device or a literary effect, is by far the hardest to translate without compensation. Forms of compensating for humor may be as drastic as wholesale cultural transplantation; it may also be practiced by substituting one source of humor with another one more in consonance with the linguistic and cultural standards of the target language.


Compensation in French translation can also involve a change in place, that is, a feature that occurs in a particular place in the source text is removed from that particular place in the target text, but it is re-introduced, perhaps in a different form, in another nearby or adjacent part of the target text. The change in place is partially governed by grammatical transposition. It can be the result of trying to reproduce source language puns in the target text, where the form of the pun is maintained, but its nature is altered. It can also be the result of trying to capture source text sound effects, such as alliteration, assonance and phonic resemblances of words, in the target text.

Change in Economy

The economy’ of a text is very often affected as a result of compensation. For example, a pithy expression in the source text may have to be magnified in the target text, or an expansive source text expression may be curtailed in the target text. A source verb or a source adjective may be the repository of multiple meanings, but if no single equivalent can be found for it in the target language, then it will obviously have to be split into several verbs or adjectives in order to convey the meaning faithfully.

Thus compensation, when it takes the form of alteration and replacement, can be confined to a single word, or it may extend its grasp over phrases, sentences and even entire paragraphs. The latter is generally the standard. In very rare cases the entire text may be affected. For example, the rhyme of a source text may have to be replaced by some other sound effect like rhythm if the translator finds that preserving the rhyme in the target text would compromise the meaning.

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