Literal French Translation

Literal French translation occurs when the source text can be translated into the target language without any change in either vocabulary or grammar. At the same time, the target text must read correctly and idiomatically. Literal French translation is possible only if there are no grammatical, syntactical and cultural differences between the source and the target languages. Unfortunately, the English and French languages belong to different backgrounds, and are characterized by several structural differences.

The list below contains some of the most frequently occurring structural differences:

1.Differences in word order are a chief source of grammatical divergence. Adjectives in French, unlike in English, generally occur after the noun they describe. Direct and indirect object pronouns occur before the verb in French and after the verb in English. The preposition occurs before the interrogative adverb in French, and at the end of the question in English. English juxtaposes the direct object with the verb it relates to. French often introduces adverbs, or adverbial phrases between the two. These differences stem from the fact that French is an analytical language that makes use of articulations (prepositions, conjunctions and even relative pronouns) in expressions, and English is a synthetic language that makes use of juxtaposition.

2.The French language has no structure similar to the possessive case in English and must articulate the possessive relation with the preposition de’.

3.Structural differences are often accommodated through ellipses. Ellipses in French translation occur when the source text is either shortened or expanded while being translated into the target language. Ellipses in English reduce the length of the French expression. Thus, the definite article which occurs before all general concepts in French is omitted during translation; so is the indefinite pronoun en’ when used with an expression of quantity. Ellipses in French on the other hand expand the English expression, as in positive or negative answers to a question.

4.Gallicisms and Anglicisms: Gallicisms, that is, ways of expression that are typical of the French language (for example, emphatic pronouns and emphatic constructions) and anglicisms, that is, ways of expression that are typical of the English language (for example, emphatic auxiliary verbs) act as obstacles to literary French translation. If literally translated, they sound unidiomatic in the target language.

5.Tenses, such as the progressive form, exist only in English. Some English verbs, particularly modal auxiliaries, cannot be expressed in the progressive form, and need to be translated with different counterparts in the imperfect tense. A French future tense may need to be translated into a present, especially if it occurs after conjunctions of time. The subjunctive mood does not exist in English, and presents difficulties for the French translator.

6.Pronominal verbs occur in French but not in English, and their literal translation can be unidiomatic. There are various ways of dealing with them: in case of a reflexive action, the French reflexive pronoun can be rendered by the equivalent English reflexive pronoun; in the case of reciprocal action, reciprocal pronouns are used, but sometimes the reciprocity is only implied in English. Many French pronominal verbs are therefore translated as simple verbs or as passive verbs in English.

Some strategies to overcome the obstacles have also been mentioned above; the French translator must develop his or her own strategies for dealing with the other obstacles encountered in literal French translation.

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