Modulation in French Translation

Modulation in French translation occurs when two different ways of looking at the same thing co-exist in two different languages. Modulation engages the thought process of the person using the language. While shifting from French to English and vice versa this thought process will undergo a change. Therefore, modulation does not change the grammatical categories, but the categories of thought.

A change in categories of thought implies that a concept that is being regarded as concrete in French might be regarded as abstract in English. Modulation in French translation may take other forms. It may involve substituting a part for the whole, or one part for another part; it may involve replacing a cult term with a popular one, and so on. When modulation in French translation affects grammar, it does so only minimally, and is limited to changing the voice from active to passive, changing the number from singular to plural or turning a positive expression into a negative one.

There are three types of modulations

1.Modulations that affect words: this applies to words that tend to appear together, and take the form of verbal or nominal expressions. They are usually listed in dictionaries. The following are some examples of word modulations: change from concrete to abstract: un sans abri’ to a homeless’, un train de vie’ to a lifestyle’; change from abstract to concrete: parler haut’ to to speak loud’, un avant-project’ to a first draft’; part replaced by whole: une maison mere’ to a parent company’, du matin au soir’ to all day long’; one symbol replaced by another: une pomme de discorde’ to a bone of contention’; one sensory perception instead of another: un repas lourd’ to a rich meal’; opposites: une assurance-maladie’ to health insurance’.

2.Modulations that affect prepositions: the usage of preposition varies from language to language. This is best explained with the help of examples. While the English say that a man is in’ the street, the French say that he is of’ the street, the English travel on’ the subway but the French travel in’ the subway, and the English are angry with’ delays, unlike the French who are angry against’ them. An exhaustive list of such differences that affect prepositional modulation in French translation can be found in grammar books.

3.Modulations that affect messages: this applies to modulations that transform the nature of a phrase, a sentence or even an entire paragraph. There are many ways of handling this kind of modulation in French translation. Message modulations usually involve changing the active voice to the passive voice, and vice versa. The French are partial to the active voice, while the English are partial to the passive voice, and it is usual to switch between the two in French translation. Very often grammatical usage also demands a switch. For example, an indirect object may never become a passive subject in French.

Modulations that affect words and prepositions are listed in dictionaries and grammar books respectively, and pose no challenge for the translator. Modulations that affect messages in French translation, on the other hand, come with no fixed protocol, and pose the greatest challenge for the French translator.

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