Nature of Compensation in French Translation

Compensation in French translation is a conscious attempt to regulate the kinds and amounts of loss that can occur in the target text. Its clear purpose is reducing, or even better, eliminating critical loss in meaning and effect by allowing less critical losses in grammar and style. We will examine here how the nature of compensation in French translation differs from communicative translation and canonic literal translation; we will also examine how it is free from the concept of constraint.

It cannot be decided beforehand, it is unpredictable; an expression born as compensation cannot be re-used in another context; it cannot be a mere reflection of the lexical and syntactical differences that normally exist between any two languages. Compensation in French translation is a specific answer to a specific problem in a specific situation. While introducing compensation, the French translator must be guided by the context and by the effect the intended compensation will have on the overall nature of the text.


Communicative translation, too, is a form of automatic translation: that is, a target language equivalent exists for the source language expression, mostly a proverb, and the translator’s task is simply identifying it and using it. There is no room for any experimentation or alteration. For example, today, the French expression chat echaude craint l’eau froide‘ can only be translated as once bitten, twice shy’. With canonic literal translation the same sort of constraint is involved. The French translator is not required to be inventive. The target language expression already exists; the French translator is like a mechanic who has to fit the expression into the context by perhaps introducing some minor changes in terms of tense or number.


The purpose of the target text is conveying the entire gamut of literal meanings and connotations expressed in the source text. Any target text that fails to do that is inadequate, and given its inadequacy, at fault. Compensation in French translation can be used to convey the meaning of the source text; grammatical, semantic and lexical transpositions can also be used to convey the same meaning. The context will finally clarify which method is being used. If the source text expression already has a counterpart in the target text, a counterpart that is familiar and in vogue, then the use of the standard target language counterpart will not be an example of compensation. The target language expression may meet all other criteria of compensation, that is, it may involve a change of place in the target text, or it may be shorter or longer than the source expression, but that is not enough. The fact that the expression already exists, and has not been created spontaneously at that moment to meet the needs of the context would disqualify it from being regarded as compensation.

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