Titles in French Translation
A title has a very important role to play in a text. It is a window or an invitation into the text. By providing information about the theme and the subject matter of the text it seeks to engage the attention of a prospective reader. An author always puts special care when choosing titles for his or her works; it is only natural that the translator should also reciprocate that care and attentiveness. Titles in French translation are very critical. They should be handled last, that is, after the entire text has been translated. Following this technique will ensure that the French translator has first got a grasp of the subject-matter of the text. Grasp over the subject-matter will enable the translator to come up with a valid title.
Titles in French translation allow more flexibility than the content of the text itself. A translator can use any of the strategies like literal translation, transposition, modulation, equivalence or even adaptation to render titles. Literal or word for word translation is used in the absence of structural and cultural barriers. But the French translator must possess the ability to discern between the literal and the idiomatic use of a word. Using transposition for titles in French translation will make the title more idiomatic, and hence more in tune with the natural rhythms of the target language.
Modulation can be used for stylistic and semantic reasons. It may help to maintain phonetic resemblances between the titles in the source and the target languages; it may help to preserve puns. However, puns in titles are generally very hard to reproduce in titles in French translation. Equivalence can be adopted to render titles that use idioms and cliches. Adaptation usually is the last resort and should be used in case cultural differences prevent a literal translation from being understood in the target language.
When adaptation is applied to titles in French translation, the end-product is usually very far from the original. It is as if translation has been replaced by transcreation. This tendency is especially marked when a celebrated author in one language translates the work of a celebrated author from another language. When Christopher Fry chooses to call his translation of Anouilh’s L’Invitation au chateau’ Rings around the Moon’, he has indeed moved very far from the original. It will be difficult for a reader to associate the two books to each other.
The French translator must remember that French and English preferences for titles differ quite dramatically. The French like brief titles with nouns, for example, Les Essais’, Les Meditations’, Une Vie’, Le Rire’, etc. The English, on the other hand, like long titles with verbs. Sometimes their titles are as long as sentences, as for example, She Stops to Conquer’, The Importance of Being Earnest’, Where Angels Fear to Tread’. Therefore, the French titles “Le Choix d’un mari” and “L’Education des masses” will be more accepdiv to English ears if they are translated as “Choosing a Husband” and “Educating the Masses” rather than “The Choice of a Husband” or “The Education of the Masses”.
French titles often seem too ordinary and abstract, and the tendency is making them more explanatory in English translation. Thus we have titles such as The Lost Domain’ for Alain Fournier’s “Le Grand Meaulnes” or “The Order of Things” for Michel Foucault’s “Les Mots et les choses”. Sometimes, though rarely, a translated title comes out more powerful than the original one.