Versification in French Translation

Verse, as a technical feature of poetry, refers to a line of metrical writing, that is, a line in which the stressed and unstressed syllables combine to form a particular pattern. Prior to attempting versification in French translation, the translator must become familiar with the types of versification prevalent in the French and English languages. Versification in French is defined, not in terms of stresses, which may vary from line to line, but in terms of the number of syllables a line possesses. The French prefer to endow their lines with an even number of syllables; the alexandrine is the most popular verse-line and consists of twelve syllables. Two other frequently used verse-lines are the decasyllable with ten syllables and the octosyllable with eight syllables. A caesura or a pause is a common feature of the French verse line: in the alexandrine it is usual for the caesura to appear after the sixth syllable, but in the decasyllable and the octosyllable the caesura has no fixed position or appearance.

The mute e’ plays a crucial role in determining the number of syllables in a French verse-line. If the mute e’ is immediately preceded and followed by pronounced consonants, then it too is pronounced; otherwise it remains mute. So, ell (e) est’ has two syllables because the (e) is preceded by but not followed by a consonant, while elle hait’ has three 3 syllables because the e’ is pronounced by an l’ and followed by a h’. In a sung verse, however, the e’ at the end of the line is also pronounced, even if it is preceded by a vowel. Thus, the following line has six syllables: L’per’, la mer’ Badingue’. If a verse-line ends with a pronounced mute, the, it can be assumed that it has an expressive purpose that will be defined by the context.

Versification in English

Versification in English is defined in terms of both syllables and stresses. A verse-line in English will have a fixed number of syllables and a fixed number of stresses. The iambic pentameter is the most popular verse-line in English and is composed of ten syllables and five stresses; every second syllable is stressed in an iamb. The other common meters are the trochee in which a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed one, the dactyl in which a stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed ones and the anapest in which two unstressed syllables are followed by a stressed one. The strong-stress meter in English is, however, based only on the number of stresses; the number of weak syllables can vary from line to line.

Answers to the following questions will enable the translator to select an appropriate strategy for versification in French translation:

Firstly, what is the function of the verse? Does it serve a communicative or a decorative purpose? Does it reinforce the theme and the emotions expressed through the content?
Secondly, if the verse exhibits regularity or irregularity, then what purpose is served by that particular feature?
Thirdly, will converting the verse source text into a prose target text, and thereby omitting versification in French translation altogether, cause significant translation loss?
The French translator should conclude his or her research in the area of versification in French translation by determining which target language verse form will be suidiv to render the source-language verse form.

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