Choisir son traducteur

L’aspect culturel

Un traducteur n’en vaut pas un autre. Ce n’est pas une déclaration visant à jeter le discrédit sur quiconque, c’est juste une réalité. Un traducteur compétent pour travailler le dossier A ne le sera pas forcément pour gérer le dossier Y.

Pourquoi existe-t-il de grossières erreurs de traduction sur le packaging de certains produits capillaires (de grandes marques), sur les affiches françaises de certains films à gros budget, dans la traduction d’œuvres littéraires devenues légendaires ?

L’inadéquation culturelle du traducteur.

En effet, un des critères qui devrait être pris en compte au moment du choix d’un traducteur est sa connaissance personnelle de la culture dans laquelle s’inscrit le contenu à traduire. Ce n’est hélas que trop rarement le cas.

Il faut savoir que la langue évolue depuis des siècles au cœur de diverses communautés sur autant de territoires distincts. Chaque communauté ayant ses concepts culturels propres au sein de la nation France, il est hasardeux de se dire que n’importe quel traducteur francophone fera l’affaire.

Qu’il s’agisse d’un plat, d’une coiffure, d’un fruit ou d’une région spécifique, les mots pour les désigner existent mais ne sont pas toujours connus des francophones évoluant hors des communautés qui les ont vu naître.

En disant cela j’ai à l’esprit le film “Soul food” dont la traduction a été gâchée uniquement parce que le traducteur francophone ignorait qu’une culture similaire à celle présentée dans le film existait chez les Français d’outre-mer. Choisir de mettre quelque chose n’ayant rien à voir avec le contenu du dialogue original a été le choix fait et la supercherie aurait pu passer inaperçue si cette partie du dialogue n’était pas tombée au moment où l’on voit le plat en question en train d’être préparé, à l’image. Des accras. De simples accras. Bien sûr, deux décennies, une Babel et un Google plus tard, rares sont les Français qui ignorent encore l’existence des accras… Mais le problème demeure.

Votre contenu/texte source traite de concepts liés à tel pays Africain ou à telle communauté Bretonne? Choisir un traducteur ayant baigné dans ces cultures ou ayant accès à des personnes-ressources appartenant à ces cultures est le meilleur moyen de mettre toutes les chances de votre côté.

Des personnes ressources ? Ce sont des individus de confiance ayant une expérience personnelle approfondie de la ou des cultures considérées. Le plus souvent, la personne ressource aura idéalement grandit au cœur de la culture considérée. Autrement, une personne ayant grandit en contact rapproché avec la culture considérée peut faire office de personne ressource. Certaines cultures ayant des racine communes dont l’influence est encore prédominante dans plusieurs d’entre elles peuvent produire des personnes ressources fiables capable de comprendre et donc d’expliquer ce qui se passe dans ces cultures connexes à leurs cultures d’origine. C’est le cas dans l’exemple de Soulfood où la culture afro-Americaine des états du sud rejoint celles des îles de la Caraïbe, indépendamment des langues parlées officiellement dans ces îles.

The unhealthy debate

Native vs Non-native

It’s a never-ending debate which is still raging within the international community of translators and interpreters. It’s unhealthy and sterile because the position of a wide majority is only based on personal belief and prejudice. Sure, there are some people who will have had the misfortune of experiencing terrible situations which only reinforced these beliefs. However, considering that only a native speaker can deliver a proper translation into the target language in his pair is being unreasonably narrow-minded. (Note that I used the word “only”.)

Native speakers

Native speakers of a given language are not created equal when it comes to language capabilities. On top of that, many factors will (over time) influence the level of mastery one will display using that language throughout their adult life, both in their personal and professional interactions.

And if I may say so, a native speaker does not necessarily a native writer make.

In each and every language there are brilliant users of the spoken word, brilliant users of the written word, some who combine both skills and others who are clueless when it comes to speaking or writing properly. Some people can write a decent letter (not a descent letter as I’ve seen some folks write…) and spot mistakes or problems in the work of others while they are totally unable to write something complex.

Nowadays, the issue of native speakers who can’t compete with foreign users of their language in terms of level of mastery seems to be getting worse.

There was a time when people relied on encyclopedic books or dictionaries to make sure they had the right word when writing or to check the spelling of an unfamiliar term. With the rise of technology, people have been feeling more and more confident about their language skills. Spell-check, autocorrect and the likes can be helpful, don’t get me wrong. Still, they can’t replace human knowledge and the human eye and forgetting that simple fact often leads many writers astray.

So far, only a human can make the difference between a proper word which is still out of place, a proper word in the appropriate sentence which makes perfect sense and the sentence which, in spite of having a perfect structure, will ring weird to most literate native users (and I’m talking basic literacy here).

Non-native users

A person who came into contact with a language which is/was not spoken by their own parents or by anyone in their direct environment is considered a non-native speaker. But the definition beyond that is pretty vague. Too vague, in fact, to be the determining factor which will be used to judge a person’s language abilities before any interaction of any kind could take place.

Non-native speakers of a given language come in all shapes and sizes, or so to speak. The personal experience factor will

Of the importance of culture

A former great colonial power like France has many important cultures and subcultures to thank for in the emergence of what France is today in every aspects. Language is one of them.

Even if on national television, what we mostly hear is Parisian French, it wasn’t always this way.

There was a standard version of French used by people in media which was understandable anywhere in France. Parisian French has replaced that language in all the public spaces whether it is on social media or elsewhere. Parisian French has evolved over the last fifty years or so, heavily influenced by the various waves of immigration and the diverse languages and cultures that came with it. There’s Parisian French (standard contemporary) and then there’s Parisian slang, which is something else altoghether. Even French speakers fluent in the Parisian variant of French may find themselves at loss when addressed in Parisian slang. As a whole, the use of standard French (modern,not contemporary, not Parisian) in continental France and in the oversea territories has turned into an elitist practice, since it requires that the speaker respects an impressive number of grammar rules and a very specific brand of vocabulary seldom mastered nowadays by the masses outside certain circles. You will find some politicians, some executives or other people whose higher education years have been spent in the care of highly skilled professors who will still be using that variant of French in speech as well as in writing. Mostly, the rest of the continental population will be using a language resembling contemporary Parisian French with a few regional variations here and there. In the Caribbean, the variant used remains closer to standard French even if it’s laced with what we like to call “creolisms”. Still, you may find standard French (modern) in books or in the film productions when a period piece is being considered.

*The above mentioned variants of French are mostly mutually intelligible. However, some vocabulary which exists in one variant may not have an equivalent in another variant because the concepts behind the words in question may be specific to that regional culture or to a specific sub-culture… Which is why you need to assess the potential cultural aspect of your source text before approaching a translator with a similar cultural background as the dominant one permeating your text.