Say What?

The first cup . . . .

Following on from yesterday’s “Once More With Feeling . . .” post, I woke up this morning to find my “Muse” had not abandoned me. Indeed, I am in overdrive this morning. In fact, I can nag WordPress: What, WordPress, you sleeping on the job? (LOL)

Thoughts of topic choices were racing through my mind: Time management, Empire Avenue, Social Media, Coffee (you had to know this!!), and my English to French Translation class! That last notion, translation, was such an odd random thought, I felt it begged to be addressed.

During the Spring 2012 semester at the University of Maryland College Park, I opted to take the course, French 303, English-French Translation. My thinking was the translation class would offer variety in my literature-heavy course load. I also thought, being a typical student, I had found my “easy A” course for the semester. Little did I know this particular class would become the bane of my existence!

The difficulties of translation commence with the most basic conversation starters: What is your name? How old are you? If you are paying attention, you have noted the use of the verb “to be” in those two simple questions. In French, the introductory question, What is your name, becomes “Comment vous appelez vous?” In a word-for-word translation, the French are saying “What or how you call or name you?” Thankfully, the translators have made clear to the English speakers the French would like to know our first names.

As it pertains to the question of age, in English, we “are,” an age. Age is not a state of being in French; it is a state of “having.” Thus, that simple interrogatory, How old are you, becomes “Quel âge avez-vous?” Literally translated, the French are saying “What age have you?” Mercifully, the translators stepped in to assist the English speakers to understand that the French are asking us what is our age.

Then there is the case of the words which seem familiar or similar, but they are not quite. The French person who informs you “Je suis célibataire” is not telling you that he or she is celibate or announcing that he or she is abstaining from “bringing sexy back.” You are simply being informed “I am single” in English. Translating the English sentence “I am single” into the French, “Je suis seul,” you have told the French listener that you are alone or that you are “on your own.”

I suppose the point I am trying to make is there is great potential for even simple statements to become “Lost in Translation,” but by remaining patient, exhibiting a desire to understand, and having a bit of a sense of humor, one has a superb remedy to use to overcome any misunderstandings that may arise.

Good day to you, and a special thank you to the unsung heroes: Translators and Interpreters!


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