General Question

sweetsweetstephy's avatar

What do translators do when they encounter this?

Asked by sweetsweetstephy (338points) September 10th, 2011

Say a book is going to be translated from English into French. This book contains a scene in which one character encounters someone who is speaking French to him and cannot understand them. The gist of that scene would be that he did not understand this person. If the book is being translated into French, the character would be speaking in French, right? So if this person is speaking French to him and he says he doesn’t understand, wouldn’t that be a little strange? What happens in a situation like this? Is the scene changed or kept the same?

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9 Answers

ddude1116's avatar

I read a book where something similar happened. It was translated to English from Swedish instead, but the situations were identical. It just said that the one person didn’t speak Swedish, emphasized that, and went on.

Jeruba's avatar

It seems that the author doesn’t want the reader to understand this speech either, although obviously some readers might.

If it’s possible to confer with the author, a translator might be able to ask whether the nationality of the foreigner in the scene is essential to the plot or whether, for the sake of the translation, that person could speak another language; for example, Greek or Danish. Otherwise it might make more sense to replace the utterance in French with a line that just says someone spoke but our focal character didn’t understand.

Prosb's avatar

An anime called BECK ran into this problem. When it was dubbed with English, parts of the story where they were already supposed to be speaking English got messed up.
They just kept those parts English, and didn’t explain why the main character suddenly couldn’t understand what certain people were saying. It made it very messy.
(I’m glad I only watch subtitled anime.)

tlm's avatar

To me, language reversal here would make most sense. That is, if the ununderstandable parts are in French, make them English instead, and such. Another good option is, as @ddude1116 mentioned, just emphasize that they aren’t speaking French and move on. Something like that.

Hibernate's avatar

They can make him speak a dialect that is not that used. Or just make him speak another language [they can do this if they make a notation on the bottom of the page or the end of the book].

mattbrowne's avatar

There is no good solution for this situation. Both for books and films. We have to live with this limitation. It’s best to be able to read and watch the original.

HungryGuy's avatar

If you’re the author of this work, you’ll need to do some revision beyond mere translating. Change the language that the character doesn’t understand from French to something else. Of course, that may require other changes in your story so that it makes sense that the character would be speaking that other language.

Vincentt's avatar

What I mostly encounter is that the character in a book, even if (taking your example here) the book is in English, the main characters would still be French. Thus, even though in the book the character is speaking in English, the reader knows it is actually French, but translated for the reader’s convenience.

sndfreQ's avatar

Just use italics for the original French.

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