Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Marsot's "Langue étrangère" untranslatable into French

I wrote about Vanina Marsot in April last year.

Now Marsot speaks of her experiences as a bilingual writer writing about the differences between her two languages..

"As I was writing it, I noticed there weren’t any novels that addressed my particular pet idea. There are lots of books about people moving to France, but they tend to be written by outsiders looking in: people entranced or repelled, caught up in the humor or frustration, privilege or disadvantage of being a foreigner in France. The French, they are so: puzzling, frustrating, intriguing, annoying, rude, smelly, precise, chic, and/or (insert your adjective here). But a bilingual woman is both an insider and an outsider.

Funny, then, that it turns out my novel seems to be untranslatable, at least into the other language it is about, French.

There’s a lot of French in my book. I think and hope it’s written so that even if you never studied the language, you can still understand what’s going on in the French passages, which are commented upon in English by my narrator. But here’s the crux of the matter: the French phrases and expressions in the book are dissected in English; that is, understood and parsed through English. So, though the novel is in English (the protagonist), there’s a necessary tension with French, the antagonist. If you translate everything into French, the tension is gone. You’d have to convey that the French-language voice is that of a bilingual American, who is commenting on the French language; so, you’d read a French voice puzzling over odd French phrases — in French! Perhaps a really good literary translator could do this, but I’m not sure how."

Here is an interview with the writer...

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