Translating from French into English

Some thoughts from Clare O’Farrell on translation, with examples from Foucault and Cixous.

Refracted Input

I just came across this interesting passage in an article by Dave Hickey on The Brooklyn Rail discussing his experiences teaching French theory.

[…] since the texts we read were written in French and being read in French or translation, there are some eccentricities of the French language that need to be acknowledged. First, the standard English vocabulary is about 900,000 words. The standard French vocabulary is about 100,000 words, so French words aren’t surrounded with garlands of synonyms and adjectives. Each word does a lot of work in French, so it is possible to write a sentence in French in which the same word appears four times and means something different every time. American translators, sadly, thanks to the New Yorker, are fearful of iteration, and identical French words blossom into bouquets of synonyms. Americans fall back on synonyms to avoid iteration and this blurs meaning and euphony…

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