Stephen Clarke est l'auteur de « In the Merde for Love » ainsi que de nombreux autres ouvrages, qui ont en commun une perception très spéciale des francais, de leur langue et de leur mode de vie.
Nous avons précedemment publié la première partie de cette serie, que vous pouvez lire en cliquant sur le lien suivant : Stephen Clarke, l'humour pour décrypter l'esprit français, première partie
Stephen Clarke a très gentiment accepté d’écrire un article exclusif pour les lecteurs de ce blog, que nous reproduisons ici. Cet article sera prochainement suivi d'un billet de la part de Thierry Cruvellier, traducteur attitré de Stephen Clarke, la troisième et dernière partie de cette série.
My advice to my translator, in whatever language, is: you don’t have to try to translate jokes literally – sometimes (often, in fact) they don’t work. You have to think of an equivalent. For example, in “A Year in the Merde”, there was a joke where one of Paul’s colleagues said he’d worked in America, “in high tea”. Paul has no idea what he’s talking about, but nods approvingly, thinking at least it has something to do with tea. It turns out the colleague meant “IT” – computing. This didn’t work at all in French, so I suggested to the translator that the colleague say “Haiti”, and Paul thinks, why is he talking to me about the Caribbean?
The same goes for cultural references. You have to remember who’s reading the book. An example – in “Merde Actually” there’s a chapter entitled “Maybe it’s because I’m not a Londoner”. This is a reference to a song title “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner”. I added the “not” because in this chapter Paul feels lost in London. The translator didn’t know what to do, so I suggested “Ils sont fous, ces londoniens”, a reference to a favourite saying in Asterix: “ils sont fous, ces Anglais”. It’s an equivalent pun that works on a cultural level even though literally it is unrecognizable.
Similarly, some of the dialogue was hard to do. In the English version of the books, the French speak English very phonetically – “Ah yem vairy eppy to work wiz you”. An English reader can understand this. But the French would have had difficulties, so I suggested changing the strategy, using correct English words, but bad grammar that the French would notice – “I very happy work with you”. Luckily for me, the French find this pidgin English hilarious. It was the same for Paul’s French. In the English books we can tell he’s speaking bad French because he says things like “I am punctured” or “I happy yesterday”. So in French, it was simple – he had to make mistakes typical of those made by English-speakers.
In the past, I've sometimes been a bit pushy with translators, but only to try and get them to feel freer. I think sometimes translators don’t dare take the risk of straying totally from a literal translation, and thereby annoying the author (if he or she can speak the language) or somehow "betraying" the text. On the contrary, I say, the translation has to be a funny book in its own right, the text has to live, the narrator has to talk to you freely and easily. You don’t change the plot or the characters, of course, but on a linguistic level you can take liberties and have some fun.