Africa Film WebMeeting

Message from: Gretchen Walsh (
About: Complex issues of translation

Mon, 28 Jul 1997 09:57:38 -0400 (EDT)

Originally from: Gretchen Walsh <>
Originally dated: Mon, 28 Jul 1997 09:57:38 -0400 (EDT)

Steve has probably been chastised enough for his injudicious remarks about
the English usage by the editors of Ecrans d'Afrique. There are some real
issues, here, however, and we shouldn't lose sight of them in the storm of
criticism and defensiveness.

Correct and clear translation is essential, both for artistic and for
business reasons. I remember all too well arriving in Barcelona some
thirty years ago, with a smattering of grade school Spanish, and asking
directions. I was told to go "derecha derecha". I knew that "derecha"
was right, so made two right turns -- which of course had me going in
exactly the opposite direction of the instructions, which were to go
"straight ahead."

The listener/reader has a responsibility, of course, when dealing with a
foreign language to make sure that they understand. But when one is
communicating in a foreign language, for whatever purpose, but especially
when one is trying to communicate an artistic vision or conduct business,
the communicator has a responsibility to be sure that what he/she says is
comprehensible. I find it terribly distracting at a film in a language I
know, with subtitles in a language I also know, to note the subtitles
wildly different from the dialogue in the film.

As for correspondence, when dealing with a Francophone publisher or other
agency, I usually write in English. Then I know that I've said what I
intend to say clearly. My French comes out more awkwardly than the quotes
cited from Ecrans D'Afrique. I also prefer getting correspondence in
French rather than English of the same level of awkwardness. I'd *prefer*
to write in flawless idiomatic French - but after years of study, that
doesn't seem to work out.

Cheers - hope we move on to other topics, although LANGUAGE is always an
issue - it's the basis of our culture, whatever it is.

Gretchen Walsh
African Studies Library
Boston University
771 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02170
FAX 617-353-2084

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