By Dany Guay-Belanger

Being part of the booklet team, and am francophone, I offered myself for translation duty. I had some experience as I had done some freelance translations for a friend. I knew that translation was a complex job, but I had not envisioned how hard this was going to be. My previous experiences had been with a small window installation company and a welding company. The greatest challenge, in these instances, was the jargon used by both professions, especially due to the particularity of French in Quebec — which uses many English words.

For our booklet, the issue was tone and choice of words. Through this experience, I realised that a single word could change a sentence entirely. One sentence comes to mind, its English version reads as follows: “As the community turned to its own support systems, the golden age of place-based activism dawned in Point St. Charles.” While in English ‘golden age’ has a positive connotation, in French the expression ‘l’age d’or’ it is the opposite. This expression is primarily used with senior citizens and therefore gives the impression of an end, rather than a time of effervescence. This was a critical difference which would have implied that this time was a dying age, rather than the high time of social activism in the Point. Since our goal was to portray Point St. Charles in an objective manner, these variations in meaning were quintessential. In the end, we opted to remove the expression entirely from the French version and wrote the following: “L’activisme à Pointe Saint-Charles commença lorsque la communauté se tourna vers ses propres systèmes de soutien.”

Conveying ideas in any language is no simple task, being a good writer is a lifetime achievement. Translating the same ideas from one language to another is even harder. Being francophone and using English as my langue of study, I struggle with this every day. Anyone who speaks more than one language most probably experienced having to switch between these languages to be able to adequately express their thoughts. When among several people who are bilingual or allophone, this can lead to confusing conversations where every language common to the interlocutors are used interchangeably. While this experience was challenging, it was highly rewarding. As a humoristic relief that somewhat relates to what I was describing in this blog entry, here is a scene from one of my favourite movies. The reference here concerns accents, but it made me think of it. The scene ends at 11:25: