Sunday, October 04, 2020

Thème agrégation Suggested translation Carrère


Emmanuel Carrère  Extract from Limonov. Suggested translation.

Until the day that Anna Politkovskaia was shot down[1] in the stairway[2] of her block of flats[3], on the 7th October in 2006, only those who had been following the wars[4] in Chechnya[5] closely knew who she was. She was a courageous journalist and a vocal opponent of Vladimir Putin’s policies.[6][7]


In the West, her sad, determined face became, overnight, an icon for freedom of speech.[8]

At the time, I had just been filming a documentary in a small town in Russia and[9] I had often spent time in the country, and this is why a magazine editor put me on the first plane[10] to Moscow as soon as the news[11] came in[12] of Politkovskaia’s death.

I was not being sent[13] to investigate P’s murder, but rather to persuade[14] the people who had known and loved[15] her to open up. This is how I came to spend a week at the offices of the Novaia Gazeta,[16] the paper where[17] she had been the star[18] reporter. But I also went to the offices of various human rights[19] organizations[20] and those of committees set up by the mothers of soldiers who had been killed or maimed in Chechnya. These offices were tiny, dimly lit, and kitted out with outdated computers. The activists[21] who invited me in were often old, too, and there were pathetically few of them.[22] It is a very small milieu where everyone knows one another, and I soon came to know everyone too. This very small milieu constitutes  practically the entire democratic opposition in Russia.

Apart from a few Russian friends, the people I know in Moscow make up another small circle of French expats, who are journalists or businessmen, and when I told them in the evening of the day’s visits, they would smile with vague sympathy : of course these worthy democrats[23] , these human rights activists I was telling them about were respectable sorts, they said,[24] but the truth was that noone[25] gave  a damn.

[1] Of course in other contexts, « abattre » has very different translations. « Il ne faut pas se laisser abattre » : « You mustn’t let it get you down ». In the present case, « shot dead » is also fine.

[2] The stairway would include the parts where there are not actually stairs. The staircase would apply only to the stairs : also « staircase » is generally inside a residence, which is not the case here. Some commentators consider that the two words are identical, but I think they are missing something http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/edu/2002/02/12/stories/2002021200220206.htm  When you have vocabulary nuances with physical objects such as these, putting each word into the search box of Google images can be one of the best options. You will see that Google images does not think that they are identical. There is also a third word « stairwell ». This is less common and is usually used in technical contexts (a Fire service report on building safety, for example).

[3] « Building » is not good, since it has a much wider sense than « immeuble ». « There are two buildings opposite, one is a bungalow and the other is a factory ».

[4] Plural – there was more than one ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Chechen_War )

[5] Slightly better than « the Chechen wars » because it makes them sound less well-known.

[6] Note the difference between Putin’s politics – his general ideology concerning how society should be organized, and his policies – his particular decisions or strategies concerning aspects of running society (his military policy, his housing policy, his China policy even).

[7]  It is rarely obligatory to split a sentence in two, but I think it is best here. Note that the structure « a brave journalist, she … » sounds French : it is better to put  a verb in at the beginning. One could also prefer a verbal structure « she made no secret of her opposition to Vladimir Poutin’s policies.

[8] Better « freedom of speech » than « liberty of expression ». Avoiding excessive numbers of latinate words is an important part of translation. This extract,in the first person and personal in tone, requires a low number of latinate words.

[9] In French, a comma is sufficient to separate these two principal clauses, but not in English.

[10] There are many constructions possible here. However, many students were tempted with a structure using the verb « offer » … This is not possible. In general the verb « offer » is hard for French people speaking English.

[11] Note that you should *only* use « piece of news » when you are absolutely obliged to count. « Deux nouvelles très différentes sont tombées hier » - « Two very different pieces of news came out yesterday ». the same principle applies to the word « advice » and several other words.

[12] In the news office, the news « comes in ». In a neutral, non-journalistic place or tone, the news of her death « has just come out ».

[13] One can make a structure with the noun « assignment », but increasing the number of verbal structures and decreasing the number of noun structures is a constant part of translating from French to English.

[14] A structure with « get » is correct, if perhaps a little informal. A structure with « make » is not possible. Do not hesitate to revise these structures. This page is a little basic but not bad https://www.anglaiscours.fr/faire-faire-anglais.html

[15] Note that the omission of the second « had » is obligatory here.

[17] « Of which » is clumsy.

[18] Someone was tempted by « famous reporter ». This is incorrcet – we have just heard that almost no-one had heard of her. But I will take the opportunity to remind you that « famous » is vastly over-used by French students of English. For example, Eric Hobsbawm and E.P. Thompson were well-known historians, rather than famous ones (since people who had interest in history did not know who they were).

[19] Note that this expression does not take capital letters (this despite the fact that there are many more capitals in English than in French.

[20] You may not say « charities », wince these organizations may or may not have been charities – which is a specific type of legal entity.

[21] Note that « activist » is also generally a good translation for the French word « militant ». A Socialist activist, a green activist, a trade-union activist…

[22] A good moment to revise structures like « How many of you were there ? » « There must have been dozens of us » etc .

[23] It is best here to omit the « who » or the « that ».

[24] It is slightly better to put the verb in here.

[25] « Noone » is generally a little more literary than « nobody ».

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