The Linguist

The Linguist 52,4

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 9 of 35

FEATURES Things fall apart Following the death of Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, Alfred Cudjoe looks at the challenges of translating the hybrid language in his most celebrated book ne of the tasks that Africans south of the Sahara set for themselves after independence was to restore the continent's image abroad. Thus, many African scholars in the late 1950s and early 1960s embarked on an agenda to reverse some of the misconceptions and stereotypes of Africans in novels produced mostly by European writers. Most chose to use the language of their former colonial masters, but decided to use that language in a way that would allow them to express their African experience and to rid the language of its hegemonic control. The translation of the literature they produced, therefore, requires translation strategies that preserve the writer's agenda. To do otherwise would be to betray the African writer's cause. Chinua Achebe's seminal novel Things Fall Apart (1958) is the tragic story of Okonkwo, who spends most of his time fighting not only invading colonial forces, but also some of his own people. The subject matter is related to the colonial process, and the novel has been heralded as the best piece of modern Sub-Saharan literature in English. Through Things Fall Apart, Achebe shows his understanding of the traditional community, painting a detailed picture of the people's political, economic and religious institutions and values. To tell his African story in the form of a novel, Achebe adopted a distinctive style through the creation of a modulated version of English, referred to as an African variety.1 This involves the incorporation of traditional proverbs, adages and sayings through O 10 The Linguist calquing, interpolation of the vernacular (similar to code-mixing), animal stories and irony, using the standard variety of English associated with West African intellectuals. These linguistic and cultural features give African characteristics to the novel. So how have they been handled in the French translation of the novel? Translator Michel Ligny, a Frenchman, begins with a handicap, since he is a non-African and may struggle to deal with the socio-cultural themes of the novel. Although it has been written in a European language, the culture whose language informs the book is 'an/other language'.2 However, Ligny has demonstrated great professional skill in handling issues pertaining to West African culture in his translation. His integrity in translating African proverbs is exhibited in the translation of the title as Le Monde s'Effondre (lit. 'the world collapses'). This title whets the reader's appetite, since they will be eager to know which world is disintegrating, how and why. It is also to Ligny's credit that he is able to use his creativity, when necessary, to make the target text as meaningful as the source The translation requires strategies that preserve the writer's agenda AUGUST/SEPTEMBER text. African proverbs with African thought patterns are difficult to express in European languages, but Ligny has been able to replicate in French what Achebe has written in English. Take the proverb, 'When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk'. Here, Ligny departs slightly from a literal translation by rendering the second part as, 'l'envie d'aller se promener démange les infirmes' ('the cripples are itching to go for a walk'). It is a choice that makes the French sound as idiomatic as the source language. Innovative use of language to replicate the original postcolonial text is a way of ensuring that the French, like the English, is able to accommodate African proverbs and sayings. Alien environment On the other hand, Ligny is, in many ways, alien to the West African environment. He is, therefore, not expected to have the same knowledge of West African socio-cultural and linguistic realities as Achebe, and this makes the task of translating the novel rather challenging. Ligny does not appear to have carried out the necessary research to make up for this handicap, and this does not help to ensure a faithful representation of the African experience. As a result, he has not been able to provide the appropriate solutions to some of the socio-cultural problems he faced, leading to a number of instances of miscommunication, which have been discussed by translation theorists.3 In the following passage, the use of the word crainte for 'fear' throughout does not

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 52,4