The Linguist

The Linguist 53,5

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

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12 The Linguist OCTOBER/NOVEMBER F rench and British Great War poetry are, in most respects, thematically and technically similar, though some of the French poets are more prosodically adventurous. Most of the translation challenges are the same as in any corpus of poetry. But one factor sets the French poetry apart: poet and reader shared the painful knowledge that the war was being fought on home soil. Therefore the fervour of a young French soldier in 1914 and the anger of a battle-hardened poilu in 1916 are not quite the same as those of their British or German counterparts. Care must be taken not to misrepresent the implications of this unspoken assumption. Among these implications are those embodied in cultural and historical allusions, which can be tricky to translate. Here is an example from the opening of Albert-Paul Granier's 'Chanson à la lune': Lune, m'amie, hé! la lune, Hâtez-vous de sortir de là! L'attaque est pour ce soir, pour tout de suite! – Pourquoi êtes-vous là, derrière le bois? Pourquoi êtes-vous là, dans les lignes? Est-ce qu'ils vous ont faite prisonnière, et comme un gros dracken, vous tiennent en laisse avec un homme pour pendentif? At issue is dracken. The reference is to a German captive balloon. There are two spelling mistakes. First, the correct term, Drache ('kite'), only takes an 'n' when inflected or in compounds, as in Drachenballon ('kite balloon'). The noun Drachen means 'dragon', which may well be what Granier had in mind – I have seen Drachenballon referred to as 'dragon balloon' in both French and English. Second, dracken is a typical French mispronunciation of the 'x' in Drachen; it is useful here, having an alien ugliness more threatening than the French dragon. Should the mistakes be corrected? Even if they are not, the word would baffle most readers. While people in 1917 knew of the sinister Drachenballon from the press, few will understand the reference today. One possible translation is 'dragon balloon', but this could connote Chinese community festivals. 'Observation balloon' is clear and technically correct but more insipid than dracken and rhythmically dilute in the context. To any but initiates, 'kite Angry and rhythmic with grotesque word choices – French WWI poetry is challenging to translate, says Ian Higgins Poetic justice

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