Perfect English, now available in French
October 5, 2013
I’m near Bordeaux spending the weekend with my family, and I spotted this sign on a local school. I love the lettering, the colour, and the fact that it states that the school is “laïque”. I wondered how I would translate this very French word into English; the first one that came to mind was “secular”, but I knew this wasn’t quite right. So straight after coming back (and eating my 11am chocolatine), I got down to work.
1560s, from Late Latin laicus, from Greek laikos "of or belonging to the people," from laos "people" as opposed to klerikos (clerc), which designate religious institutions. Incidentally, the English word “lay” (uneducated; non-clerical) has the same origin.
So laïcité is a legal or institutional system based on the separation of churches and State and is all about the social role and the place of religion within institutions and civil society. In France, this system was put in place by the 1905 law, which sets out that the State does not recognise, remunerate or subsidise any religion, and guarantees complete freedom of conscience.
The field of secularisation is wider: whilst it also concerns itself with replacing religious laws with civil laws, it also works within the private sphere, not just on the level of the State, with the aim of emancipating consciences and human society from religious rule.
Hence the problem with translating école laïque: it refers to a precise institutional system rooted in French history, and a footnote would be handy to explain its meaning. If I had to provide a translation on the hoof, while interpreting for example, I think I’d say “non-denominational state school”. Any better ideas?
June 11, 2013
Back to language: Les revenants was translated as “The returned”, but in this context, revenant (from revenir, to come back) has a different meaning. It was actually borrowed in English to mean a dead person reappearing in their community, looking exactly the same as when they died, which is the premise of this series. So why not translate the title as “The revenants”? Maybe because it's not a very common term?
By the way, I keep hearing people talk about “the French zombie series”, but although they are all undead, revenants are quite different from zombies, who have a unique way of walking, look rather beaten up and just want to eat human flesh. Revenants normally return for a specific purpose. Neither are they ghosts, as suggested by the English translation given by the Oxford dictionaries:
So, to sum up, this is a revenant:
This is a ghost:
This is a zombie:
I think we'll all agree that revenants are far scarier than ghosts or zombies.
June 3, 2013
When I read this tweet this morning, I knew that “which” was the wrong relative pronoun and should be replaced by “that”. However, my years of having two hours of English grammar per week are but a distant memory, and I couldn’t quite remember the grammatical rules that govern this particular use of which and that. Being a bit of a grammar
geek enthusiast, I thought I’d remind myself how it all works.
It’s all to do with restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses, of course! Restrictive relative clauses contain essential information, without which the sentence doesn’t make sense, and they can be introduced by that, which, whose, who or whom.
Example: We have got to clean the stinking swamp that is the House of Lords.
On the other hand, non-restrictive relative clauses give extra information, without which the sentence still makes sense. They can be introduced by which, whose, who or whom, but NOT by that, and should be separated from the main clause by a comma.
Example: We have got to clean out the stinking swamp that is the House of Lords, which is only marginally more repulsive than the House of Commons.
May 15, 2013
There’s a lot going on in my new new office. You can learn everything from accounting, French, maths, Greek literature, mechanics, and of course, this being Brighton, a lot of yoga and reiki and the like. “New new office”? I hear you wonder. Well, yes. I’ve moved again. You see, when you’re looking for a place to set down your computer and your favourite mug, it is crucial that you take your time to think about what you need and want from it in order to make the right decision. True to form, I didn’t. I saw an office and loved its modern, funky space and its location right in the middle of my favourite area of Brighton, I really liked the people, so I just got enthused and acted rashly, as I’m known to do, and took it.
I lasted four weeks. What I didn't consider was that the space was occupied by two different companies with people constantly on the phone and having meetings, and that this is actually a bit of a problem for a translator who needs to concentrate for hours on end to come up with pretty translations.
Thankfully, at the same time, four good friends were also looking for office space, and they found Brighton Junction, which I immediately loved (uh oh), and has proved to be absolutely perfect (phew). The building houses a coworking space with around 40 desks, more offices upstairs, and the friends’ centre, an adult education organisation. This means that it's a busy, buzzy place, filled with a wide variety of people coming to learn about all sorts of things, and our quieter shared office has a great mix of freelancers who make the right amount of studious noise.
The lesson of this story (which I will do my best not to ignore next time I am in a similar situation): think about what you want out of an office space and don't let secondary concerns, like a great area and pleasing architecture, drive your decision, when what matters is that it allows you to do your work in the best possible conditions.
April 19, 2013
Was it really January last time I blogged? Even though my reappearance coincides with the arrival of a late and tentative spring, I didn’t go into hibernation in protest at a ridiculously harsh winter. In fact, I’ve been out a lot, taking in the rain, the freezing cold, the snow, the hail and whatever else the British weather decided to throw at me. Freelancers talk a lot about the famed work/life balance and how they struggle to get it right, and in my case, the balance swung wildly from “work” to “life” when I discovered golf and found that I absolutely had to play as often as I possibly could.
This is not to say that I’ve neglected my work. Deadlines have been met, and files have been duly translated from English into French, and clients didn’t notice any change in the way I dealt with their projects, but something had to give, and my online activities had to take a back seat while my new offline passion flourished. I’m fully aware that I’ve gone over the top, and that to succeed, all freelancers need to constantly work on marketing their services, but this is only temporary: the days are getting longer, and soon I’ll be able to play after a full day’s work, which will include looking after this blog and my Twitter and Facebook accounts, which are my favourite networking platforms. After a few months of putting the “free” back in freelancing, I will be redressing the balance and dedicate more time to the long-term health of my career. Soon.
January 31, 2013
I have a love/hate relationship with interpreting. During and after a job, I love it. Before that, I hate it. I stress over it. Have I prepared thoroughly enough? Will there be someone with an impenetrable Glaswegian accent? I’m just not good enough and everyone will know it!! Those are the thoughts that plague me. And last week, I was asked to interpret in a booth with another interpreter. As I have no experience of working in a booth and I didn’t want to let my client down, I told him that they should find someone else. He flatly refused and insisted he wanted me to do it. Flattery is a weapon that I just have no defences against, so I accepted.
I was lucky enough to work with an excellent and experienced interpreter, who showed me how the booth worked and explained how to perform a mid-talk relay: simultaneous interpreting is extremely taxing, so we were 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off. When it was my turn to speak, I realised that far from being an intimidating environment, the booth is actually the most comfortable space you can be in: you have access to volume controls, you can mute your microphone, you can have all your reference documents and consult the Internet if necessary, and you’re in a quiet environment, with just the speaker’s voice to focus on. And of course, you’re working with someone else, and I love team sports. It was great.
At the end of the first session, my colleague congratulated me on doing well on my first “sim”. I replied that it wasn’t the first time I’d done simultaneous interpreting (I’ve interpreted in many meetings, in a helicopter, on mountains of rubbish, on a tractor, on a boat and in various waste management facilities), but she told me that what I’d done before, with a microphone and headsets for the audience, was, in the industry, known as “bidule”, interpreting done with audio equipment, but without a booth. It could be literally translated by “thingy”, and I’m really not sure what the English equivalent might be.
So as well as learning some new industry jargon, I’m really pleased that I got over my little boothphobia, and I’m looking forward to my next interpreting challenge.
The coworking adventure continues
December 18, 2012