HEALTH WARNING: do not proceed with reading this entry unless you are interested in translation theory in its driest form. Your brain might switch itself off in protest.
Last week, I translated a documentary on the Trojan wars, and I came across this sentence:
Achilles charged across the plain after the fleeing Trojans
This sentence contains three difficulties: charged across, after and fleeing Trojans. These are impossible to translate elegantly whilst keeping the same grammatical categories. In this case, it is better to translate by changing one grammatical category into another. This general technique is called transposition, and it can take the form of a chassé-croisé (cross translation*) or an étoffement (enrichment*).
For example, I chose to translate Achilles charged across the plain as Achille traversa la plaine à bride abattue (it was mentioned beforehand that Achilles was riding a horse). I turned a verb (charge) into a noun group (à bride abattue) and a preposition (across) into a verb (traversa): so we have a change of grammatical category and a syntaxic permutation. This is typical of the kind of challenge presented by phrasal verbs, which can rarely be translated directly. In my translation, the verb indicates the process while the nominal group indicates the manner in which this process is accomplished, and this construction is the exact opposite of the English original. This type of double transposition is called a chassé-croisé, as the semantic elements are transferred to grammatically different groups of words.
Translating after by après wouldn’t have worked with traverser. Prepositions are a lot more dynamic, concise and elliptic in English than in French, and have to be treated very carefully when translating. A neglected preposition can easily upset the balance of a sentence and even lead to an undertranslation. Here, the idea that Achilles was chasing the Trojans, indicated by after, had to be made clear in French, which was impossible with après. So I opted for a transposition called étoffement (enrichment*) by replacing a preposition (after) by a noun group (à la poursuite de).
As for the fleeing Trojans, simply translating this present participle by using another would have been extremely awkward (les Troyens fuyant). Here another transposition allowed me to replace the present participle by a noun group expressing the same idea (en déroute) to end up with the more pleasing les Troyens en déroute.
So the final sentence, after three transpositions, all slightly different from one another, was:
Achille traversa la plaine à bride abattue à la poursuite des Troyens en déroute.
Phew! Told you, didn’t I?
*my translation, I studied translation theory in French and am not sure of the accepted terms in English