Seminar the untranslatable

Seminar the untranslatable

News Colloquium

Call to communication

(Due date:  April 15th, 2015)

In his novel “Le traducteur” (“The Translator”), Jacques Gélat noticed that “we often congratulate translators but we do not admire them” (Corti, 2006, p.18). That observation is mostly true, except for the times when he overcomes borderline cases, usually called untranslatable, thanks to his many linguistic repertoires, his education, his professional experience, his personal history, including his own qualities (such as intuition and talent). Untranslatable words, which Barbara Cassin calls “symptoms of languages differences” in her book Plus d’une langue (Bayard, 2012, p.23), push translators in the corner, testing them and drawing on their resources. In this way, untranslatable words put translator in a delicate situation. More than anyone else, he knows that he puts aside, neglects and lightens his translation. He feels like a cryptic and dishonest impostor, who does not fulfil his part of the contract because he acts more like an adulterous traditore (traitor) than a faithful traduttore (translator). As an example, let’s take the brave and crafty strategy of an interpreter. During an international conference, he had to translate the speech of a Russian politician into English. He addressed the audience directly on his own behalf saying, “It is impossible to translate the funny story that the man I’m translating just told, but please, help me, act as if my translation was funny. Do laugh.” The intended effect was fulfilled and probably exceeded.

This colloquium will offer the opportunity to think about the notion of untranslatable in a situation of countless Gordian knots and how to untangle them. What better than to analyze the work of translators who bravely face oral and written lapsus, letter, word, and mind games without getting lost? Which cultural, sociological or other realities hidden behind a word, an expression, an idea or a concept pose problems in the translation process? Which tricky translations are belong to one language, culture or society compared with another?

We will study the oral and written strategies used by translators and interpreters to face blockages  and sacrifices, their finds and risk-takings, through the following topics:

  • The translated, translatable, untranslatable, not-translated, soluble and insoluble
  • The difference between to want, to be able to and to have to translate
  • Last resorts to translate difficulties (evasion, voluntary omissions, translator’s notes, adaptation, compensation, change of scene, naturalization, acculturation…)
  • Translators: obstacles in his way, his sacrifices, his finds, his limits
  • Culturemes, sociolects, tricky realias
  • The cultural dimension (humor, politeness, religion, habits, traditions, rites, celebrations, gesture, distances, and facial expressions…) and related translation problems
  • The relation between pictures and words, sub-text in audiovisual translation
  • Denotation, connotation, meanings’ variability, implicit, allusion and ambiguity
  • Rhetoric, puns and letters (anagrams, palindromes…)
  • Freezing, variability of morphosyntax, collocations
  • Censorship and self-censorship
  • Linguistic contributions for the automatic processing of languages (automatic translation, automatic subtitling) and its limits…

Papers may concern every language-culture. They may be in English or in French lasting 20minutes and will be followed by 10 minutes of questions.