On traduit dans Charlevoix

7-10 August 2022 in La Malbaie, Quebec

By Robin Humphrey

My journey to La Malbaie on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, Quebec, was my first ever visit to Canada. I had no problem justifying travelling so far for a 2½-day translation conference — this was a special conference that I’d wanted to go to for some time and this year felt like exactly the right moment for me to attend.

Transatlantic travel can be daunting if you’re not used to it and seeing as I’d decided to visit two sets of family friends in Ottawa and Massachusetts, which was going to involve 23 separate stages of travel, I handed the lot over to a travel agent. They handled it really well. I arrived and left without having experienced any significant glitches.

Arrival in Quebec presented no language barrier at all. Why would it? Everyone speaks French. This meant taking a little bit longer to feel I was in a foreign country at all. People were extremely friendly and things went so smoothly. Hotel staff and taxi drivers complimented me on my French and only once or twice did I need to ask “Qu’est-ce que vous dites ?” Yes, le français québecois is different. It sounds unlike metropolitan French and offers unique ways of saying things. For example, instead of a waiter saying “je vous en prie” for “you’re welcome” or “at your service”, they’ll say “bienvenu”. That just struck me as … something that may be pounced on by a French language purist, but which I kind of liked, because it was different and rather unexpected.

On Traduit Dans Charlevoix, was fantastic, to say the least: I knew a couple of the delegates and some of the presenters before I arrived. The venue, the food, the refreshments, and the presentations themselves were all first-rate. All this added to a wonderful experience. Expert presentations filled each day – a French track (which I didn’t attend) and an English track, which I did attend for obvious reasons, left me with a fine set of presenters’ slides and a stack of notes on a superbly stimulating sequence of masterclasses that gave crystal-clear insight into the way translators work at this level. This is the realm of the super-translator, if I may say so.

Right after one of the presentations I managed to ask the presenter if they thought that theory can help translators. Perhaps you know the book by Chesterman and Wagner that asks the same question. You may also wonder why I ask this. Because I think it’s important to answer the question and that it’s fundamental to know, for me at least, that the answer is a resounding yes, and why that answer is yes. The answer is yes, because it’s all too easy to say theory isn’t important. Ditching translation theory is simple, right? To be curious about and to seek a convincing answer to the question needs far more attention.

So, as I watched these presentations I tried to identify what precisely these experts were doing. Here’s an example: beyond calque or literal translation (direct translation), modulation or adaptation (oblique translation), there was other savvy at work. This wasn’t blink-of-an-eye scrutiny of extratextual features we all carry out (who, what, when, why?), nor were they questions about text type (informative, emotive, operative, phatic), internal factors (content, composition, syntactic or textual elements, suprasegmental features) or indeed linguistic features (pragmatics, anaphoric or cataphoric references, collocations or specialised lexis). No, these were deftly manipulated tools of the trade. More than once I thought “I knew that!” but had to admit “I’d not seen that” when a presenter demonstrated the conversion of a rather stodgy source text into a concise target text. Chris Durban’s talk in particular on “Kicking free of the source” text was, for me, brilliant. It was not the only presentation, though, to remind us of how crucial it is to understand fundamental stylistic distinctions between French and English, of the importance of being able to properly understand the intended message in the source text before you even think about translating and, vitally, to be aware that Translation Studies theory is there to help — it’s not good to ignore it.

Without thinking twice, I’d go to On Traduit Dans Charlevoix again tomorrow if I could, and I really look forward to the next one, when it is announced.  I absolutely loved it. Canada was welcoming, fun to be in, and vast!