More on French Economic Translation

1. Top heavy sentences. Sentences that begin with long noungroups, premodified and post-modified by groups or clauses, appear to be typical of some French academic styles:

Instituéi par un décret du 9 janvier 1967, ce système de réserves obligatoires, déjà utilisé dans de nombreux pays étrangers, visait à . ..

(Literal translation: 'instituted by a decree of January 9 1967, this system of obligatory reserves, already used in numerous foreign countries, aimed to . . .')

(Close translation: 'This system of obligatory reserves, which was already widely used abroad, was introduced by a decree of January 9 1967. Its purpose was to . . .')

I suggest that translators should consider recasting top-heavy sentences.

2. Long sentences. Instinctive 'sourcerers' and 'immediate' translators like myself always have to reconsider and be prepared to recast long sentences in non-authoritative texts.

3. Key-words. The repetition of key-words within a TL sentence can sometimes help to 'ease' and clarify the translation:

A l'origine, le montant de ces dépôts non-remunérés était calculé en appliquant au volume des seules exigibilités de chaque banque un pourcentage fixé par la Banque de France à l'intérieur de limites définies par le Conseil National du Credit.

Literal translation: 'Originally, the amount of these non-remunerated deposits was calculated by applying to each bank's liabilities alone a percentage fixed by the Bank of France within limits defined by the National Credit Council.'

Close translation: 'Originally the amount of these non-interest bearing deposits was calculated by applying a percentage of the volume of each bank's liabilities, a percentage which was fixed by the Banque de France within limits defined by the Conseil National du Credit'.

(Acknowledgements to Jenny Marty, one of the awfully increasing 15%, i.e. the students who are brighter than the teacher.)

By analogy, a key word can conveniently be referred to (in the same sentence) by a hold-all word:

Le chômage engendré par la substitution du capital au travail accélerée par la hausse des coûts salariaux.

Literal translation: 'Unemployment engendered by the substitution of capital for work accelerated by the rise in wage costs.'

Close translation: 'Unemployment created by the substitution of capital for labour, a process which is accelerated by the rise in the cost of labour (or 'wage costs').'

4. Words ending in -ble. Generally, adjectives ending in -ble, -bar, -bile, -bil, etc., are intertranslatable, though Slavonic languages only appear to have a dual purpose past participle plus -yi suffix. If the TL equivalent is not as common as its SL correspondent, it can be replaced by 'which can be plus past participle'. (Ressources mobilisables, 'resources that can be called on'.) When -ble words are used in one of the two possible senses, they may have to be clarified in the translation. ('Unreadable' as 'illegible' as illisible, or as pénible à lire. )

Compare also: l'alibi dune zone de libre-échange soluble dans le marché mondial. Close translation: 'the excuse for a free exchange zone which can merge with the world market'.

5. The force of abbreviation. Who would think that an 'inaugural' meant 'inaugural lecture' (leçon inaugurale or d'ouverture)? Similarly, effets are effets de commerce, 'bills' or 'bills of exchange', and un commerce is un fonds de commerce, a 'business' unless it is 'goodwill'.

Translators sometimes have to look out for compounds with missing components.

6. Selecting the basic component of meaning. Faced with la datefétiche assignée au commencement du grand marché, I think the best one can do is to review the components of fétiche, viz. religious, symbolical, magical, beneficial, charismatic, obsessional. Here perhaps 'the charismatic date assigned to the opening of the single market'.

7. Vogue words. I don't think translators should encourage the diffusion of vogue-words like espace. Thus for ce que l'on est convenu d'appeler l'espace social européen, which is slanted who has agreed? and in which languages? I would translate as 'what we may refer to as the social aspect of the European Community'. Note also that liberal has become a vogue-word in the sense of 'free-market' rather than 'conservative' or 'right wing' (compare Thody and Evans's invaluable Faux-Amis and Keywords):

L'emprise de l'idéologie dite libérale sur l'esprit public ira s'affaiblissant: 'the hold of free-market ideology on main stream opinion is about to weaken gradually'. (N.B., to my critics, this text is far from authoritative; if de Gaulle had written it, my translation would have been different.)


Peter Newmark (1993) Paragraphs on Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 85-86.